David Hume vs. Thomas Reid: Is Justice Socially Constructed or Natural?

41 Pages Posted: 20 Feb 2006

Date Written: February 8, 2006


Characteristic of the epoch in which we live is widespread skepticism about the claim that justice is grounded in the natural order. Quite often, justice is thought to be a socially constructed set of norms reflecting the interests and values of dominant interest groups. To the extent that this view is challenged nowadays, the objectivity of justice tends to be maintained without invoking nature.

We put this prevailing climate of opinion under a critical lens, doing so by recounting the debate on justice between two 18th century Scottish philosophers, David Hume and Thomas Reid. The first is the forerunner of the currently fashionable belief that justice is socially constructed, while the second defends the traditional notion of justice as a naturally supported reality.

The debate features many of the best arguments that can be made on both sides of the question. The differences come down to opposing views on moral psychology, the innateness of concepts of just desert, and the historicity of justice.

Keywords: justice, natural law, social construction, nature

JEL Classification: K10, K11, K19

Suggested Citation

Bragues, George, David Hume vs. Thomas Reid: Is Justice Socially Constructed or Natural? (February 8, 2006). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=882205 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.882205

George Bragues (Contact Author)

University of Guelph-Humber ( email )

207 Humber College Boulevard
Toronto, Ontario M9W 5L7
416-798-1331, Ext. 6049 (Phone)
416-798-3293 (Fax)

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