Hume and Smith on Benevolence and Justice
with Ted Harpham
with Ted Harpham
What is benevolence? What is justice? How do these two virtues work together to make a prosperous and happy human society? These questions lie at the heart of Adam Smith’s moral and economic theory. In this VRG, we will explore Smith’s understanding of benevolence and justice through the lens provided by David Hume’s An Enquiry Concerning the Principle of Morals.
Session I begins with a discussion of how Hume understood benevolence and justice as virtues in An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals and then turns to consider how this understanding shapes his views of the nature of political society and of self-love. Session 2 looks at how Adam Smith transforms this theory of benevolence and justice in The Theory of Moral Sentiments through an extended discussion of the operations of moral sentiments and the problem of merit. Session III explores how the Wealth of Nations built upon Smith’s theory of benevolence and justice by offering a new vision of the moral and economic bonds that join people together in a modern commercial order.
Pre-registration is required, and we ask you to register only if you can be present for ALL sessions. All readings are available online. You may use promo code VRG2023 to receive 35% off your purchase at Liberty Fund Books. Participants who successfully complete ALL sessions will be eligible to receive an Amazon e-gift certificate.
The readings and sessions are as follows:
Session I: Tuesday, June 6, 2023, 2:00-3:00 pm EDT, Hume on Benevolence and Justice
Leading questions: What does it mean to say that benevolence and justice are “social virtues?” Why do we morally approve of beneficence and other tender sentiments like friendship, humanity, and gratitude? Why does Hume believe that public utility is the sole origin of justice? Why does Hume believe that we need political society and government to promote the public good? Why does Hume reject the idea that self-love underlies the social virtues of benevolence and justice?
David Hume, Enquiries Concerning the Human Understanding and Concerning the Principles of Morals, Section I, “Of the General Principle of Morals,” Section II, “Of Benevolence,” Section III, “Of Justice,” Section IV, “Of Political Society,” Section V, “Why Utility Pleases?,” and Appendix III, “Some Farther Considerations With Regard to Justice”
Session II: Tuesday, June 13, 2023, 2:00-3:00 pm EDT, Smith on Benevolence and Justice in Smith
Leading questions: How does Smith’s view of sympathy differ from Hume’s? What does Smith’s analysis of the passion of gratitude add to our understanding of the operations of benevolence in society? What does Smith’s analysis of the passion of resentment add to our understanding of the operations of justice? To what degree does Smith build upon or reject Hume’s theory of benevolence and justice? Why does Smith reject the idea of universal benevolence as the foundation for moral behavior in human society?
Adam Smith, The Theory of Moral Sentiments
Part I, Chapter 1, Section 1, Chapter 1, “Of Sympathy”
Part I, Chapter 2, Section 1, Chapter 2, “Of the Pleasure of Mutual Sympathy”
Part II, Section 2, Chapter 1, “Causes of these Two Virtues”
Part II, Section 2, Chapter 2, “Of the Sense of Justice and the Consequences of Merit”
Part II, Section 2, Chapter 3, “Of the Utility of This Consideration of Nature”
Part II, Section 3, Chapter 3, “Of the Final Cause of this Irregularity”
Part VI, Section 2, Chapter 1, “Of the Order to Which Individuals are Recommended by Nature to Our Care and Affection”
Part VI, Section 2, Chapter 2, “Of the Order to what Societies are by Virtue Recommended to our Beneficence”
Part VI, Section 2, Chapter 3, “Of Universal Benevolence”
Session III: Tuesday, June 20, 2023, 2:00-3:00 pm EDT, Political Economy and Justice in a Commercial Society
Leading questions: Why does Smith reject the idea that benevolence can provide secure foundations for economic life in a commercial society? How does Smith’s vision of the natural system of liberty shape his view of providing for justice in a modern commercial society? How has the problem of paying for institutions of justice provided by the state changed over time? What role does justice play in assuring economic prosperity? Is there a role for benevolence in this modern commercial society? How is the problem of justice reconceptualized in the discussion of the expense of justice?
Adam Smith, An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, Volume 1, Chapter II, “Of the Principle Which Gives Occasion to the Division of Labor”
Adam Smith, An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, Volume 2, Book IV, Chapter IX (paragraphs 50-52), and Book V, Part II, “Of the Expense of Justice”