Document Type

Book Chapter


Societies are founded on some understanding of justice, however objectionable the dominant meanings of justice may be perceived by those not favoured. All laws of government emanate from this essential feature of social relations for no government will survive without the assistance of significant force if it is not able to convince a sufficient number of citizens that their society is just. For David Hume, Aristotle and Adam Smith justice was first among all the virtues. Smith stipulated that "(j)ustice ... is the main pillar that upholds the whole edifice. If it is removed ... the immense fabric of human society ... must in a moment crumble into atoms" [1976, Section II, Chapter ii, parts 4 and 6]. Smith did not have in mind the distributive justice which we now associate with the achievement of social justice, notably that portrayed by Marshall [1992]. Rather, Smith adopted a Lockean stance and identified justice with the absence of any harm to either an individual's person or to their property; "preservation of property being the end of government" [Locke, 1884, Book II, Chapter IX, section 138, also Chapter XIX, section 222]. Thus, the foundation of justice in capitalist societies is securing property rights [Smith, 1976, Section VII, Chapter ii, part 10; see also Carter, 1989, p.9]. Any threats to property rights, suggested Hume, were equivalent to an attack on the sacred laws of God, the result of which would be tyranny and the destruction of society [Hume, 1960, Book II, section 2, paragraph 2]. The intention of this paper is not to promote one form of justice over another, rather to show how accounting is compatible with, and essential to, an interpretation of justice derived from the rights of property. It is accepted that meanings attributed to justice are not absolute but instead are the products of particular social contexts.