A Credit Market a la David Hume

Menahem E. Yaari

In Book III of his Treatise of Human Nature, David Hume considers the following simple interaction: "I suppose a person to have lent me a sum of money, on condition that it be restor'd in a few days, and also suppose, that after the expiration of the term agreed on, he demands the sum" and Hume asks: "What reason or motive have I to restore the money?" [1740, p. 479] The answer, he concludes, must be "that the sense of justice and injustice [which is the motive for repaying the loan] is not deriv'd from nature, but arises artificially, tho' necessarily, from education and human conventions." [p. 483] It is my purpose in this essay to offer formal (and modern) underpinnings for Hume's argument. I shall do so in the context of Hume's own example, cited above, where the interaction being considered is one between lender and borrower.

June, 2001
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