David Hume on the Passing of Property

David Hume, Essays, Moral, Political, and Literary (1742)


But to whom is allegiance due? And who is our lawful sovereign? This question is often the most difficult of any, and liable to infinite discussions. When people are so happy, that they can answer, Our present sovereign, who inherits, in a direct line, from ancestors, that have governed us for many ages; this answer admits of no reply; even though historians, in tracing up to the remotest antiquity, the origin of that royal family, may find, as commonly happens, that its first authority was derived from usurpation and violence. It is confessed, that private justice, or the abstinence from the properties of others, is a most cardinal virtue: Yet reason tells us, that there is no property in durable objects, such as lands or houses, when carefully examined in passing from hand to hand, but must, in some period, have been founded on fraud and injustice. The necessities of human society, neither in private nor public life, will allow of such an accurate enquiry: And there is no virtue or moral duty, but what may, with facility, be refined away, if we indulge a false philosophy, in sifting and scrutinizing it, by every captious rule of logic, in every light or position, in which it may be placed.

I appreciate Hume’s honesty.

Thanks for reading,

Leave a Reply