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:: hume, traité de la nature humaine ::

I have already observ’d, that justice takes its rise from human conventions ; and that these are intended as a remedy to some inconveniences, which proceed from the concurrence of certain qualities of the human mind with the situation of external objects. The qualities of the mind are selfishness and limited generosity : And the situation of external objects is their easy change, join’d to their scarcity in comparison of the wants and desires of men. But however philosophers may have been bewilder’d in those speculations, poets have been guided more infallibly, by a certain taste or common instinct, which in most kinds of reasoning goes farther than any of that art and philosophy, with which we have been yet acquainted. They easily perceiv’d, if every man had a tender regard for another, or if nature supplied abundantly all our wants and desires, that the jealousy of interest, which justice supposes, could no longer have place ; nor would there be any occasion for those distinctions and limits of property and possession, which at present are in use among mankind. Encrease to a sufficient degree the benevolence of men, or the bounty of nature, and you render justice useless, by supplying its place with much nobler virtues, and more valuable blessings. The selfishness of men is animated by the few possessions we have, in proportion to our wants ; and ‘tis to restrain this selfishness, that men have been oblig’d to separate themselves from the community, and to distinguish betwixt their own goods and those of others.

Nor need we have recourse to the fictions of poets to learn this ; but beside the reason of the thing, may discover the same truth by common experience and observation. ‘Tis easy to remark, that a cordial affection renders all things common among friends ; and that married people in particular mutually lose their property, and are unacquainted with the mine and thine, which are so necessary, and yet cause such disturbance in human society. The same effect arises from any alteration in the circumstances of mankind ; as when there is such a plenty of any thing as satisfies all the desires of men : In which case the distinction of property is entirely lost, and every thing remains in common. This we may observe with regard to air and water, tho’ the most valuable of all external objects ; and may easily conclude, that if men were supplied with every thing in the same abundance, or if every one had the same affection and tender regard for every one as for himself ; justice and injustice would be equally unknown among mankind.

Here then is a proposition, which, I think, may be regarded as certain, that ‘tis only from the selfishness and confin’d generosity of men, along with the scanty provision nature has made for his wants, that justice derives its origin.

                 HUME, Treatise Of Human Nature

(traduction française du Traité de la nature humaine par A. Leroy, édition Aubier-Montaigne, 1973 ; le texte figure aux pp. 612-613)

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