Hume And Justice Essay, Research Paper
In An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals, Hume speaks about the relationship between justice and utility and its connection to sentiment humanity and the ability to make moral distinctions. He first establishes the existence of justice in the world and then observes and analyzes its relationship to utility. Hume then makes the association between sentiment humanity and the ability to make moral judgements. He ultimately links this ability to the acquisition of justice. Hume?s explanation of the conjunction begins with his empirical methods of observation.
Hume states that all knowledge is based on experience. All ideas that lead to this knowledge come from and are based on sense impressions. What and how we know that which we do know (and claim to know) are all traced back to sense impressions. This can be illustrated by examining our ideas of God, a being for whom we cannot have direct sense impressions, the most abstract and seemingly untraceable idea. We initially have sense impressions of ourselves as humans. Sense impressions of the weak, the strong, the smart, and dumb, all lead to our idea of God. Our impressions of God are essentially our sense impressions of humans without all the defects. This explains by example the notion that the idea is traced back to sense impressions. In this same way, Hume shows us how his idea of justice can also be traced back to sense impressions.
Hume explains his theory of justice through the idea of public utility. He joins the two concepts by stating that only what is useful is just, that the sole origin of justice is utility. Utility is something from which we benefit. It is therefore always praiseworthy. If something is seen to be useful, we naturally embrace and receive it. In explicating the connection between justice and public utility, Hume presents to us two opposing scenarios of having. The first extreme is that of overabundance. In a society where there is too much of all resources, the need for justice would be eradicated. The need for property or generosity would no longer exist and justice would therefore be rendered useless. Likewise, in the opposite extreme, the society where there is too little, justice would lose its efficacy and still be considered useless. ?By rendering justice totally useless, you thereby totally destroy its essence, and suspend its obligation upon mankind.? (24) We, belonging to common society, fit in somewhere in between these two extremes and therefore have the need for justice. Justice is useful to us. ?Thus, the rules of equity or justice depend entirely on the particular state and condition, in which men are placed, and owe their origin and existence to that utility?? (23). The content of what we mean by justice is apt to change but the connection between justice and utility is not. That which is just is necessarily useful.
If we examine justice in terms of laws and property, a similar conclusion would be reached. ?The good of mankind is the only object of these laws and regulations.? (27) Therefore, ?in order to establish laws for the regulation of property, we must be acquainted with the nature and situation of man; must reject appearances?and must search for those rules, which are, on the whole most useful and beneficial,? (28) in the same way that rules of justice depended on the particular state in which men were placed. This meant that whatever someone produced or improved in his industry ought to be secured to him in order to encourage such useful habits and accomplishments. This held true as well to his children and descendents. The point would be to work for a useful purpose and enhance the general interest of mankind, as well as to protect the inalienable rights of mankind. A man?s property is anything that is lawful for him alone to have and to use. The rule by which we can determine these objects are many but the ultimate point is the interest of human society. ?Where this enters not into consideration, nothing can appear more whimsical, unnatural, and even superstitious, than all or most of the laws of justice and of property.? (30)
Justice and utility serve as the means to a particular end. This end is the connection between sentiment humanity and the ability to make moral distinctions. Since we place value upon both justice and utility, the means, it is natural to also value the ends for which the means strives, sentiment humanity and the ability to make moral judgements. As Hume considers then how we are to make judgements on justice, judgements on what is right and what is wrong, he concludes that we are to make these determinations on the basis of sentiment humanity.
Sentiment humanity is defined as concern for others as opposed to the concern just for oneself. Hume states that while we are naturally concerned for ourselves, we are just as naturally concerned for others. This illustrates a correlation between a person?s aggression of sentiment humanity and his/ her notion of justice. Hume observes that those who have sentiment humanity also have the ability to make moral distinctions between good and bad. Therefore, anyone who has the ability to make moral distinctions has this sentiment humanity. Hume sees sentiment humanity as something that is inherited, something that we are born with. To better realize this notion, we can look at the relationship between bread and nourishment. There is general understanding that the two are conjoined but their actual relationship cannot actually be determined by mere sight. Upon researching and studying them, one can then conclude that there is a causal association. The intake of bread directly leads to the nourishment of the person eating it. In the same way, Hume, initially, only identified the existence of a relationship between sentiment humanity and moral distinctions. He saw that all those whom he observed to have sentiment humanity also seemed to have the ability to make moral differentiation, seemingly as a result of coincidence. He eventually recognizes the causal relationship between the two. He sees that not only is there this relationship between sentiment humanity and the ability to make moral distinctions, sentiment humanity is the basis for the ability to make moral judgements. All those, and only those, who possessed sentiment humanity were necessarily able to distinguish right from wrong. This ability to make moral distinctions links back to justice. Without the ability to make moral distinctions, we cannot identify justice. We must be able to tell right from wrong in order to recognize this equity. Then, we come to make moral distinctions about justice. In the most general way, this is the differentiation between good and evil.
The way in which Hume presents and goes about explaining his claims is convincing. He not only states his facts but also additionally supplements them with practical illustrations that the reader can relate to. He ties together all the elements that make up his theory of justice in a comprehensive manner. He states his various arguments and also makes sure that in the end they all come together to reinforce all that he had stated. Hume draws the connection between justice and utility, then does likewise with sentiment humanity and the ability to make moral distinctions. He goes on from there to relate justice with sentiment humanity and then brings it all together by relating showing the relationship between the ability to make moral distinctions and justice. He comes full circle, allowing his arguments and theories to be that much more compact and meritorious.