, Volume 54, Issue 3, pp 246–252 | Cite as

The Sympathetic Formation of Reason and the Limits of Science

  • Erik W. MatsonEmail author
Symposium: Life, Death, and Reason


I develop an interpretation of reason using the thought of David Hume and Adam Smith. I contend that reason in Hume and Smith can plausibly be interpreted as a kind of sensation. Reason is a sensation in that it is a sentimental conception of the relationship between two objects that impels certain interpretations. Reason is developed sympathetically in experiential contexts that not only guide but constitute reason’s operation. I comment on Hume’s talk of reason in his Treatise of Human Nature to build my interpretation. I use Smith’s work in The Theory of Moral Sentiments to develop an understanding of the sympathetic formation of reason. I briefly integrate my interpretation with talk of confirmatory bias in psychology and behavioral economics. I conclude by considering implications for scientific conversation.


David Hume Adam Smith Reason Knowledge Confirmatory bias 

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of EconomicsGeorge Mason UniversityFairfaxUSA

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