Hume's Humanity and the Protection of the Vulnerable

Main Article Content

Ivana Zagorac


It is well known that Hume excluded inferior rational beings, who are incapable of resistance and weak resentment, from his concept of justice. This resulted in a critique of Hume’s theory of justice, as it would not protect those who were the most vulnerable against ill treatment. The typical answer to this critique is that Hume excluded inferior rational beings from the concept of justice, but not from that of morality, and that he considered their protection to be the task of humanity. The subject of this text is the range of Hume’s humanity. What manner of protection does Hume’s humanity truly offer? Despite the conclusion that this manner of protection of the vulnerable is insufficient, Hume’s humanity contains valuable characteristics worthy of re-evaluation in modern debate — both on the limits of humanity and on the conditions and models of protecting the vulnerable.
Author Biography

Ivana Zagorac, University of Zagreb

Ivana Zagorac, PhD (Assistant Professor)

Primary institution: Department of Philosophy, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, University of Zagreb, Croatia (I. Lučića 3, HR–10000 Zagreb)

Secondary institution: Institute for Medical Ethics and History of Medicine, Ruhr-University Bochum, Germany (Malakowturm, Markstrasse 258a, DE–44799 Bochum)


Acknowledgments: This research was supported under Marie Curie Newfelpro funding scheme for the project CONVINce-ME (FP7-PEOPLE-2011-COFUND program; Government of the Republic of Croatia and the Ministry of Science, Education and Sport). Author is a CONVINce-ME project manager and a research fellow at the Institute for Medical Ethics and History of Medicine, Ruhr University Bochum.


A – D. Hume, An Abstract of a Treatise of Human Nature, London 1740; available at: [10.2014].

M – D. Hume, An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals, printed for A. Millar, Oxford University, Oxford 1751; D. Hume, An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals, London 1771; available at: [10.2014].

T – D. Hume, A Treatise of Human Nature, Vol. 1–3, London 1739–1740; available at: [10.2014].

Baier [1980] – A. Baier, “Hume on Resentment,” Hume Studies 6 (2), 1980, p. 133–149.

Baier [1993] – A. Baier, “Moralism and Cruelty: Reflections on Hume and Kant,” Ethics 103 (3) 1993, p. 436–457.

Barry [1989] – B. Barry, Theories of Justice, University of California Press, Berkeley 1989.

Belmont Report [1979] – National Commission for the Protection of Human Subjects of Biomedical and Behavioral Research, The Belmont Report: Ethical Principles and Guidelines for the Protection of Human Subjects of Research, Department of Health, Education and Welfare, Washington, DC 1979; available at: [09.09.2013].

Brown [1994] – C. Brown, “From Spectator to Agent: Hume’s Theory of Obligation,” Hume Studies 20 (1) 1994, p. 19–35.

CIOMS Guidelines [2002] – CIOMS (Council for International Organizations of Medical Sciences) in collaboration with WHO (World Health Organization), International Ethical Guidelines for Biomedical Research Involving Human Subjects, CIOMS, Geneva 2002.

Debes [2007a] – R. Debes, “Humanity, Sympathy and the Puzzle of Hume’s Second Enquiry,” British Journal for the History of Philosophy 15 (1) 2007, p. 27–57.

Debes [2007b] – R. Debes, “Has Anything Changed? Hume’s Theory of Association and Sympathy after the Treatise,” British Journal for the History of Philosophy 15 (2) 2007, p. 313–338.

Declaration of Helsinki [2013] – U. Wiesing, R.W. Parsa-Parsi, O. Kloiber (eds.), The World Medical Association Declaration of Helsinki. 1964–2014: 50 Years of Evolution of Medical Research Ethics, Ferney-Voltaire Cedex: The World Medical Association 2014.

Hanley [2011] – R.P. Hanley, “David Hume and the ‘Politics of Humanity’,” Political Theory 39 (2) 2011, p. 205–233.

Hope [2010] – S. Hope, “The Circumstances of Justice,” Hume Studies 36 (2) 2010, p. 125–148.

Johnson [1755] – S. Johnson, A Dictionary of the English Language, [in:] A Dictionary of the English Language: A Digital Edition of the 1755 Classic by Samuel Johnson, Brandi Besalke (ed.); available at: [13.10.2013].

Kekes [1996] – J. Kekes, “Cruelty and Liberalism,” Ethics 106 (4) 1996, p. 834–844.

Nussbaum [2006] – M. Nussbaum, Frontiers of Justice: Disability, Nationality, Species Membership, Harvard University Press, Cambridge 2006.

Ridge [2010] – M. Ridge, “David Hume, Paternalist,” Hume Studies 36 (2) 2010, p. 149–170.

Salter [2012] – J. Salter, “Hume and Mutual Advantage,” Politics, Philosophy & Economics 11 (3) 2012, p. 302–321.

Schmidt Radcliffe [1996] – E. Schmidt Radcliffe, “How Does the Humean Sense of Duty Motivate?” Journal of the History of Philosophy 34 (3) 1996, p. 383–407.

Shaver [1992] – R. Shaver, “Hume on the Duties of Humanity,” Journal of the History of Philosophy 30 (4) 1992, p. 545–556.

Taylor [2015] – J. Taylor, Reflecting Subjects: Passion, Sympathy, and Society in Hume’s Philosophy, Oxford University Press, Oxford 2015.

Vanterpool [1988] – R.V. Vanterpool, “Hume on the ‘Duty’ of Benevolence,” Hume Studies 14 (1) 1988, p. 93–110.

Vitz [2002] – R. Vitz, “Hume and the Limits of Benevolence,” Hume Studies 28 (2) 2002, p. 271–296.

Vitz [2004] – R. Vitz, “Sympathy and Benevolence in Hume’s Moral Psychology,” Journal of the History of Philosophy 42 (3) 2004, p. 261–275.


Download data is not yet available.

Article Details

How to Cite
ZAGORAC, I. Hume’s Humanity and the Protection of the Vulnerable. Diametros, n. 44, p. 189-203, 19 jun. 2015.
Special Topic - Justice and Compassion – Hume’s Moral Philosophy and Contemporary Practical Ethics