An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals HTML version

III. Of Justice
THAT Justice is useful to society, and consequently that PART of its merit, at least, must
arise from that consideration, it would be a superfluous undertaking to prove. That public
utility is the SOLE origin of justice, and that reflections on the beneficial consequences
of this virtue are the SOLE foundation of its merit; this proposition, being more curious
and important, will better deserve our examination and enquiry.
Let us suppose that nature has bestowed on the human race such profuse ABUNDANCE
of all EXTERNAL conveniencies, that, without any uncertainty in the event, without any
care or industry on our part, every individual finds himself fully provided with whatever
his most voracious appetites can want, or luxurious imagination wish or desire. His
natural beauty, we shall suppose, surpasses all acquired ornaments: the perpetual
clemency of the seasons renders useless all clothes or covering: the raw herbage affords
him the most delicious fare; the clear fountain, the richest beverage. No laborious
occupation required: no tillage: no navigation. Music, poetry, and contemplation form his
sole business: conversation, mirth, and friendship his sole amusement. It seems evident
that, in such a happy state, every other social virtue would flourish, and receive tenfold
increase; but the cautious, jealous virtue of justice would never once have been dreamed
of. For what purpose make a partition of goods, where every one has already more than
enough? Why give rise to property, where there cannot possibly be any injury? Why call
this object MINE, when upon the seizing of it by another, I need but stretch out my hand
to possess myself to what is equally valuable? Justice, in that case, being totally useless,
would be an idle ceremonial, and could never possibly have place in the catalogue of
We see, even in the present necessitous condition of mankind, that, wherever any benefit
is bestowed by nature in an unlimited abundance, we leave it always in common among
the whole human race, and make no subdivisions of right and property. Water and air,
though the most necessary of all objects, are not challenged as the property of
individuals; nor can any man commit injustice by the most lavish use and enjoyment of
these blessings. In fertile extensive countries, with few inhabitants, land is regarded on
the same footing. And no topic is so much insisted on by those, who defend the liberty of
the seas, as the unexhausted use of them in navigation. Were the advantages, procured by
navigation, as inexhaustible, these reasoners had never had any adversaries to refute; nor
had any claims ever been advanced of a separate, exclusive dominion over the ocean.
It may happen, in some countries, at some periods, that there be established a property in
water, none in land [Footnote: Genesis, cbaps. xiii. and xxi.]; if the latter be in greater
abundance than can be used by the inhabitants, and the former be found, with difficulty,
and in very small quantities.