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The Circumstances of Justice

From: Hume Studies
Volume 36, Number 2, 2010
pp. 125-148 | 10.1353/hms.2010.0015



The aim of this paper is, first, to address three recent criticisms of Hume’s account of the circumstances of justice, and secondly, to consider how an account of the circumstances of justice may be deployed in philosophical argument when detached from Hume’s own narrow concern with rules of property. Against the criticisms lodged by Brian Barry and Martha Nussbaum, I argue that Hume does not build a conception of justice as mutual advantage into the circumstances of justice. Against the criticism lodged against modern invocations of the circumstances of justice by Gerry Cohen, I argue that any plausible account of deliberative reflection must be at once action-guiding and world-guided. This allows an account of the circumstances of justice—those features of the world no plausible theory of justice can idealize away—to do some justificatory work.