Exploring the theme of reflective stability: John Rawls’ Hegelian reading of David Hume

Margaret Meek Lange

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Selections from John Rawls’ writings on historical figures were published in the 2000 Lectures on the History of Moral Philosophy. My paper discusses Rawls’ treatment of Hegel and David Hume. It focuses on the following themes: the average individual’s understanding of his social institutions, the psychological mechanism of “reflection” as a source of change in that individual’s understanding, and the role of individual reflection in guiding social reproduction and change. I argue that these questions are central concerns of Hegel’s idealist philosophy; that Hegel’s position is nuanced; and Rawls recognizes both the centrality and the subtlety of Hegel’s discussions. Next, I show how Rawls attends to these themes in Hume’s moral philosophy as well. Since these themes are less obvious features of Hume’s thought, I argue that Rawls performs a Hegelian reading of Hume. I close with a discussion of these writings’ relevance to scholarship on Rawls’ own work.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)75-90
Number of pages16
JournalPublic Reason
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2009
Externally publishedYes


  • Hegel
  • Hume
  • institutions
  • rationality
  • Rawls
  • reflection


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