Among philosophers and social scientists, Hume’s idea of justice is generally identified with a system of rules based on mutual advantage, their moral quality playing either an insignificant or no part at all. This conventional or contractarian model, respectively, is not adequate to the special institution of morality or, in Hume, to the virtues, artificial or natural. It is not self-interest but sympathy in combination with the indirect passions of pride and humility that gives conventions their moral quality and social relevance. This article suggests exegetic and systematic reasons for the normative importance of Hume’s moral psychology, which should open the way to a developing morality much more in agreement with actual Western societies than a static morality based on self-interest would allow.
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