Study Guide

An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals Justice and Judgment

By David Hume

Justice and Judgment

Unlike virtues such as sympathy, justice is a system that has been set up because it's useful. We might think that this is one area in which reason alone is needed. If we're on a jury, for instance, it's not a good idea to be totally ruled by our emotions. Thing is, this isn't what Hume means when he talks about sentiment.

Hume argues that reason and logic lay the groundwork and give us the cold, hard facts. However, it's sentiment that shapes our view of whether something's wrong or right. We don't just recognize something as good/bad but feel a sense of approval/disapproval.

The role of justice is to ensure the overall wellbeing of society and its members. The aim is to treat everyone as fairly as possible, but when someone shows no respect for the rules of justice, it's seen as only right to punish them. How else would folks learn that crime doesn't pay?

Questions About Justice and Judgment

  1. Suppose that some kind of rule is needed but justice doesn't provide a clear-cut answer to what it should be. How do we decide what rule to follow?
  2. Do justice and superstition have anything in common or are they poles apart?
  3. In what kinds of scenarios might systems of justice fall apart?

Chew on This

Sentiment doesn't play a role in justice. In a court room, it's all about reason and the facts. This is a situation where we need to put a lid on any kind of sentiment.

If we didn't have formal systems of justice, then it'd be wall-to-wall chaos. It's important to have systems of this kind so that we focus on what's right and honorable—not just our own personal vendettas.

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