Study Guide

An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals Section IV

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Section IV

Of Political Society

  • This section begins with a reminder that there would never have been any need for government if every individual had a natural sense of justice. If acting freely never had any negative consequences, then why set limits on it? 
  • We might assume that states/nations operate according to the same rules of justice as those that rule individuals.
  • But, nope, there's a difference: invading another person's property is always seen as a breach of justice. When it comes to nations, though, this bond isn't as strong—they don't always have to cooperate with each other and the boundaries of justice aren't as rigid. In an emergency, states may decide to cast aside the rules of justice and any ties that aren't in their best interests.
  • Another social structure that Hume explores is the family. Like all this other stuff, Hume sees this as being based on usefulness—babies and kids can't take care of themselves, so it's up to parents to raise them into social beings.
  • He sees faithfulness as serving this purpose too, though he observes that chastity (aka purity) is demanded of women but seen as not quite so important for men. Hume doesn't get into explaining this tricky subject; he's just saying how things usually are in society. It's like, "hey, don't shoot the messenger!"
  • Hume then refers to incest as a type of behavior that's seen as unacceptable. He notes that people may have the opportunity to engage in this behavior but that it's seen as harmful and totally sketchy. 
  • Being a tattletale is another thing that's seen as socially unacceptable. Once gossip spreads around, it can cause arguments and all-around bad vibes. This shows that, even where no official laws are broken, there are laws of good manners that we have to follow unless we want to end up as social outcasts.
  • Next, Hume makes the point that loyalty is super important in some situations, like when we're dealing with people who are close to us. On a more general level, though, there's nothing disloyal or rude about talking with people without any long-term ties. Whatever's useful and agreeable.
  • We know that laws and codes of conduct play a role in civilized society, but even outside civilized society, ideas about honor and justice can—and do—exist. Robbers and pirates rely on a code of justice among themselves and even wars have rules.

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