The Monist 70 (4):483-495 (1987)

Joan McGregor
Arizona State University
Thomas Reid’s positive account of justice as a natural virtue must be extracted from his polemic on Hume’s theory that justice is an artificial virtue. For Hume, the conceptual analysis of justice is in terms of agreement and hence, it is absurd to suppose that any act is unjust prior to Humean agreement. Hume maintains that no man is obliged to obey the rules of justice unless others agree to do likewise; by implication, there can be no injustices in the state of nature. Reid categorically denies this, and presents sharp criticism of Hume’s account. To refute Hume’s account, Reid must show that there is a conceptual priority of the notion of justice—prior to any convention or artifice of society. In other words, he must show that we have a conception of justice which is not dependent on the conventions of society. Reid, I will show, is successful in showing this. His success in showing that justice is a natural virtue depends not only on his conceptual analysis, but on his arguments from human nature as well. The argument of Reid’s that is the central focus of this paper rests upon the following claim: “As soon as men have any rational conception of a favour and an injury, they must have the conception of justice and perceive its obligation.”
Keywords Analytic Philosophy  Contemporary Philosophy  General Interest  Philosophy of Mind  Philosophy of Science
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ISBN(s) 0026-9662
DOI 10.5840/monist198770428
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