Hume and the (false) luster of justice

Political Theory 32 (5):628-655 (2004)
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Abstract

The close connection between norms and motives that is characteristic of Hume's moral theory threatens to break down when it comes to the political matter of justice. Here a gap arises between the moral approval of justice, which is based on its utility, and the desires that motivate just action, which utility cannot fully explain. Therefore the obligation to justice may seem to be motivationally unsupported. This difficulty is compounded by the fact that, for Hume, no obligation can arise unless a normally effective motivation exists for it. In addition to disabling just action, then, the motivational deficit threatens to undercut the normative status of justice as a virtue. A solution to this dilemma lies in what Hume calls the "immediately agreeable" condition of "integrity" or "character." The agreeableness of integrity indirectly confers upon justice a luster that makes it attractive and obligatory even when it does not actually serve the interests of individual or society, and when self-interest and sympathy fall short in sustaining compliance

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