Portrait of Adam Smith

Adam Smith on the legitimacy of using force to ensure justice (1759)

Found in: The Theory of Moral Sentiments and on the Origins of Languages (Stewart ed.)

Adam Smith (1723-1790) argues that justice is the only virtue which may be imposed by force:


There is, however, another virtue, of which the observance is not left to the freedom of our own wills, which may be extorted by force, and of which the violation exposes to resentment, and consequently to punishment. This virtue is justice: the violation of justice is injury: it does real and positive hurt to some particular persons, from motives which are naturally disapproved of. It is, therefore, the proper object of resentment, and of punishment, which is the natural consequence of resentment.