Hume and mutual advantage

Politics, Philosophy and Economics 11 (3):302-321 (2012)
Hume’s theory of justice is commonly regarded by contemporary theorists of justice as a theory of justice as mutual advantage. It is thus widely thought to manifest all the unattractive features of such theories: in particular, it is thought to endorse the exclusion of people with serious mental or physical disabilities from the scope and protection of justice and to justify the European expropriation of the lands of defenceless aboriginal people. I argue that this reading of Hume is mistaken. Mutual advantage is only part of Hume’s theory, the part that explains the origins of the institutions of justice in a general sense (property and promise keeping), and it is bracketed off from those parts of Hume’s theory that explain who is included within the scope of justice, how much each receives, and why and to whom we have a duty to be just. The interpretation of Hume’s theory as a theory of justice as mutual advantage not only fails to convey Hume’s complex purposes, but it portrays Hume’s theory of justice as the kind of theory he was most concerned to refute
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