Economics and Philosophy



Adam Smith: justice and due shares


John Salter a1
a1 University of Manchester

Abstract

In a contribution to this journal Amos Witzum has challenged a common interpretation of Adam Smith's theory of justice, according to which Smith ‘employed a concept of justice – in the tradition of natural laws theories – whereby rights are related to guarding what is one's own rather than to what is one's due’ (Witzum, 1997, p. 242). Witzum claims that not only does Smith's conception of justice include one's due, and hence, distributional considerations, but the right to one's own ‘stems from the right to what is one's due’ (p. 244). Furthermore, he asserts that ‘as all members of society own their natural faculties, which presumably were given to them to enable them to survive, the fruits of their labour up to subsistence level belong to them by virtue of their ownership of their own faculties’ (p. 259). This leads him to the conclusion that property acquisition gives rise to a duty, on the part of property holders, to ‘distribute subsistence’ and that when wages fall below the subsistence level, the rights of workers have been violated ‘in exactly the same sense that taking an acquired asset away from its owner constitutes a violation of justice’ (p. 244).