The Circumstances of Justice

Hume Studies 36 (2):125-148 (2010)
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Abstract

David Hume famously states, in his A Treatise of Human Nature, “that ’tis only from the selfishness and confin’d generosity of men, along with the scanty provision nature has made for his wants, that justice derives its origin”.1 This is Hume’s summary of the conditions under which the very idea of rules of justice makes practical sense, and he effectively repeats it in the Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals.2 To put it briefly at the outset, Hume’s point is simply this: if there was either a superabundance or drastic scarcity of resources, or if everyone were either completely and unfailingly virtuous or completely and unfailingly wicked, we would not need rules.

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Simon Hope
University of Stirling

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