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Hume on the Duties of Humanity ROBERT SHAVER IN THE THEORY OF MORAL SENTIMENTS, Adam Smith compared duties of humanity with duties of justice. Duties of humanity, he said, are "vague," "indeterminate ," "loose," "inaccurate," filled with exceptions, impossible to learn by rules, an "ornament." Omitting them causes no "positive evil." On the other hand, duties of justice are "exact," "precise," "accurate," "exceptionless," "stricter," the "foundation" and "main pillar." The last terms in the comparison suggest that while justice is absolutely necessary, humanity is an optional extra. Smith goes on to suppose that a society bound together by justice alone 9is possible: "[s]ociety may subsist among different men, as among different merchants, from a sense of its utility, without any mutual love or affection; and though no man in it should owe any obligation, or be bound in gratitude to any other, it may still be upheld by a mercenary exchange of good offices according to an agreed valuation."' The Wealth of Nations is, of course, the further explanation of this possibility. And it is a possibility Smith is not alone in claiming: Grotius, Pufendorf, Hutcheson, and Kames see the same possibility . Hume, however, does not see it. Since the debate over justice and humanity is conducted in the language of obligation, I shall piece together Hume's account of obligation, apply it to the natural virtue of humanity, and give Hume's argument for the necessity of humanity." The debate between Smith and Hume is of contemporary interest in at least three ways. First, by finding an obligation to be humane, Hume disagrees 'Adam Smith, The Theory of Moral Sentiments (Oxford: Clarendon, 1976) ll.II.l, II.II.III, III.VI, pp. 78-82, 86, ~74-76. 9Henceforth T = A Treatise of Human Nature (Oxford University Press, 1978); E = An Enquiry concerning the Principles of Morals (Oxford University Press, 1975); H = The I-listo0 of England (Indianapolis: Liberty, 1983f.); O = "Of the Original Contract," in Essays(Indianapolis: Liberty, 1985); P = "Of Polygamy and Divorces," in Essays; D = "A Dialogue," in E; L -- Letters (Oxford University Press, 193~); R = Dialogues concerning Natural Religion (Indianapolis: Hackett, 198o). [545] 546 JOURNAL OF THE HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY 30:4 OCTOBER I992 with those today who hold that justice is obligatory, optionally accompanied by various "ideals of the person," traits which are beyond duty, lying in the realm of individual taste.s Second, he disagrees with those who forgo humanity and try to generate all of our duties to aid the needy from concerns of justice and rights.4 And third, Hume's argument against the priority of justice prefigures a popular feminist and communitarian argument against liberalism, according to which liberals need what they cannot encourage.s One clarification is needed. By "humanity," Hume sometimes intends the possession of every virtue or the grounds for the approval of every useful virtue (e.g., E 219n., 227, 231,235, 27~). But more often, "humanity" is used to denote a natural virtue similar to benevolence (e.g., T 6o3, E 176, 178, 185, 2o4, ~o, 23o, 231, 243, 279, ~81,282,298n., R XII, 84). BThis is the sense of "humanity" which Hume, in the Enquiry, contrasts with justice, and this is the sense with which I am concerned.7 It is, for example, Bacon's "humanity" that might explain why he saved Haywarde from the rack, and it is the "humanity" of the English that explains their "magnificent charities" and generous subscription to provide for French prisoners of war (H 4.359, L I. 373). Of special interest is the role humanity plays in constraining relations between unequals. Famously, Hume supposes that we are not bound by justice in dealings with sSee, for example, Robert Norzick, Anarchy, State, and Utopia (New York: Basic, 1974); Jan Narveson, The Libertarian Idea (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1988); Jeffrey Reiman, Justice and Modern Moral Philosophy (New Haven: Yale University Press, 199o); and David Gauthier , Morals By Agreement (Oxford University Press, 1986). Admittedly, Humean justice is narrower than that of both our and his contemporaries: it (usually) concerns only potentially unstable possessions (T 487-88). Reid, for example, differs from Hume both in whatjusuce concerns and in what it...