Hume on pride, vanity and society

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Pride is a fundamental element in Hume's description of human nature. An important part of the secondary literature on Hume is devoted to this passion. However, no one, as far as I am aware, takes seriously the fact that pride often appears in pairs with vanity. In Book 2 of the Treatise, pride is defined as the passion one feels when society recognizes his connection to a ‘cause’, composed by a ‘subject’ and a (positive) ‘quality’. Conversely, no definition of vanity is provided. Despite Hume's fluctuating vocabulary, I hold that a conceptual difference between pride and vanity exists. To support this claim, I analyse the common features of these two passions, showing that both pride and vanity (a) are indirect passions, (b) are self-regarding passions, and (c) have the same structure. Supported by textual evidence, I then claim that vanity is a desire of reputation, a desire to feel pride, when pride is not (yet) in place, because its cause is only imaginary and not real. Nonetheless, I underscore that, at times, ‘vanity’ means simply pride and call for greater attention on this ongoing oscillation. In conclusion, I explore the implications of this account of vanity for social interactions in Hume's philosophy, which illustrates its intrinsic ambivalence.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)157-173
JournalJournal of Scottish Philosophy
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 3 Jun 2020


  • David Hume
  • Passions
  • Pride
  • Vanity
  • Desire
  • Esteem


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