SECTION IV.: Of the transference of property by consent. - David Hume, A Treatise of Human Nature 
A Treatise of Human Nature by David Hume, reprinted from the Original Edition in three volumes and edited, with an analytical index, by L.A. Selby-Bigge, M.A. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1896).
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- Editor’s Preface.
- Book I: Of the Understanding
- Part I.: Of Ideas, Their Origin, Composition, Connexion, Abstraction, &c.
- Section I.: Of the Origin of Our Ideas.
- Section II.: Division of the Subject.
- Section III.: Of the Ideas of the Memory and Imagination.
- Section IV.: Of the Connexion Or Association of Ideas.
- Section V.: Of Relations.
- Section VI.: Of Modes and Substances.
- Section VII.: Of Abstract Ideas.
- Part II.: Of the Ideas of Space and Time.
- Section I.: Of the Infinite Divisibility of Our Ideas of Space and Time.
- Section II.: Of the Infinite Divisibility of Space and Time.
- Section III.: Of the Other Qualities of Our Ideas of Space and Time.
- Section IV.: Objections Answer’d.
- Section V.: The Same Subject Continu’d.
- Section VI.: Of the Idea of Existence, and of External Existence.
- Part III.: Of Knowledge and Probability.
- Section I.: Of Knowledge.
- Section II.: Of Probability; and of the Idea of Cause and Effect.
- Section III.: Why a Cause Is Always Necessary.
- Section IV.: Of the Component Parts of Our Reasonings Concerning Cause and Effect.
- Section. V.: Of the Impressions of the Senses and Memory.
- Section VI.: Of the Inference From the Impression to the Idea.
- Section VII.: Of the Nature of the Idea Or Belief.
- Section VIII.: Of the Causes of Belief.
- Section IX.: Of the Effects of Other Relations and Other Habits.
- Section X.: Of the Influence of Belief.
- Section XI.: Of the Probability of Chances.
- Section XII.: Of the Probability of Causes.
- Section XIII.: Of Unphilosophical Probability.
- Section XIV.: Of the Idea of Necessary Connexion.
- Section XV.: Rules By Which to Judge of Causes and Effects.
- Section XVI.: Of the Reason of Animals.
- Part IV.: Of the Sceptical and Other Systems of Philosophy.
- Section I.: Of Scepticism With Regard to Reason.
- Section II.: Of Scepticism With Regard to the Senses.
- Section III.: Of the Antient Philosophy.
- Section IV.: Of the Modern Philosophy.
- Section V.: Of the Immateriality of the Soul.
- Section VI.: Of Personal Identity.
- Section VII.: Conclusion of This Book.
- Book II: Of the Passions
- Part I.: Of Pride and Humility.
- Section I.: Division of the Subject.
- Section II.: Of Pride and Humility; Their Objects and Causes.
- Section III.: Whence These Objects and Causes Are Deriv’d.
- Section IV.: Of the Relations of Impressions and Ideas.
- Section V.: Of the Influence of These Relations On Pride and Humility.
- Section VI.: Limitations of This System.
- Section VII.: Of Vice and Virtue.
- Section VIII.: Of Beauty and Deformity.
- Section IX.: Of External Advantages and Disadvantages.
- Section X.: Of Property and Riches.
- Section XI.: Of the Love of Fame.
- Section XII.: Of the Pride and Humility of Animals.
- Part II.: Of Love and Hatred.
- Section I.: Of the Objects and Causes of Love and Hatred.
- Section II.: Experiments to Confirm This System.
- Section III.: Difficulties Solv’d.
- Section IV.: Of the Love of Relations.
- Section V.: Of Our Esteem For the Rich and Powerful.
- Section VI.: Of Benevolence and Anger.
- Section VII.: Of Compassion.
- Section VIII.: Of Malice and Envy.
- Section IX.: Of the Mixture of Benevolence and Anger With Compassion and Malice.
- Section X.: Of Respect and Contempt.
- Section XI.: Of the Amorous Passion, Or Love Betwixt the Sexes.
- Section XII.: Of the Love and Hatred of Animals.
- Part III.: Of the Will and Direct Passions.
- Section I.: Of Liberty and Necessity.
- Section II.: The Same Subject Continu’d.
- Section III.: Of the Influencing Motives of the Will.
- Section IV.: Of the Causes of the Violent Passions.
- Section V.: Of the Effects of Custom.
- Section VI.: Of the Influence of the Imagination On the Passions.
- Section VII.: Of Contiguity, and Distance In Space and Time.
- Section VIII.: The Same Subject Continu’d.
- Section IX.: Of the Direct Passions.
- Section X.: Of Curiosity, Or the Love of Truth.
- Book III: Of Morals
- Part I.: Of Virtue and Vice In General.
- Section I.: Moral Distinctions Not Deriv’d From Reason.
- Section II.: Moral Distinctions Deriv’d From a Moral Sense.
- Part II.: Of Justice and Injustice.
- Section I.: Justice, Whether a Natural Or Artificial Virtue?
- Section II.: Of the Origin of Justice and Property.
- Section III.: Of the Rules, Which Determine Property.
- Section IV.: Of the Transference of Property By Consent.
- Section V.: Of the Obligation of Promises.
- Section VI.: Some Farther Reflexions Concerning Justice and Injustice.
- Section VII.: Of the Origin of Government.
- Section VIII.: Of the Source of Allegiance.
- Section IX.: Of the Measures of Allegiance.
- Section X.: Of the Objects of Allegiance.
- Section XI.: Of the Laws of Nations.
- Section XII.: Of Chastity and Modesty.
- Part III.: Of the Other Virtues and Vices.
- Section I.: Of the Origin of the Natural Virtues and Vices.
- Section II.: Of Greatness of Mind.
- Section III.: Of Goodness and Benevolence.
- Section IV.: Of Natural Abilities.
- Section V.: Some Farther Reflexions Concerning the Natural Virtues.
- Section VI.: Conclusion of This Book.
Of the transference of property by consent.
However useful, or even necessary, the stability of possession may be to human society, ’tis attended with very considerable inconveniences. The relation of fitness or suitableness ought never to enter into consideration, in distributing the properties of mankind; but we must govern ourselves by rules, which are more general in their application, and more free from doubt and uncertainty. Of this kind is present possession upon the first establishment of society; and afterwards occupation, prescription, accession, and succession. As these depend very much on chance, they must frequently prove contradictory both to men’s wants and desires; and persons and possessions must often be very ill adjusted. This is a grand inconvenience, which calls for a remedy. To apply one directly, and allow every man to seize by violence what he judges to be fit for him, wou’d destroy society; and therefore the rules of justice seek some medium betwixt a rigid stability, and this changeable and uncertain adjustment. But there is no medium better than that obvious one, that possession and property shou’d always be stable, except when the proprietor consents to bestow them on some other person. This rule can have no ill consequence, in occasioning wars and dissentions; since the proprietor’s consent, who alone is concern’d, is taken along in the alienation: And it may serve to many good purposes in adjusting property to persons. Different parts of the earth produce different commodities; and not only so, but different men both are by nature fitted for different employments, and attain to greater perfection in any one, when they confine themselves to it alone. All this requires a mutual exchange and commerce; for which reason the translation of property by consent is founded on a law of nature, as well as its stability without such a consent.
So far is determin’d by a plain utility and interest. But perhaps ’tis from more trivial reasons, that delivery, or a sensible transference of the object is commonly requir’d by civil laws, and also by the laws of nature, according to most authors, as a requisite circumstance in the translation of property. The property of an object, when taken for something real, without any reference to morality, or the sentiments of the mind, is a quality perfectly insensible, and even inconceivable; nor can we form any distinct notion, either of its stability or translation. This imperfection of our ideas is less sensibly felt with regard to its stability, as it engages less our attention, and is easily past over by the mind, without any scrupulous examination. But as the translation of property from one person to another is a more remarkable event, the defect of our ideas becomes more sensible on that occasion, and obliges us to turn ourselves on every side in search of some remedy. Now as nothing more enlivens any idea than a present impression, and a relation betwixt that impression and the idea; ’tis natural for us to seek some false light from this quarter. In order to aid the imagination in conceiving the transference of property, we take the sensible object, and actually transfer its possession to the person, on whom we wou’d bestow the property. The suppos’d resemblance of the actions, and the presence of this sensible delivery, deceive the mind, and make it fancy, that it conceives the mysterious transition of the property. And that this explication of the matter is just, appears hence, that men have invented a symbolical delivery, to satisfy the fancy, where the real one is impracticable. Thus the giving the keys of a granary is understood to be the delivery of the corn contain’d in it: The giving of stone and earth represents the delivery of a mannor. This is a kind of superstitious practice in civil laws, and in the laws of nature, resembling the Roman catholic superstitions in religion. As the Roman catholics represent the inconceivable mysteries of the Christian religion, and render them more present to the mind, by a taper, or habit, or grimace, which is suppos’d to resemble them; so lawyers and moralists have run into like inventions for the same reason, and have endeavour’d by those means to satisfy themselves concerning the transference of property by consent.