The Virtue of Injustice Essay

Submitted By sechris
Words: 1717
Pages: 7


In their respective texts, both Hume and Glaucon present descriptions of the

origin of justice which assert that it is contrived from underlying selfish motives in people. Although the foundations of these arguments are almost identical, the conclusions that Hume comes to would not be as unnerving to Socrates and his friends as Glauconʼs concluding assertions are. I intend to explain how the differences between Hume and Glauconʼs conception of justice and its origins would elicit very different responses from Socrates and his friends, and prove that Hume believes in both the inherent goodness and artificiality of justice. ! Hume begins his account of justice by explaining his belief of it as an artificial

virtue. He does this through the assertion that there is no natural motive or principle directly driving people to be just, and that it is only out of a shared acknowledgement that practicing justice is beneficial to the people in a society that justice originated. Underlying his argument is the idea that for any action, only the motive behind it is useful in evaluating said actionʼs goodness and morality. So in a sense, actions are merely signs of virtuous or immoral motives. Hume points out that if virtuous actions are simply signs of virtuous motives, then the motive behind a virtuous action cannot be that the action is virtuous and would be good to carry out. This would be a circular argument. Accordingly Hume points out that this causes a problem for the virtuosity of justice: Based on the assumption that people have no natural inclination to respect the property of others, there is no non-circular motive for anyone to practice justice. Hume assumes that the respect of a strangerʼs property only exists in civilized people who have reached their civilized state through discipline and education. He asserts that the natural condition of people does not include this respect, and the repayment of a loan and other

just practices would seem foolish to them. Accordingly Hume states that justice must be an artificial virtue in that it is derived from conscious processes resulting from mutual agreement, rather than directly stemming from natural urges and inclinations. Next Hume explore a logical continuation arising from this point: What is the origin of justice? ! Hume states that justice is derived from the selfishness and limited benevolence

of people. He makes the argument that it cannot be possible for extensive benevolence to be the root of justice because if everyone was as greatly concerned with the wellbeing of others as with him/herself, the need for justice would never arise. Justice is only needed to check the wicked inclinations of people towards each other, so without those inclinations justice would be unnecessary. Hume goes on to state that justice is necessarily derived from reason, because if humans are not infinitely benevolent and need justice to live peaceably, then some conscious thought must have gone into constructing just rules. This must mean that any inclination to act justly cannot be the result of natural processes, but is born out of artificial human endeavors such as the formation of society. The key to understanding why Hume believes that justice is derived from selfishness lays in why humans are inclined to form societies. The reason, Hume believes, is the mutual benefit members of a society enjoy as a result of the organization society provides. So it is simply the selfish motives of people to enjoy the benefits of society that results in the origin of justice as a way to keep society running smoothly, and thus to continue reaping the benefits of society as well. Conscious reasoning is necessary in this process because it is the mode by which people are able to understand that they do more good for themselves than harm by quelling some of their natural urges in order to maintain a large and well-functioning community.


One of the last points Hume makes addresses the origin of the