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An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals by David Hume

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The following is an e-text of a 1912 reprint of the 1777 edition
of David Hume's An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals.
Each page was cut out of the original book with an X-acto knife
and fed into an Automatic Document Feeder Scanner to make this
e-text, so the original book was disbinded in order to save it.

Some adaptations from the original text were made while
formatting it for an e-text. Italics in the original book are
capitalized in this e-text. The original spellings of words are
preserved, such as "connexion" for "connection," "labour" for
"labor," etc. Original footnotes are put in brackets "[]" at the
points where they are cited in the text.




Most of the principles, and reasonings, contained in this volume,

[Footnote: Volume II. of the posthumous edition of Hume's works
published in 1777 and containing, besides the present ENQUIRY, A
UNDERSTANDING. A reprint of this latter treatise has already
appeared in The Religion of Science Library (NO. 45)]

were published in a work in three volumes, called A TREATISE OF
HUMAN NATURE: A work which the Author had projected before he
left College, and which he wrote and published not long after.
But not finding it successful, he was sensible of his error in
going to the press too early, and he cast the whole anew in the
following pieces, where some negligences in his former reasoning
and more in the expression, are, he hopes, corrected. Yet several
writers who have honoured the Author's Philosophy with answers,
have taken care to direct all their batteries against that
juvenile work, which the author never acknowledged, and have
affected to triumph in any advantages, which, they imagined, they
had obtained over it: A practice very contrary to all rules of
candour and fair-dealing, and a strong instance of those
polemical artifices which a bigotted zeal thinks itself
authorized to employ. Henceforth, the Author desires, that the
following Pieces may alone be regarded as containing his
philosophical sentiments and principles.


I. Of the General Principles of Morals
II. Of Benevolence
III. Of Justice
IV. Of Political Society
V. Why Utility Pleases
VI. Of Qualities Useful to Ourselves
VII. Of Qualities Immediately Agreeable to Ourselves
VIII. Of Qualities Immediately Agreeable to Others
IX. Conclusion


I. Concerning Moral Sentiment
II. Of Self-love
III. Some Farther Considerations with Regard to Justice
IV. Of Some Verbal Disputes




DISPUTES with men, pertinaciously obstinate in their principles,
are, of all others, the most irksome; except, perhaps, those with
persons, entirely disingenuous, who really do not believe the
opinions they defend, but engage in the controversy, from
affectation, from a spirit of opposition, or from a desire of
showing wit and ingenuity, superior to the rest of mankind. The
same blind adherence to their own arguments is to be expected in
both; the same contempt of their antagonists; and the same
passionate vehemence, in inforcing sophistry and falsehood. And
as reasoning is not the source, whence either disputant derives
his tenets; it is in vain to expect, that any logic, which speaks
not to the affections, will ever engage him to embrace sounder

Those who have denied the reality of moral distinctions, may be
ranked among the disingenuous disputants; nor is it conceivable,
that any human creature could ever seriously believe, that all
characters and actions were alike entitled to the affection and
regard of everyone. The difference, which nature has placed
between one man and another, is so wide, and this difference is
still so much farther widened, by education, example, and habit,
that, where the opposite extremes come at once under our
apprehension, there is no scepticism so scrupulous, and scarce
any assurance so determined, as absolutely to deny all
distinction between them. Let a man's insensibility be ever so
great, he must often be touched with the images of Right and
Wrong; and let his prejudices be ever so obstinate, he must
observe, that others are susceptible of like impressions. The
only way, therefore, of converting an antagonist of this kind, is
to leave him to himself. For, finding that nobody keeps up the
controversy with him, it is probable he will, at last, of
himself, from mere weariness, come over to the side of common
sense and reason.

There has been a controversy started of late, much better worth
examination, concerning the general foundation of Morals; whether
they be derived from Reason, or from Sentiment; whether we attain
the knowledge of them by a chain of argument and induction, or by
an immediate feeling and finer internal sense; whether, like all
sound judgement of truth and falsehood, they should be the same
to every rational intelligent being; or whether, like the
perception of beauty and deformity, they be founded entirely on
the particular fabric and constitution of the human species.

The ancient philosophers, though they often affirm, that virtue
is nothing but conformity to reason, yet, in general, seem to
consider morals as deriving their existence from taste and
sentiment. On the other hand, our modern enquirers, though they
also talk much of the beauty of virtue, and deformity of vice,
yet have commonly endeavoured to account for these distinctions
by metaphysical reasonings, and by deductions from the most
abstract principles of the understanding. Such confusion reigned
in these subjects, that an opposition of the greatest consequence
could prevail between one system and another, and even in the
parts of almost each individual system; and yet nobody, till very
lately, was ever sensible of it. The elegant Lord Shaftesbury,
who first gave occasion to remark this distinction, and who, in
general, adhered to the principles of the ancients, is not,
himself, entirely free from the same confusion.

It must be acknowledged, that both sides of the question are
susceptible of specious arguments. Moral distinctions, it may be
said, are discernible by pure reason: else, whence the many
disputes that reign in common life, as well as in philosophy,
with regard to this subject: the long chain of proofs often
produced on both sides; the examples cited, the authorities
appealed to, the analogies employed, the fallacies detected, the
inferences drawn, and the several conclusions adjusted to their
proper principles. Truth is disputable; not taste: what exists in
the nature of things is the standard of our judgement; what each
man feels within himself is the standard of sentiment.
Propositions in geometry may be proved, systems in physics may be
controverted; but the harmony of verse, the tenderness of
passion, the brilliancy of wit, must give immediate pleasure. No
man reasons concerning another's beauty; but frequently
concerning the justice or injustice of his actions. In every
criminal trial the first object of the prisoner is to disprove
the facts alleged, and deny the actions imputed to him: the
second to prove, that, even if these actions were real, they
might be justified, as innocent and lawful. It is confessedly by
deductions of the understanding, that the first point is
ascertained: how can we suppose that a different faculty of the
mind is employed in fixing the other? On the other hand, those
who would resolve all moral determinations into sentiment, may
endeavour to show, that it is impossible for reason ever to draw
conclusions of this nature. To virtue, say they, it belongs to be
amiable, and vice odious. This forms their very nature or
essence. But can reason or argumentation distribute these
different epithets to any subjects, and pronounce beforehand,
that this must produce love, and that hatred? Or what other
reason can we ever assign for these affections, but the original
fabric and formation of the human mind, which is naturally
adapted to receive them?

The end of all moral speculations is to teach us our duty; and,
by proper representations of the deformity of vice and beauty of
virtue, beget correspondent habits, and engage us to avoid the
one, and embrace the other. But is this ever to be expected from
inferences and conclusions of the understanding, which of
themselves have no hold of the affections or set in motion the
active powers of men? They discover truths: but where the truths
which they discover are indifferent, and beget no desire or
aversion, they can have no influence on conduct and behaviour.
What is honourable, what is fair, what is becoming, what is
noble, what is generous, takes possession of the heart, and
animates us to embrace and maintain it. What is intelligible,
what is evident, what is probable, what is true, procures only
the cool assent of the understanding; and gratifying a
speculative curiosity, puts an end to our researches.

Extinguish all the warm feelings and prepossessions in favour of
virtue, and all disgust or aversion to vice: render men totally
indifferent towards these distinctions; and morality is no longer
a practical study, nor has any tendency to regulate our lives and

These arguments on each side (and many more might be produced)
are so plausible, that I am apt to suspect, they may, the one as
well as the other, be solid and satisfactory, and that reason and
sentiment concur in almost all moral determinations and
conclusions. The final sentence, it is probable, which pronounces
characters and actions amiable or odious, praise-worthy or
blameable; that which stamps on them the mark of honour or
infamy, approbation or censure; that which renders morality an
active principle and constitutes virtue our happiness, and vice
our misery; it is probable, I say, that this final sentence
depends on some internal sense or feeling, which nature has made
universal in the whole species. For what else can have an
influence of this nature? But in order to pave the way for such a
sentiment, and give a proper discernment of its object, it is
often necessary, we find, that much reasoning should precede,
that nice distinctions be made, just conclusions drawn, distant
comparisons formed, complicated relations examined, and general
facts fixed and ascertained. Some species of beauty, especially
the natural kinds, on their first appearance, command our
affection and approbation; and where they fail of this effect, it
is impossible for any reasoning to redress their influence, or
adapt them better to our taste and sentiment. But in many orders
of beauty, particularly those of the finer arts, it is requisite
to employ much reasoning, in order to feel the proper sentiment;
and a false relish may frequently be corrected by argument and
reflection. There are just grounds to conclude, that moral beauty
partakes much of this latter species, and demands the assistance
of our intellectual faculties, in order to give it a suitable
influence on the human mind.

But though this question, concerning the general principles of
morals, be curious and important, it is needless for us, at
present, to employ farther care in our researches concerning it.
For if we can be so happy, in the course of this enquiry, as to
discover the true origin of morals, it will then easily appear
how far either sentiment or reason enters into all determinations
of this nature [Footnote: See Appendix I]. In order to attain
this purpose, we shall endeavour to follow a very simple method:
we shall analyse that complication of mental qualities, which
form what, in common life, we call Personal Merit: we shall
consider every attribute of the mind, which renders a man an
object either of esteem and affection, or of hatred and contempt;
every habit or sentiment or faculty, which, if ascribed to any
person, implies either praise or blame, and may enter into any
panegyric or satire of his character and manners. The quick
sensibility, which, on this head, is so universal among mankind,
gives a philosopher sufficient assurance, that he can never be
considerably mistaken in framing the catalogue, or incur any
danger of misplacing the objects of his contemplation: he needs
only enter into his own breast for a moment, and consider whether
or not he should desire to have this or that quality ascribed to
him, and whether such or such an imputation would proceed from a
friend or an enemy. The very nature of language guides us almost
infallibly in forming a judgement of this nature; and as every
tongue possesses one set of words which are taken in a good
sense, and another in the opposite, the least acquaintance with
the idiom suffices, without any reasoning, to direct us in
collecting and arranging the estimable or blameable qualities of
men. The only object of reasoning is to discover the
circumstances on both sides, which are common to these qualities;
to observe that particular in which the estimable qualities agree
on the one hand, and the blameable on the other; and thence to
reach the foundation of ethics, and find those universal
principles, from which all censure or approbation is ultimately
derived. As this is a question of fact, not of abstract science,
we can only expect success, by following the experimental method,
and deducing general maxims from a comparison of particular
instances. The other scientific method, where a general abstract
principle is first established, and is afterwards branched out
into a variety of inferences and conclusions, may be more perfect
in itself, but suits less the imperfection of human nature, and
is a common source of illusion and mistake in this as well as in
other subjects. Men are now cured of their passion for hypotheses
and systems in natural philosophy, and will hearken to no
arguments but those which are derived from experience. It is full
time they should attempt a like reformation in all moral
disquisitions; and reject every system of ethics, however subtle
or ingenious, which is not founded on fact and observation.

We shall begin our enquiry on this head by the consideration of
the social virtues, Benevolence and Justice. The explication of
them will probably give us an opening by which the others may be
accounted for.




It may be esteemed, perhaps, a superfluous task to prove, that
the benevolent or softer affections are estimable; and wherever
they appear, engage the approbation and good-will of mankind. The
FRIENDLY, GENEROUS, BENEFICENT, or their equivalents, are known
in all languages, and universally express the highest merit,
which HUMAN NATURE is capable of attaining. Where these amiable
qualities are attended with birth and power and eminent
abilities, and display themselves in the good government or
useful instruction of mankind, they seem even to raise the
possessors of them above the rank of HUMAN NATURE, and make them
approach in some measure to the divine. Exalted capacity,
undaunted courage, prosperous success; these may only expose a
hero or politician to the envy and ill-will of the public: but as
soon as the praises are added of humane and beneficent; when
instances are displayed of lenity, tenderness or friendship; envy
itself is silent, or joins the general voice of approbation and

When Pericles, the great Athenian statesman and general, was on
his death-bed, his surrounding friends, deeming him now
insensible, began to indulge their sorrow for their expiring
patron, by enumerating his great qualities and successes, his
conquests and victories, the unusual length of his
administration, and his nine trophies erected over the enemies of
the republic. YOU FORGET, cries the dying hero, who had heard

In men of more ordinary talents and capacity, the social virtues
become, if possible, still more essentially requisite; there
being nothing eminent, in that case, to compensate for the want
of them, or preserve the person from our severest hatred, as well
as contempt. A high ambition, an elevated courage, is apt, says
Cicero, in less perfect characters, to degenerate into a
turbulent ferocity. The more social and softer virtues are there
chiefly to be regarded. These are always good and amiable [Cic.
de Officiis, lib. I].

The principal advantage, which Juvenal discovers in the extensive
capacity of the human species, is that it renders our benevolence
also more extensive, and gives us larger opportunities of
spreading our kindly influence than what are indulged to the
inferior creation [Sat. XV. 139 and seq.]. It must, indeed, be
confessed, that by doing good only, can a man truly enjoy the
advantages of being eminent. His exalted station, of itself but
the more exposes him to danger and tempest. His sole prerogative
is to afford shelter to inferiors, who repose themselves under
his cover and protection.

But I forget, that it is not my present business to recommend
generosity and benevolence, or to paint, in their true colours,
all the genuine charms of the social virtues. These, indeed,
sufficiently engage every heart, on the first apprehension of
them; and it is difficult to abstain from some sally of
panegyric, as often as they occur in discourse or reasoning. But
our object here being more the speculative, than the practical
part of morals, it will suffice to remark, (what will readily, I
believe, be allowed) that no qualities are more intitled to the
general good-will and approbation of mankind than beneficence and
humanity, friendship and gratitude, natural affection and public
spirit, or whatever proceeds from a tender sympathy with others,
and a generous concern for our kind and species. These wherever
they appear seem to transfuse themselves, in a manner, into each
beholder, and to call forth, in their own behalf, the same
favourable and affectionate sentiments, which they exert on all


We may observe that, in displaying the praises of any humane,
beneficent man, there is one circumstance which never fails to be
amply insisted on, namely, the happiness and satisfaction,
derived to society from his intercourse and good offices. To his
parents, we are apt to say, he endears himself by his pious
attachment and duteous care still more than by the connexions of
nature. His children never feel his authority, but when employed
for their advantage. With him, the ties of love are consolidated
by beneficence and friendship. The ties of friendship approach,
in a fond observance of each obliging office, to those of love
and inclination. His domestics and dependants have in him a sure
resource; and no longer dread the power of fortune, but so far as
she exercises it over him. From him the hungry receive food, the
naked clothing, the ignorant and slothful skill and industry.
Like the sun, an inferior minister of providence he cheers,
invigorates, and sustains the surrounding world.

If confined to private life, the sphere of his activity is
narrower; but his influence is all benign and gentle. If exalted
into a higher station, mankind and posterity reap the fruit of
his labours.

As these topics of praise never fail to be employed, and with
success, where we would inspire esteem for any one; may it not
thence be concluded, that the utility, resulting from the social
virtues, forms, at least, a PART of their merit, and is one
source of that approbation and regard so universally paid to

When we recommend even an animal or a plant as USEFUL and
BENEFICIAL, we give it an applause and recommendation suited to
its nature. As, on the other hand, reflection on the baneful
influence of any of these inferior beings always inspires us with
the sentiment of aversion. The eye is pleased with the prospect
of corn-fields and loaded vine-yards; horses grazing, and flocks
pasturing: but flies the view of briars and brambles, affording
shelter to wolves and serpents.

A machine, a piece of furniture, a vestment, a house well
contrived for use and conveniency, is so far beautiful, and is
contemplated with pleasure and approbation. An experienced eye is
here sensible to many excellencies, which escape persons ignorant
and uninstructed.

Can anything stronger be said in praise of a profession, such as
merchandize or manufacture, than to observe the advantages which
it procures to society; and is not a monk and inquisitor enraged
when we treat his order as useless or pernicious to mankind?

The historian exults in displaying the benefit arising from his
labours. The writer of romance alleviates or denies the bad
consequences ascribed to his manner of composition.

In general, what praise is implied in the simple epithet USEFUL!
What reproach in the contrary!

Your Gods, says Cicero [De Nat. Deor. lib. i.], in opposition to
the Epicureans, cannot justly claim any worship or adoration,
with whatever imaginary perfections you may suppose them endowed.
They are totally useless and inactive. Even the Egyptians, whom
you so much ridicule, never consecrated any animal but on account
of its utility.

The sceptics assert [Sext. Emp. adrersus Math. lib. viii.],
though absurdly, that the origin of all religious worship was
derived from the utility of inanimate objects, as the sun and
moon, to the support and well-being of mankind. This is also the
common reason assigned by historians, for the deification of
eminent heroes and legislators [Diod. Sic. passim.].

To plant a tree, to cultivate a field, to beget children;
meritorious acts, according to the religion of Zoroaster.

In all determinations of morality, this circumstance of public
utility is ever principally in view; and wherever disputes arise,
either in philosophy or common life, concerning the bounds of
duty, the question cannot, by any means, be decided with greater
certainty, than by ascertaining, on any side, the true interests
of mankind. If any false opinion, embraced from appearances, has
been found to prevail; as soon as farther experience and sounder
reasoning have given us juster notions of human affairs, we
retract our first sentiment, and adjust anew the boundaries of
moral good and evil.

Giving alms to common beggars is naturally praised; because it
seems to carry relief to the distressed and indigent: but when we
observe the encouragement thence arising to idleness and
debauchery, we regard that species of charity rather as a
weakness than a virtue.

Tyrannicide, or the assassination of usurpers and oppressive
princes, was highly extolled in ancient times; because it both
freed mankind from many of these monsters, and seemed to keep the
others in awe, whom the sword or poinard could not reach. But
history and experience having since convinced us, that this
practice increases the jealousy and cruelty of princes, a
Timoleon and a Brutus, though treated with indulgence on account
of the prejudices of their times, are now considered as very
improper models for imitation.

Liberality in princes is regarded as a mark of beneficence, but
when it occurs, that the homely bread of the honest and
industrious is often thereby converted into delicious cates for
the idle and the prodigal, we soon retract our heedless praises.
The regrets of a prince, for having lost a day, were noble and
generous: but had he intended to have spent it in acts of
generosity to his greedy courtiers, it was better lost than
misemployed after that manner.

Luxury, or a refinement on the pleasures and conveniences of
life, had not long been supposed the source of every corruption
in government, and the immediate cause of faction, sedition,
civil wars, and the total loss of liberty. It was, therefore,
universally regarded as a vice, and was an object of declamation
to all satirists, and severe moralists. Those, who prove, or
attempt to prove, that such refinements rather tend to the
increase of industry, civility, and arts regulate anew our MORAL
as well as POLITICAL sentiments, and represent, as laudable or
innocent, what had formerly been regarded as pernicious and

Upon the whole, then, it seems undeniable, THAT nothing can
bestow more merit on any human creature than the sentiment of
benevolence in an eminent degree; and THAT a PART, at least, of
its merit arises from its tendency to promote the interests of
our species, and bestow happiness on human society. We carry our
view into the salutary consequences of such a character and
disposition; and whatever has so benign an influence, and
forwards so desirable an end, is beheld with complacency and
pleasure. The social virtues are never regarded without their
beneficial tendencies, nor viewed as barren and unfruitful. The
happiness of mankind, the order of society, the harmony of
families, the mutual support of friends, are always considered as
the result of their gentle dominion over the breasts of men.

How considerable a PART of their merit we ought to ascribe to
their utility, will better appear from future disquisitions;
[Footnote: Sect. III. and IV.] as well as the reason, why this
circumstance has such a command over our esteem and approbation.
[Footnote: Sect. V.]




THAT Justice is useful to society, and consequently that PART of
its merit, at least, must arise from that consideration, it would
be a superfluous undertaking to prove. That public utility is the
SOLE origin of justice, and that reflections on the beneficial
consequences of this virtue are the SOLE foundation of its merit;
this proposition, being more curious and important, will better
deserve our examination and enquiry.

Let us suppose that nature has bestowed on the human race such
profuse ABUNDANCE of all EXTERNAL conveniencies, that, without
any uncertainty in the event, without any care or industry on our
part, every individual finds himself fully provided with whatever
his most voracious appetites can want, or luxurious imagination
wish or desire. His natural beauty, we shall suppose, surpasses
all acquired ornaments: the perpetual clemency of the seasons
renders useless all clothes or covering: the raw herbage affords
him the most delicious fare; the clear fountain, the richest
beverage. No laborious occupation required: no tillage: no
navigation. Music, poetry, and contemplation form his sole
business: conversation, mirth, and friendship his sole amusement.
It seems evident that, in such a happy state, every other social
virtue would flourish, and receive tenfold increase; but the
cautious, jealous virtue of justice would never once have been
dreamed of. For what purpose make a partition of goods, where
every one has already more than enough? Why give rise to
property, where there cannot possibly be any injury? Why call
this object MINE, when upon the seizing of it by another, I need
but stretch out my hand to possess myself to what is equally
valuable? Justice, in that case, being totally useless, would be
an idle ceremonial, and could never possibly have place in the
catalogue of virtues.

We see, even in the present necessitous condition of mankind,
that, wherever any benefit is bestowed by nature in an unlimited
abundance, we leave it always in common among the whole human
race, and make no subdivisions of right and property. Water and
air, though the most necessary of all objects, are not challenged
as the property of individuals; nor can any man commit injustice
by the most lavish use and enjoyment of these blessings. In
fertile extensive countries, with few inhabitants, land is
regarded on the same footing. And no topic is so much insisted on
by those, who defend the liberty of the seas, as the unexhausted
use of them in navigation. Were the advantages, procured by
navigation, as inexhaustible, these reasoners had never had any
adversaries to refute; nor had any claims ever been advanced of a
separate, exclusive dominion over the ocean.

It may happen, in some countries, at some periods, that there be
established a property in water, none in land [Footnote: Genesis,
cbaps. xiii. and xxi.]; if the latter be in greater abundance
than can be used by the inhabitants, and the former be found,
with difficulty, and in very small quantities.

Again; suppose, that, though the necessities of human race
continue the same as at present, yet the mind is so enlarged, and
so replete with friendship and generosity, that every man has the
utmost tenderness for every man, and feels no more concern for
his own interest than for that of his fellows; it seems evident,
that the use of justice would, in this case, be suspended by such
an extensive benevolence, nor would the divisions and barriers of
property and obligation have ever been thought of. Why should I
bind another, by a deed or promise, to do me any good office,
when I know that he is already prompted, by the strongest
inclination, to seek my happiness, and would, of himself, perform
the desired service; except the hurt, he thereby receives, be
greater than the benefit accruing to me? in which case, he knows,
that, from my innate humanity and friendship, I should be the
first to oppose myself to his imprudent generosity. Why raise
landmarks between my neighbour's field and mine, when my heart
has made no division between our interests; but shares all his
joys and sorrows with the same force and vivacity as if
originally my own? Every man, upon this supposition, being a
second self to another, would trust all his interests to the
discretion of every man; without jealousy, without partition,
without distinction. And the whole human race would form only one
family; where all would lie in common, and be used freely,
without regard to property; but cautiously too, with as entire
regard to the necessities of each individual, as if our own
interests were most intimately concerned.

In the present disposition of the human heart, it would, perhaps,
be difficult to find complete instances of such enlarged
affections; but still we may observe, that the case of families
approaches towards it; and the stronger the mutual benevolence is
among the individuals, the nearer it approaches; till all
distinction of property be, in a great measure, lost and
confounded among them. Between married persons, the cement of
friendship is by the laws supposed so strong as to abolish all
division of possessions; and has often, in reality, the force
ascribed to it. And it is observable, that, during the ardour of
new enthusiasms, when every principle is inflamed into
extravagance, the community of goods has frequently been
attempted; and nothing but experience of its inconveniencies,
from the returning or disguised selfishness of men, could make
the imprudent fanatics adopt anew the ideas of justice and of
separate property. So true is it, that this virtue derives its
existence entirely from its necessary USE to the intercourse and
social state of mankind.

To make this truth more evident, let us reverse the foregoing
suppositions; and carrying everything to the opposite extreme,
consider what would be the effect of these new situations.
Suppose a society to fall into such want of all common
necessaries, that the utmost frugality and industry cannot
preserve the greater number from perishing, and the whole from
extreme misery; it will readily, I believe, be admitted, that the
strict laws of justice are suspended, in such a pressing
emergence, and give place to the stronger motives of necessity
and self-preservation. Is it any crime, after a shipwreck, to
seize whatever means or instrument of safety one can lay hold of,
without regard to former limitations of property? Or if a city
besieged were perishing with hunger; can we imagine, that men
will see any means of preservation before them, and lose their
lives, from a scrupulous regard to what, in other situations,
would be the rules of equity and justice? The use and tendency of
that virtue is to procure happiness and security, by preserving
order in society: but where the society is ready to perish from
extreme necessity, no greater evil can be dreaded from violence
and injustice; and every man may now provide for himself by all
the means, which prudence can dictate, or humanity permit. The
public, even in less urgent necessities, opens granaries, without
the consent of proprietors; as justly supposing, that the
authority of magistracy may, consistent with equity, extend so
far: but were any number of men to assemble, without the tie of
laws or civil jurisdiction; would an equal partition of bread in
a famine, though effected by power and even violence, be regarded
as criminal or injurious?

Suppose likewise, that it should be a virtuous man's fate to fall
into the society of ruffians, remote from the protection of laws
and government; what conduct must he embrace in that melancholy
situation? He sees such a desperate rapaciousness prevail; such a
disregard to equity, such contempt of order, such stupid
blindness to future consequences, as must immediately have the
most tragical conclusion, and must terminate in destruction to
the greater number, and in a total dissolution of society to the
rest. He, meanwhile, can have no other expedient than to arm
himself, to whomever the sword he seizes, or the buckler, may
belong: To make provision of all means of defence and security:
And his particular regard to justice being no longer of use to
his own safety or that of others, he must consult the dictates of
self-preservation alone, without concern for those who no longer
merit his care and attention.

When any man, even in political society, renders himself by his
crimes, obnoxious to the public, he is punished by the laws in
his goods and person; that is, the ordinary rules of justice are,
with regard to him, suspended for a moment, and it becomes
equitable to inflict on him, for the BENEFIT of society, what
otherwise he could not suffer without wrong or injury.

The rage and violence of public war; what is it but a suspension
of justice among the warring parties, who perceive, that this
virtue is now no longer of any USE or advantage to them? The laws
of war, which then succeed to those of equity and justice, are
rules calculated for the ADVANTAGE and UTILTIY of that particular
state, in which men are now placed. And were a civilized nation
engaged with barbarians, who observed no rules even of war, the
former must also suspend their observance of them, where they no
longer serve to any purpose; and must render every action or
recounter as bloody and pernicious as possible to the first

Thus, the rules of equity or justice depend entirely on the
particular state and condition in which men are placed, and owe
their origin and existence to that utility, which results to the
public from their strict and regular observance. Reverse, in any
considerable circumstance, the condition of men: Produce extreme
abundance or extreme necessity: Implant in the human breast
perfect moderation and humanity, or perfect rapaciousness and
malice: By rendering justice totally USELESS, you thereby totally
destroy its essence, and suspend its obligation upon mankind. The
common situation of society is a medium amidst all these
extremes. We are naturally partial to ourselves, and to our
friends; but are capable of learning the advantage resulting from
a more equitable conduct. Few enjoyments are given us from the
open and liberal hand of nature; but by art, labour, and
industry, we can extract them in great abundance. Hence the ideas
of property become necessary in all civil society: Hence justice
derives its usefulness to the public: And hence alone arises its
merit and moral obligation.

These conclusions are so natural and obvious, that they have not
escaped even the poets, in their descriptions of the felicity
attending the golden age or the reign of Saturn. The seasons, in
that first period of nature, were so temperate, if we credit
these agreeable fictions, that there was no necessity for men to
provide themselves with clothes and houses, as a security against
the violence of heat and cold: The rivers flowed with wine and
milk: The oaks yielded honey; and nature spontaneously produced
her greatest delicacies. Nor were these the chief advantages of
that happy age. Tempests were not alone removed from nature; but
those more furious tempests were unknown to human breasts, which
now cause such uproar, and engender such confusion. Avarice,
ambition, cruelty, selfishness, were never heard of: Cordial
affection, compassion, sympathy, were the only movements with
which the mind was yet acquainted. Even the punctilious
distinction of MINE and THINE was banished from among the happy
race of mortals, and carried with it the very notion of property
and obligation, justice and injustice.

This POETICAL fiction of the GOLDEN AGE, is in some respects, of
a piece with the PHILOSOPHICAL fiction of the STATE OF NATURE;
only that the former is represented as the most charming and most
peaceable condition, which can possibly be imagined; whereas the
latter is painted out as a state of mutual war and violence,
attended with the most extreme necessity. On the first origin of
mankind, we are told, their ignorance and savage nature were so
prevalent, that they could give no mutual trust, but must each
depend upon himself and his own force or cunning for protection
and security. No law was heard of: No rule of justice known: No
distinction of property regarded: Power was the only measure of
right; and a perpetual war of all against all was the result of
men's untamed selfishness and barbarity.

[Footnote: This fiction of a state of nature, as a state of war,
was not first started by Mr. Hobbes, as is commonly imagined.
Plato endeavours to refute an hypothesis very like it in the
second, third, and fourth books de republica. Cicero, on the
contrary, supposes it certain and universally acknowledged in the
following passage. 'Quis enim vestrum, judices, ignorat, ita
naturam rerum tulisse, ut quodam tempore homines, nondum neque
naturali neque civili jure descripto, fusi per agros ac dispersi
vagarentur tantumque haberent quantum manu ac viribus, per caedem
ac vulnera, aut eripere aut retinere potuissent? Qui igitur primi
virtute & consilio praestanti extiterunt, ii perspecto genere
humanae docilitatis atque ingenii, dissipatos unum in locum
congregarunt, eosque ex feritate illa ad justitiam ac
mansuetudinem transduxerunt. Tum res ad communem utilitatem, quas
publicas appellamus, tum conventicula hominum, quae postea
civitates nominatae sunt, tum domicilia conjuncta, quas urbes
dicamus, invento & divino & humano jure moenibus sepserunt. Atque
inter hanc vitam, perpolitam humanitate, & llam immanem, nihil
tam interest quam JUS atque VIS. Horum utro uti nolimus, altero
est utendum. Vim volumus extingui. Jus valeat necesse est, idi
est, judicia, quibus omne jus continetur. Judicia displicent, ant
nulla sunt. Vis dominetur necesse est. Haec vident omnes.' Pro
Sext. sec. 42.]

Whether such a condition of human nature could ever exist, or if
it did, could continue so long as to merit the appellation of a
STATE, may justly be doubted. Men are necessarily born in a
family-society, at least; and are trained up by their parents to
some rule of conduct and behaviour. But this must be admitted,
that, if such a state of mutual war and violence was ever real,
the suspension of all laws of justice, from their absolute
inutility, is a necessary and infallible consequence.

The more we vary our views of human life, and the newer and more
unusual the lights are in which we survey it, the more shall we
be convinced, that the origin here assigned for the virtue of
justice is real and satisfactory.

Were there a species of creatures intermingled with men, which,
though rational, were possessed of such inferior strength, both
of body and mind, that they were incapable of all resistance, and
could never, upon the highest provocation, make us feel the
effects of their resentment; the necessary consequence, I think,
is that we should be bound by the laws of humanity to give gentle
usage to these creatures, but should not, properly speaking, lie
under any restraint of justice with regard to them, nor could
they possess any right or property, exclusive of such arbitrary
lords. Our intercourse with them could not be called society,
which supposes a degree of equality; but absolute command on the
one side, and servile obedience on the other. Whatever we covet,
they must instantly resign: Our permission is the only tenure, by
which they hold their possessions: Our compassion and kindness
the only check, by which they curb our lawless will: And as no
inconvenience ever results from the exercise of a power, so
firmly established in nature, the restraints of justice and
property, being totally USELESS, would never have place in so
unequal a confederacy.

This is plainly the situation of men, with regard to animals; and
how far these may be said to possess reason, I leave it to others
to determine. The great superiority of civilized Europeans above
barbarous Indians, tempted us to imagine ourselves on the same
footing with regard to them, and made us throw off all restraints
of justice, and even of humanity, in our treatment of them. In
many nations, the female sex are reduced to like slavery, and are
rendered incapable of all property, in opposition to their lordly
masters. But though the males, when united, have in all countries
bodily force sufficient to maintain this severe tyranny, yet such
are the insinuation, address, and charms of their fair companions,
that women are commonly able to break the confederacy, and share
with the other sex in all the rights and privileges of society.

Were the human species so framed by nature as that each
individual possessed within himself every faculty, requisite both
for his own preservation and for the propagation of his kind:
Were all society and intercourse cut off between man and man, by
the primary intention of the supreme Creator: It seems evident,
that so solitary a being would be as much incapable of justice,
as of social discourse and conversation. Where mutual regards and
forbearance serve to no manner of purpose, they would never
direct the conduct of any reasonable man. The headlong course of
the passions would be checked by no reflection on future
consequences. And as each man is here supposed to love himself
alone, and to depend only on himself and his own activity for
safety and happiness, he would, on every occasion, to the utmost
of his power, challenge the preference above every other being,
to none of which he is bound by any ties, either of nature or of
interest. But suppose the conjunction of the sexes to be
established in nature, a family immediately arises; and
particular rules being found requisite for its subsistence, these
are immediately embraced; though without comprehending the rest
of mankind within their prescriptions. Suppose that several
families unite together into one society, which is totally
disjoined from all others, the rules, which preserve peace and
order, enlarge themselves to the utmost extent of that society;
but becoming then entirely useless, lose their force when carried
one step farther. But again suppose, that several distinct
societies maintain a kind of intercourse for mutual convenience
and advantage, the boundaries of justice still grow larger, in
proportion to the largeness of men's views, and the force of
their mutual connexions. History, experience, reason sufficiently
instruct us in this natural progress of human sentiments, and in
the gradual enlargement of our regards to justice, in proportion
as we become acquainted with the extensive utility of that


If we examine the PARTICULAR laws, by which justice is directed,
and property determined; we shall still be presented with the
same conclusion. The good of mankind is the only object of all
these laws and regulations. Not only is it requisite, for the
peace and interest of society, that men's possessions should be
separated; but the rules, which we follow, in making the
separation, are such as can best be contrived to serve farther
the interests of society.

We shall suppose that a creature, possessed of reason, but
unacquainted with human nature, deliberates with himself what
rules of justice or property would best promote public interest,
and establish peace and security among mankind: His most obvious
thought would be, to assign the largest possessions to the most
extensive virtue, and give every one the power of doing good,
proportioned to his inclination. In a perfect theocracy, where a
being, infinitely intelligent, governs by particular volitions,
this rule would certainly have place, and might serve to the
wisest purposes: But were mankind to execute such a law; so great
is the uncertainty of merit, both from its natural obscurity, and
from the self-conceit of each individual, that no determinate
rule of conduct would ever result from it; and the total
dissolution of society must be the immediate consequence.
SAINTS ALONE INHERIT THE EARTH; but the civil magistrate very
justly puts these sublime theorists on the same footing with
common robbers, and teaches them by the severest discipline, that
a rule, which, in speculation, may seem the most advantageous to
society, may yet be found, in practice, totally pernicious and

That there were RELIGIOUS fanatics of this kind in England,
during the civil wars, we learn from history; though it is
probable, that the obvious TENDENCY of these principles excited
such horror in mankind, as soon obliged the dangerous enthusiasts
to renounce, or at least conceal their tenets. Perhaps the
LEVELLERS, who claimed an equal distribution of property, were a
kind of POLITICAL fanatics, which arose from the religious
species, and more openly avowed their pretensions; as carrying a
more plausible appearance, of being practicable in themselves, as
well as useful to human society. It must, indeed, be confessed,
that nature is so liberal to mankind, that, were all her presents
equally divided among the species, and improved by art and
industry, every individual would enjoy all the necessaries, and
even most of the comforts of life; nor would ever be liable to
any ills but such as might accidentally arise from the sickly
frame and constitution of his body. It must also be confessed,
that, wherever we depart from this equality, we rob the poor of
more satisfaction than we add to the rich, and that the slight
gratification of a frivolous vanity, in one individual,
frequently costs more than bread to many families, and even
provinces. It may appear withal, that the rule of equality, as it
would be highly USEFUL, is not altogether IMPRACTICABLE; but has
taken place, at least in an imperfect degree, in some republics;
particularly that of Sparta; where it was attended, it is said,
with the most beneficial consequences. Not to mention that the
Agrarian laws, so frequently claimed in Rome, and carried into
execution in many Greek cities, proceeded, all of them, from a
general idea of the utility of this principle.

But historians, and even common sense, may inform us, that,
however specious these ideas of PERFECT equality may seem, they
are really, at bottom, IMPRACTICABLE; and were they not so, would
be extremely PERNICIOUS to human society. Render possessions ever
so equal, men's different degrees of art, care, and industry will
immediately break that equality. Or if you check these virtues,
you reduce society to the most extreme indigence; and instead of
preventing want and beggary in a few, render it unavoidable to
the whole community. The most rigorous inquisition too is
requisite to watch every inequality on its first appearance; and
the most severe jurisdiction, to punish and redress it. But
besides, that so much authority must soon degenerate into
tyranny, and be exerted with great partialities; who can possibly
be possessed of it, in such a situation as is here supposed?
Perfect equality of possessions, destroying all subordination,
weakens extremely the authority of magistracy, and must reduce
all power nearly to a level, as well as property.

We may conclude, therefore, that, in order to establish laws for
the regulation of property, we must be acquainted with the nature
and situation of man; must reject appearances, which may be
false, though specious; and must search for those rules, which
are, on the whole, most USEFUL and BENEFICIAL. Vulgar sense and
slight experience are sufficient for this purpose; where men give
not way to too selfish avidity, or too extensive enthusiasm.

Who sees not, for instance, that whatever is produced or improved
by a man's art or industry ought, for ever, to be secured to him,
in order to give encouragement to such USEFUL habits and
accomplishments? That the property ought also to descend to
children and relations, for the same USEFUL purpose? That it may
be alienated by consent, in order to beget that commerce and
intercourse, which is so BENEFICIAL to human society? And that
all contracts and promises ought carefully to be fulfilled, in
order to secure mutual trust and confidence, by which the general
INTEREST of mankind is so much promoted?

Examine the writers on the laws of nature; and you will always
find, that, whatever principles they set out with, they are sure
to terminate here at last, and to assign, as the ultimate reason
for every rule which they establish, the convenience and
necessities of mankind. A concession thus extorted, in opposition
to systems, has more authority than if it had been made in
prosecution of them.

What other reason, indeed, could writers ever give, why this must
be MINE and that YOURS; since uninstructed nature surely never
made any such distinction? The objects which receive those
appellations are, of themselves, foreign to us; they are totally
disjoined and separated from us; and nothing but the general
interests of society can form the connexion.

Sometimes the interests of society may require a rule of justice
in a particular case; but may not determine any particular rule,
among several, which are all equally beneficial. In that case,
the slightest analogies are laid hold of, in order to prevent
that indifference and ambiguity, which would be the source of
perpetual dissension. Thus possession alone, and first
possession, is supposed to convey property, where no body else
has any preceding claim and pretension. Many of the reasonings of
lawyers are of this analogical nature, and depend on very slight
connexions of the imagination.

Does any one scruple, in extraordinary cases, to violate all
regard to the private property of individuals, and sacrifice to
public interest a distinction which had been established for the
sake of that interest? The safety of the people is the supreme
law: All other particular laws are subordinate to it, and
dependent on it: And if, in the COMMON course of things, they be
followed and regarded; it is only because the public safety and
interest COMMONLY demand so equal and impartial an

Sometimes both UTILITY and ANALOGY fail, and leave the laws of
justice in total uncertainty. Thus, it is highly requisite, that
prescription or long possession should convey property; but what
number of days or months or years should be sufficient for that
purpose, it is impossible for reason alone to determine. CIVIL
LAWS here supply the place of the natural CODE, and assign
different terms for prescription, according to the different
UTILITIES, proposed by the legislator. Bills of exchange and
promissory notes, by the laws of most countries, prescribe sooner
than bonds, and mortgages, and contracts of a more formal nature.

In general we may observe that all questions of property are
subordinate to the authority of civil laws, which extend,
restrain, modify, and alter the rules of natural justice,
according to the particular CONVENIENCE of each community. The
laws have, or ought to have, a constant reference to the
constitution of government, the manners, the climate, the
religion, the commerce, the situation of each society. A late
author of genius, as well as learning, has prosecuted this
subject at large, and has established, from these principles, a
system of political knowledge, which abounds in ingenious and
brilliant thoughts, and is not wanting in solidity.

[Footnote: The author of L'ESPRIT DES LOIX, This illustrious
writer, however, sets out with a different theory, and supposes
all right to be founded on certain RAPPORTS or relations; which
is a system, that, in my opinion, never will be reconciled with
true philosophy. Father Malebranche, as far as I can learn, was
the first that started this abstract theory of morals, which was
afterwards adopted by Cudworth, Clarke, and others; and as it
excludes all sentiment, and pretends to found everything on
reason, it has not wanted followers in this philosophic age. See
Section I, Appendix I. With regard to justice, the virtue here
treated of, the inference against this theory seems short and
conclusive. Property is allowed to be dependent on civil laws;
civil laws are allowed to have no other object, but the interest
of society: This therefore must be allowed to be the sole
foundation of property and justice. Not to mention, that our
obligation itself to obey the magistrate and his laws is founded
on nothing but the interests of society.

If the ideas of justice, sometimes, do not follow the
dispositions of civil law; we shall find, that these cases,
instead of objections, are confirmations of the theory delivered
above. Where a civil law is so perverse as to cross all the
interests of society, it loses all its authority, and men judge
by the ideas of natural justice, which are conformable to those
interests. Sometimes also civil laws, for useful purposes,
require a ceremony or form to any deed; and where that is
wanting, their decrees run contrary to the usual tenour of
justice; but one who takes advantage of such chicanes, is not
commonly regarded as an honest man. Thus, the interests of
society require, that contracts be fulfilled; and there is not a
more material article either of natural or civil justice: But the
omission of a trifling circumstance will often, by law,
invalidate a contract, in foro humano, but not in foro
conscientiae, as divines express themselves. In these cases, the
magistrate is supposed only to withdraw his power of enforcing
the right, not to have altered the right. Where his intention
extends to the right, and is conformable to the interests of
society; it never fails to alter the right; a clear proof of the
origin of justice and of property, as assigned above.]

WHAT IS A MAN'S PROPERTY? Anything which it is lawful for him,
and for him alone, to use. BUT WHAT RULE HAVE WE, BY WHICH WE CAN
DISTINGUISH THESE OBJECTS? Here we must have recourse to
statutes, customs, precedents, analogies, and a hundred other
circumstances; some of which are constant and inflexible, some
variable and arbitrary. But the ultimate point, in which they all
professedly terminate, is the interest and happiness of human
society. Where this enters not into consideration, nothing can
appear more whimsical, unnatural, and even superstitious, than
all or most of the laws of justice and of property.

Those who ridicule vulgar superstitions, and expose the folly of
particular regards to meats, days, places, postures, apparel,
have an easy task; while they consider all the qualities and
relations of the objects, and discover no adequate cause for that
affection or antipathy, veneration or horror, which have so
mighty an influence over a considerable part of mankind. A Syrian
would have starved rather than taste pigeon; an Egyptian would
not have approached bacon: But if these species of food be
examined by the senses of sight, smell, or taste, or scrutinized
by the sciences of chemistry, medicine, or physics, no difference
is ever found between them and any other species, nor can that
precise circumstance be pitched on, which may afford a just
foundation for the religious passion. A fowl on Thursday is
lawful food; on Friday abominable: Eggs in this house and in this
diocese, are permitted during Lent; a hundred paces farther, to
eat them is a damnable sin. This earth or building, yesterday was
profane; to-day, by the muttering of certain words, it has become
holy and sacred. Such reflections as these, in the mouth of a
philosopher, one may safely say, are too obvious to have any
influence; because they must always, to every man, occur at first
sight; and where they prevail not, of themselves, they are surely
obstructed by education, prejudice, and passion, not by ignorance
or mistake.

It may appear to a careless view, or rather a too abstracted
reflection, that there enters a like superstition into all the
sentiments of justice; and that, if a man expose its object, or
what we call property, to the same scrutiny of sense and science,
he will not, by the most accurate enquiry, find any foundation
for the difference made by moral sentiment. I may lawfully
nourish myself from this tree; but the fruit of another of the
same species, ten paces off, it is criminal for me to touch. Had
I worn this apparel an hour ago, I had merited the severest
punishment; but a man, by pronouncing a few magical syllables,
has now rendered it fit for my use and service. Were this house
placed in the neighbouring territory, it had been immoral for me
to dwell in it; but being built on this side the river, it is
subject to a different municipal law, and by its becoming mine I
incur no blame or censure. The same species of reasoning it may
be thought, which so successfully exposes superstition, is also
applicable to justice; nor is it possible, in the one case more
than in the other, to point out, in the object, that precise
quality or circumstance, which is the foundation of the

But there is this material difference between SUPERSTITION and
JUSTICE, that the former is frivolous, useless, and burdensome;
the latter is absolutely requisite to the well-being of mankind
and existence of society. When we abstract from this circumstance
(for it is too apparent ever to be overlooked) it must be
confessed, that all regards to right and property, seem entirely
without foundation, as much as the grossest and most vulgar
superstition. Were the interests of society nowise concerned, it
is as unintelligible why another's articulating certain sounds
implying consent, should change the nature of my actions with
regard to a particular object, as why the reciting of a liturgy
by a priest, in a certain habit and posture, should dedicate a
heap of brick and timber, and render it, thenceforth and for
ever, sacred.

[Footnote: It is evident, that the will or consent alone never
transfers property, nor causes the obligation of a promise (for
the same reasoning extends to both), but the will must be
expressed by words or signs, in order to impose a tie upon any
man. The expression being once brought in as subservient to he
will, soon becomes the principal part of the promise; nor will a
man be less bound by his word, though he secretly give a
different direction to his intention, and withhold the assent of
his mind. But though the expression makes, on most occasions, the
whole of the promise, yet it does not always so; and one who
should make use of any expression, of which he knows not the
meaning, and which he uses without any sense of the consequences,
would not certainly be bound by it. Nay, though he know its
meaning, yet if he use it in jest only, and with such signs as
evidently show, that he has no serious intention of binding
himself, he would not lie under any obligation of performance;
but it is necessary, that the words be a perfect expression of
the will, without any contrary signs. Nay, even this we must not
carry so far as to imagine, that one, whom, by our quickness of
understanding, we conjecture, from certain signs, to have an
intention of deceiving us, is not bound by his expression or
verbal promise, if we accept of it; but must limit this
conclusion to those cases where the signs are of a different
nature from those of deceit. All these contradictions are easily
accounted for, if justice arise entirely from its usefulness to
society; but will never be explained on any other hypothesis.

It is remarkable that the moral decisions of the JESUITS and
other relaxed casuists, were commonly formed in prosecution of
some such subtilties of reasoning as are here pointed out, and
proceed as much from the habit of scholastic refinement as from
any corruption of the heart, if we may follow the authority of
Mons. Bayle. See his Dictionary, article Loyola. And why has the
indignation of mankind risen so high against these casuists; but
because every one perceived, that human society could not subsist
were such practices authorized, and that morals must always be
handled with a view to public interest, more than philosophical
regularity? If the secret direction of the intention, said every
man of sense, could invalidate a contract; where is our security?
And yet a metaphysical schoolman might think, that, where an
intention was supposed to be requisite, if that intention really
had not place, no consequence ought to follow, and no obligation
be imposed. The casuistical subtilties may not be greater than
the snbtilties of lawyers, hinted at above; but as the former are
PERNICIOUS, and the latter INNOCENT and even NECESSARY, this is
the reason of the very different reception they meet with from
the world.

It is a doctrine of the Church of Rome, that the priest, by a
secret direction of his intention, can invalidate any sacrament.
This position is derived from a strict and regular prosecution of
the obvious truth, that empty words alone, without any meaning or
intention in the speaker, can never be attended with any effect.
If the same conclusion be not admitted in reasonings concerning
civil contracts, where the affair is allowed to be of so much
less consequence than the eternal salvation of thousands, it
proceeds entirely from men's sense of the danger and
inconvenience of the doctrine in the former case: And we may
thence observe, that however positive, arrogant, and dogmatical
any superstition may appear, it never can convey any thorough
persuasion of the reality of its objects, or put them, in any
degree, on a balance with the common incidents of life, which we
learn from daily observation and experimental reasoning.]

These reflections are far from weakening the obligations of
justice, or diminishing anything from the most sacred attention
to property. On the contrary, such sentiments must acquire new
force from the present reasoning. For what stronger foundation
can be desired or conceived for any duty, than to observe, that
human society, or even human nature, could not subsist without
the establishment of it; and will still arrive at greater degrees
of happiness and perfection, the more inviolable the regard is,
which is paid to that duty?

The dilemma seems obvious: As justice evidently tends to promote
public utility and to support civil society, the sentiment of
justice is either derived from our reflecting on that tendency,
or like hunger, thirst, and other appetites, resentment, love of
life, attachment to offspring, and other passions, arises from a
simple original instinct in the human breast, which nature has
implanted for like salutary purposes. If the latter be the case,
it follows, that property, which is the object of justice, is
also distinguished by a simple original instinct, and is not
ascertained by any argument or reflection. But who is there that
ever heard of such an instinct? Or is this a subject in which new
discoveries can be made? We may as well expect to discover, in
the body, new senses, which had before escaped the observation of
all mankind.

But farther, though it seems a very simple proposition to say,
that nature, by an instinctive sentiment, distinguishes property,
yet in reality we shall find, that there are required for that
purpose ten thousand different instincts, and these employed
about objects of the greatest intricacy and nicest discernment.
For when a definition of PROPERTY is required, that relation is
found to resolve itself into any possession acquired by
occupation, by industry, by prescription, by inheritance, by
contract, &c. Can we think that nature, by an original instinct,
instructs us in all these methods of acquisition?

These words too, inheritance and contract, stand for ideas
infinitely complicated; and to define them exactly, a hundred
volumes of laws, and a thousand volumes of commentators, have not
been found sufficient. Does nature, whose instincts in men are
all simple, embrace such complicated and artificial objects, and
create a rational creature, without trusting anything to the
operation of his reason?

But even though all this were admitted, it would not be
satisfactory. Positive laws can certainly transfer property. It
is by another original instinct, that we recognize the authority
of kings and senates, and mark all the boundaries of their
jurisdiction? Judges too, even though their sentence be erroneous
and illegal, must be allowed, for the sake of peace and order, to
have decisive authority, and ultimately to determine property.
Have we original innate ideas of praetors and chancellors and
juries? Who sees not, that all these institutions arise merely
from the necessities of human society?

All birds of the same species in every age and country, built
their nests alike: In this we see the force of instinct. Men, in
different times and places, frame their houses differently: Here
we perceive the influence of reason and custom. A like inference
may be drawn from comparing the instinct of generation and the
institution of property.

How great soever the variety of municipal laws, it must be
confessed, that their chief outlines pretty regularly concur;
because the purposes, to which they tend, are everywhere exactly
similar. In like manner, all houses have a roof and walls,
windows and chimneys; though diversified in their shape, figure,
and materials. The purposes of the latter, directed to the
conveniencies of human life, discover not more plainly their
origin from reason and reflection, than do those of the former,
which point all to a like end.

I need not mention the variations, which all the rules of
property receive from the finer turns and connexions of the
imagination, and from the subtilties and abstractions of law-
topics and reasonings. There is no possibility of reconciling
this observation to the notion of original instincts.

What alone will beget a doubt concerning the theory, on which I
insist, is the influence of education and acquired habits, by
which we are so accustomed to blame injustice, that we are not,
in every instance, conscious of any immediate reflection on the
pernicious consequences of it. The views the most familiar to us
are apt, for that very reason, to escape us; and what we have
very frequently performed from certain motives, we are apt
likewise to continue mechanically, without recalling, on every
occasion, the reflections, which first determined us. The
convenience, or rather necessity, which leads to justice is so
universal, and everywhere points so much to the same rules, that
the habit takes place in all societies; and it is not without
some scrutiny, that we are able to ascertain its true origin. The
matter, however, is not so obscure, but that even in common life
we have every moment recourse to the principle of public utility,
distinction or separation of possessions entirely useless, can
any one conceive, that it ever should have obtained in society?

Thus we seem, upon the whole, to have attained a knowledge of the
force of that principle here insisted on, and can determine what
degree of esteem or moral approbation may result from reflections
on public interest and utility. The necessity of justice to the
support of society is the sole foundation of that virtue; and
since no moral excellence is more highly esteemed, we may
conclude that this circumstance of usefulness has, in general,
the strongest energy, and most entire command over our
sentiments. It must, therefore, be the source of a considerable
part of the merit ascribed to humanity, benevolence, friendship,
public spirit, and other social virtues of that stamp; as it is
the sole source of the moral approbation paid to fidelity,
justice, veracity, integrity, and those other estimable and
useful qualities and principles. It is entirely agreeable to the
rules of philosophy, and even of common reason; where any
principle has been found to have a great force and energy in one
instance, to ascribe to it a like energy in all similar
instances. This indeed is Newton's chief rule of philosophizing
[Footnote: Principia. Lib. iii.].



Had every man sufficient SAGACITY to perceive, at all times, the
strong interest which binds him to the observance of justice and
equity, and STRENGTH OF MIND sufficient to persevere in a steady
adherence to a general and a distant interest, in opposition to
the allurements of present pleasure and advantage; there had
never, in that case, been any such thing as government or
political society, but each man, following his natural liberty,
had lived in entire peace and harmony with all others. What need
of positive law where natural justice is, of itself, a sufficient
restraint? Why create magistrates, where there never arises any
disorder or iniquity? Why abridge our native freedom, when, in
every instance, the utmost exertion of it is found innocent and
beneficial? It is evident, that, if government were totally
useless, it never could have place, and that the sole foundation
of the duty of allegiance is the ADVANTAGE, which it procures to
society, by preserving peace and order among mankind.

When a number of political societies are erected, and maintain a
great intercourse together, a new set of rules are immediately
discovered to be USEFUL in that particular situation; and
accordingly take place under the title of Laws of Nations. Of
this kind are, the sacredness of the person of ambassadors,
abstaining from poisoned arms, quarter in war, with others of
that kind, which are plainly calculated for the ADVANTAGE of
states and kingdoms in their intercourse with each other.

The rules of justice, such as prevail among individuals, are not
entirely suspended among political societies. All princes pretend
a regard to the rights of other princes; and some, no doubt,
without hypocrisy. Alliances and treaties are every day made
between independent states, which would only be so much waste of
parchment, if they were not found by experience to have SOME
influence and authority. But here is the difference between
kingdoms and individuals. Human nature cannot by any means
subsist, without the association of individuals; and that
association never could have place, were no regard paid to the
laws of equity and justice. Disorder, confusion, the war of all
against all, are the necessary consequences of such a licentious
conduct. But nations can subsist without intercourse. They may
even subsist, in some degree, under a general war. The observance
of justice, though useful among them, is not guarded by so strong
a necessity as among individuals; and the moral obligation holds
proportion with the USEFULNESS. All politicians will allow, and
most philosophers, that reasons of state may, in particular
emergencies, dispense with the rules of justice, and invalidate
any treaty or alliance, where the strict observance of it would
be prejudicial, in a considerable degree, to either of the
contracting parties. But nothing less than the most extreme
necessity, it is confessed, can justify individuals in a breach
of promise, or an invasion of the properties of others.

In a confederated commonwealth, such as the Achaean republic of
old, or the Swiss Cantons and United Provinces in modern times;
as the league has here a peculiar UTILITY, the conditions of
union have a peculiar sacredness and authority, and a violation
of them would be regarded as no less, or even as more criminal,
than any private injury or injustice.

The long and helpless infancy of man requires the combination of
parents for the subsistence of their young; and that combination
requires the virtue of chastity or fidelity to the marriage bed.
Without such a UTILITY, it will readily be owned, that such a
virtue would never have been thought of.

[Footnote: The only solution, which Plato gives to all the
objections that might be raised against the community of women,
established in his imaginary commonwealth, is, [Greek quotation
here]. Scite enim istud et dicitur et dicetur, Id quod utile sit
honestum esse, quod autem inutile sit turpe esse. [De Rep lib v p
457 ex edit Ser]. And this maxim will admit of no doubt, where
public utility is concerned, which is Plato's meaning. And indeed
to what other purpose do all the ideas of chastity and modesty
serve? "Nisi utile est quod facimus, frustra est gloria," says
Phaedrus." [Greek quotation here]," says Plutarch, de vitioso
pudore. "Nihil eorum quae damnosa sunt, pulchrum est." The same
was the opinion of the Stoics [Greek quotation here; from Sept.
Emp lib III cap 20].

An infidelity of this nature is much more PERNICIOUS in WOMEN
than in MEN. Hence the laws of chastity are much stricter over
the one sex than over the other.

These rules have all a reference to generation; and yet women
past child-bearing are no more supposed to be exempted from them
than those in the flower of their youth and beauty. GENERAL RULES
are often extended beyond the principle whence they first arise;
and this in all matters of taste and sentiment. It is a vulgar
story at Paris, that, during the rage of the Mississippi, a hump-
backed fellow went every day into the Rue de Quincempoix, where
the stock-jobbers met in great crowds, and was well paid for
allowing them to make use of his hump as a desk, in order to sign
their contracts upon it. Would the fortune, which he raised by
this expedient, make him a handsome fellow; though it be
confessed, that personal beauty arises very much from ideas of
utility? The imagination is influenced by associations of ideas;
which, though they arise at first from the judgement, are not
easily altered by every particular exception that occurs to us.
To which we may add, in the present case of chastity, that the
example of the old would be pernicious to the young; and that
women, continually foreseeing that a certain time would bring
them the liberty of indulgence, would naturally advance that
period, and think more lightly of this whole duty, so requisite
to society.

Those who live in the same family have such frequent
opportunities of licence of this kind, that nothing could prevent
purity of manners, were marriage allowed, among the nearest
relations, or any intercourse of love between them ratified by
law and custom. Incest, therefore, being PERNICIOUS in a superior
degree, has also a superior turpitude and moral deformity annexed
to it.

What is the reason, why, by the Athenian laws, one might marry a
half-sister by the father, but not by the mother? Plainly this:
The manners of the Athenians were so reserved, that a man was
never permitted to approach the women's apartment, even in the
same family, unless where he visited his own mother. His step-
mother and her children were as much shut up from him as the
woman of any other family, and there was as little danger of any
criminal correspondence between them. Uncles and nieces, for a
like reason, might marry at Athens; but neither these, nor half-
brothers and sisters, could contract that alliance at Rome, where
the intercourse was more open between the sexes. Public utility
is the cause of all these variations.

To repeat, to a man's prejudice, anything that escaped him in
private conversation, or to make any such use of his private
letters, is highly blamed. The free and social intercourse of
minds must be extremely checked, where no such rules of fidelity
are established.

Even in repeating stories, whence we can foresee no ill
consequences to result, the giving of one's author is regarded as
a piece of indiscretion, if not of immorality. These stories, in
passing from hand to hand, and receiving all the usual
variations, frequently come about to the persons concerned, and
produce animosities and quarrels among people, whose intentions
are the most innocent and inoffensive.

To pry into secrets, to open or even read the letters of others,
to play the spy upon their words and looks and actions; what
habits more inconvenient in society? What habits, of consequence,
more blameable?

This principle is also the foundation of most of the laws of good
manners; a kind of lesser morality, calculated for the ease of
company and conversation. Too much or too little ceremony are
both blamed, and everything, which promotes ease, without an
indecent familiarity, is useful and laudable.

Constancy in friendships, attachments, and familiarities, is
commendable, and is requisite to support trust and good
correspondence in society. But in places of general, though
casual concourse, where the pursuit of health and pleasure brings
people promiscuously together, public conveniency has dispensed
with this maxim; and custom there promotes an unreserved
conversation for the time, by indulging the privilege of dropping
afterwards every indifferent acquaintance, without breach of
civility or good manners.

Even in societies, which are established on principles the most
immoral, and the most destructive to the interests of the general
society, there are required certain rules, which a species of
false honour, as well as private interest, engages the members to
observe. Robbers and pirates, it has often been remarked, could
not maintain their pernicious confederacy, did they not establish
a pew distributive justice among themselves, and recall those
laws of equity, which they have violated with the rest of

I hate a drinking companion, says the Greek proverb, who never
forgets. The follies of the last debauch should be buried in
eternal oblivion, in order to give full scope to the follies of
the next.

Among nations, where an immoral gallantry, if covered with a thin
veil of mystery, is, in some degree, authorized by custom, there
immediately arise a set of rules, calculated for the conveniency
of that attachment. The famous court or parliament of love in
Provence formerly decided all difficult cases of this nature.

In societies for play, there are laws required for the conduct of
the game; and these laws are different in each game. The
foundation, I own, of such societies is frivolous; and the laws
are, in a great measure, though not altogether, capricious and
arbitrary. So far is there a material difference between them and
the rules of justice, fidelity, and loyalty. The general
societies of men are absolutely requisite for the subsistence of
the species; and the public conveniency, which regulates morals,
is inviolably established in the nature of man, and of the world,
in which he lives. The comparison, therefore, in these respects,
is very imperfect. We may only learn from it the necessity of
rules, wherever men have any intercourse with each other.

They cannot even pass each other on the road without rules.
Waggoners, coachmen, and postilions have principles, by which
they give the way; and these are chiefly founded on mutual ease
and convenience. Sometimes also they are arbitrary, at least
dependent on a kind of capricious analogy like many of the
reasonings of lawyers.

[Footnote: That the lighter machine yield to the heavier, and, in
machines of the same kind, that the empty yield to the loaded;
this rule is founded on convenience. That those who are going to
the capital take place of those who are coming from it; this
seems to be founded on some idea of dignity of the great city,
and of the preference of the future to the past. From like
reasons, among foot-walkers, the right-hand entitles a man to the
wall, and prevents jostling, which peaceable people find very
disagreeable and inconvenient.]

To carry the matter farther, we may observe, that it is
impossible for men so much as to murder each other without
statutes, and maxims, and an idea of justice and honour. War has
its laws as well as peace; and even that sportive kind of war,
carried on among wrestlers, boxers, cudgel-players, gladiators,
is regulated by fixed principles. Common interest and utility
beget infallibly a standard of right and wrong among the parties




It seems so natural a thought to ascribe to their utility the
praise, which we bestow on the social virtues, that one would
expect to meet with this principle everywhere in moral writers,
as the chief foundation of their reasoning and enquiry. In common
life, we may observe, that the circumstance of utility is always
appealed to; nor is it supposed, that a greater eulogy can be
given to any man, than to display his usefulness to the public,
and enumerate the services, which he has performed to mankind and
society. What praise, even of an inanimate form, if the
regularity and elegance of its parts destroy not its fitness for
any useful purpose! And how satisfactory an apology for any
disproportion or seeming deformity, if we can show the necessity
of that particular construction for the use intended! A ship
appears more beautiful to an artist, or one moderately skilled in
navigation, where its prow is wide and swelling beyond its poop,
than if it were framed with a precise geometrical regularity, in
contradiction to all the laws of mechanics. A building, whose
doors and windows were exact squares, would hurt the eye by that
very proportion; as ill adapted to the figure of a human
creature, for whose service the fabric was intended.

What wonder then, that a man, whose habits and conduct are
hurtful to society, and dangerous or pernicious to every one who
has an intercourse with him, should, on that account, be an
object of disapprobation, and communicate to every spectator the
strongest sentiment of disgust and hatred.

[Footnote: We ought not to imagine, because an inanimate object
may be useful as well as a man, that therefore it ought also,
according to this system, to merit he appellation of VIRTUOUS.
The sentiments, excited by utility, are, in the two cases, very
different; and the one is mixed with affection, esteem,
approbation, &c., and not the other. In like manner, an inanimate
object may have good colour and proportions as well as a human
figure. But can we ever be in love with the former? There are a
numerous set of passions and sentiments, of which thinking
rational beings are, by the original constitution of nature, the
only proper objects: and though the very same qualities be
transferred to an insensible, inanimate being, they will not
excite the same sentiments. The beneficial qualities of herbs and
minerals are, indeed, sometimes called their VIRTUES; but this is
an effect of the caprice of language, which out not to be
regarded in reasoning. For though there be a species of
approbation attending even inanimate objects, when beneficial,
yet this sentiment is so weak, and so different from that which
is directed to beneficent magistrates or statesman; that they
ought not to be ranked under the same class or appellation.

A very small variation of the object, even where the same
qualities are preserved, will destroy a sentiment. Thus, the same
beauty, transferred to a different sex, excites no amorous
passion, where nature is not extremely perverted.]

But perhaps the difficulty of accounting for these effects of
usefulness, or its contrary, has kept philosophers from admitting
them into their systems of ethics, and has induced them rather to
employ any other principle, in explaining the origin of moral
good and evil. But it is no just reason for rejecting any
principle, confirmed by experience, that we cannot give a
satisfactory account of its origin, nor are able to resolve it
into other more general principles. And if we would employ a
little thought on the present subject, we need be at no loss to
account for the influence of utility, and to deduce it from
principles, the most known and avowed in human nature.

From the apparent usefulness of the social virtues, it has
readily been inferred by sceptics, both ancient and modern, that
all moral distinctions arise from education, and were, at first,
invented, and afterwards encouraged, by the art of politicians,
in order to render men tractable, and subdue their natural
ferocity and selfishness, which incapacitated them for society.
This principle, indeed, of precept and education, must so far be
owned to have a powerful influence, that it may frequently
increase or diminish, beyond their natural standard, the
sentiments of approbation or dislike; and may even, in particular
instances, create, without any natural principle, a new sentiment
of this kind; as is evident in all superstitious practices and
observances: But that ALL moral affection or dislike arises from
this origin, will never surely be allowed by any judicious
enquirer. Had nature made no such distinction, founded on the
original constitution of the mind, the words, HONOURABLE and
place in any language; nor could politicians, had they invented
these terms, ever have been able to render them intelligible, or
make them convey any idea to the audience. So that nothing can be
more superficial than this paradox of the sceptics; and it were
well, if, in the abstruser studies of logic and metaphysics, we
could as easily obviate the cavils of that sect, as in the
practical and more intelligible sciences of politics and morals.

The social virtues must, therefore, be allowed to have a natural
beauty and amiableness, which, at first, antecedent to all
precept or education, recommends them to the esteem of
uninstructed mankind, and engages their affections. And as the
public utility of these virtues is the chief circumstance, whence
they derive their merit, it follows, that the end, which they
have a tendency to promote, must be some way agreeable to us, and
take hold of some natural affection. It must please, either from
considerations of self-interest, or from more generous motives
and regards.

It has often been asserted, that, as every man has a strong
connexion with society, and perceives the impossibility of his
solitary subsistence, he becomes, on that account, favourable to
all those habits or principles, which promote order in society,
and insure to him the quiet possession of so inestimable a
blessing, As much as we value our own happiness and welfare, as
much must we applaud the practice of justice and humanity, by
which alone the social confederacy can be maintained, and every
man reap the fruits of mutual protection and assistance.

This deduction of morals from self-love, or a regard to private
interest, is an obvious thought, and has not arisen wholly from
the wanton sallies and sportive assaults of the sceptics. To
mention no others, Polybius, one of the gravest and most
judicious, as well as most moral writers of antiquity, has
assigned this selfish origin to all our sentiments of virtue.
[Footnote: Undutifulness to parents is disapproved of by mankind,
[Greek quotation inserted here]. Ingratitude for a like reason
(though he seems there to mix a more generous regard) [Greek
quotation inserted here] Lib. vi cap. 4. (Ed. Gronorius.) Perhaps
the historian only meant, that our sympathy and humanity was more
enlivened, by our considering the similarity of our case with
that of the person suffering; which is a just sentiment.] But
though the solid practical sense of that author, and his aversion
to all vain subtilties, render his authority on the present
subject very considerable; yet is not this an affair to be
decided by authority, and the voice of nature and experience
seems plainly to oppose the selfish theory.

We frequently bestow praise on virtuous actions, performed in
very distant ages and remote countries; where the utmost subtilty
of imagination would not discover any appearance of self-
interest, or find any connexion of our present happiness and
security with events so widely separated from us.

A generous, a brave, a noble deed, performed by an adversary,
commands our approbation; while in its consequences it may be
acknowledged prejudicial to our particular interest.

Where private advantage concurs with general affection for
virtue, we readily perceive and avow the mixture of these
distinct sentiments, which have a very different feeling and
influence on the mind. We praise, perhaps, with more alacrity,
where the generous humane action contributes to our particular
interest: But the topics of praise, which we insist on, are very
wide of this circumstance. And we may attempt to bring over
others to our sentiments, without endeavouring to convince them,
that they reap any advantage from the actions which we recommend
to their approbation and applause.

Frame the model of a praiseworthy character, consisting of all
the most amiable moral virtues: Give instances, in which these
display themselves after an eminent and extraordinary manner: You
readily engage the esteem and approbation of all your audience,
who never so much as enquire in what age and country the person
lived, who possessed these noble qualities: A circumstance,
however, of all others, the most material to self-love, or a
concern for our own individual happiness. Once on a time, a
statesman, in the shock and contest of parties, prevailed so far
as to procure, by his eloquence, the banishment of an able
adversary; whom he secretly followed, offering him money for his
support during his exile, and soothing him with topics of
consolation in his misfortunes. ALAS! cries the banished
WHERE EVEN ENEMIES ARE SO GENEROUS! Virtue, though in an enemy,
here pleased him: And we also give it the just tribute of praise
and approbation; nor do we retract these sentiments, when we
hear, that the action passed at Athens, about two thousand years
ago, and that the persons' names were Eschines and Demosthenes.

WHAT IS THAT TO ME? There are few occasions, when this question
is not pertinent: And had it that universal, infallible influence
supposed, it would turn into ridicule every composition, and
almost every conversation, which contain any praise or censure of
men and manners.

It is but a weak subterfuge, when pressed by these facts and
arguments, to say, that we transport ourselves, by the force of
imagination, into distant ages and countries, and consider the
advantage, which we should have reaped from these characters, had
we been contemporaries, and had any commerce with the persons. It
is not conceivable, how a REAL sentiment or passion can ever
arise from a known IMAGINARY interest; especially when our REAL
interest is still kept in view, and is often acknowledged to be
entirely distinct from the imaginary, and even sometimes opposite
to it.

A man, brought to the brink of a precipice, cannot look down
without trembling; and the sentiment of IMAGINARY danger actuates
him, in opposition to the opinion and belief of REAL safety. But
the imagination is here assisted by the presence of a striking
object; and yet prevails not, except it be also aided by novelty,
and the unusual appearance of the object. Custom soon reconciles
us to heights and precipices, and wears off these false and
delusive terrors. The reverse is observable in the estimates
which we form of characters and manners; and the more we
habituate ourselves to an accurate scrutiny of morals, the more
delicate feeling do we acquire of the most minute distinctions
between vice and virtue. Such frequent occasion, indeed, have we,
in common life, to pronounce all kinds of moral determinations,
that no object of this kind can be new or unusual to us; nor
could any FALSE views or prepossessions maintain their ground
against an experience, so common and familiar. Experience being
chiefly what forms the associations of ideas, it is impossible
that any association could establish and support itself, in
direct opposition to that principle.

Usefulness is agreeable, and engages our approbation. This is a
matter of fact, confirmed by daily observation. But, USEFUL? For
what? For somebody's interest, surely. Whose interest then? Not
our own only: For our approbation frequently extends farther. It
must, therefore, be the interest of those, who are served by the
character or action approved of; and these we may conclude,
however remote, are not totally indifferent to us. By opening up
this principle, we shall discover one great source of moral


Self-love is a principle in human nature of such extensive
energy, and the interest of each individual is, in general, so
closely connected with that of the community, that those
philosophers were excusable, who fancied that all our concern for
the public might be resolved into a concern for our own happiness
and preservation. They saw every moment, instances of approbation
or blame, satisfaction or displeasure towards characters and
actions; they denominated the objects of these sentiments,
VIRTUES, or VICES; they observed, that the former had a tendency
to increase the happiness, and the latter the misery of mankind;
they asked, whether it were possible that we could have any
general concern for society, or any disinterested resentment of
the welfare or injury of others; they found it simpler to
consider all these sentiments as modifications of self-love; and
they discovered a pretence, at least, for this unity of
principle, in that close union of interest, which is so
observable between the public and each individual.

But notwithstanding this frequent confusion of interests, it is
easy to attain what natural philosophers, after Lord Bacon, have
affected to call the experimentum crucis, or that experiment
which points out the right way in any doubt or ambiguity. We have
found instances, in which private interest was separate from
public; in which it was even contrary: And yet we observed the
moral sentiment to continue, notwithstanding this disjunction of
interests. And wherever these distinct interests sensibly
concurred, we always found a sensible increase of the sentiment,
and a more warm affection to virtue, and detestation of vice, or
what we properly call, GRATITUDE and REVENGE. Compelled by these
instances, we must renounce the theory, which accounts for every
moral sentiment by the principle of self-love. We must adopt a
more public affection, and allow, that the interests of society
are not, even on their own account, entirely indifferent to us.
Usefulness is only a tendency to a certain end; and it is a
contradiction in terms, that anything pleases as means to an end,
where the end itself no wise affects us. If usefulness,
therefore, be a source of moral sentiment, and if this usefulness
be not always considered with a reference to self; it follows,
that everything, which contributes to the happiness of society,
recommends itself directly to our approbation and good-will. Here
is a principle, which accounts, in great part, for the origin of
morality: And what need we seek for abstruse and remote systems,
when there occurs one so obvious and natural?

[FOOTNOTE: It is needless to push our researches so far as to
ask, why we have humanity or a fellow-feeling with others. It is
sufficient, that this is experienced to be a principle in human
nature. We must stop somewhere in our examination of causes; and
there are, in every science, some general principles, beyond
which we cannot hope to find any principle more general. No man
is absolutely indifferent to the happiness and misery of others.
The first has a natural tendency to give pleasure; the second,
pain. This every one may find in himself. It is not probable,
that these principles can be resolved into principles more simple
and universal, whatever attempts may have been made to that
purpose. But if it were possible, it belongs not to the present
subject; and we may here safely consider these principles as
original; happy, if we can render all the consequences
sufficiently plain and perspicuous!]

Have we any difficulty to comprehend the force of humanity and
benevolence? Or to conceive, that the very aspect of happiness,
joy, prosperity, gives pleasure; that of pain, suffering, sorrow,
communicates uneasiness? The human countenance, says Horace ['Uti
ridentibus arrident, ita flentibus adflent Humani vultus,'--
Hor.], borrows smiles or tears from the human countenance. Reduce
a person to solitude, and he loses all enjoyment, except either
of the sensual or speculative kind; and that because the
movements of his heart are not forwarded by correspondent
movements in his fellow-creatures. The signs of sorrow and
mourning, though arbitrary, affect us with melancholy; but the
natural symptoms, tears and cries and groans, never fail to
infuse compassion and uneasiness. And if the effects of misery
touch us in so lively a manner; can we be supposed altogether
insensible or indifferent towards its causes; when a malicious or
treacherous character and behaviour are presented to us?

We enter, I shall suppose, into a convenient, warm, well-
contrived apartment: We necessarily receive a pleasure from its
very survey; because it presents us with the pleasing ideas of
ease, satisfaction, and enjoyment. The hospitable, good-humoured,
humane landlord appears. This circumstance surely must embellish
the whole; nor can we easily forbear reflecting, with pleasure,
on the satisfaction which results to every one from his
intercourse and good-offices.

His whole family, by the freedom, ease, confidence, and calm
enjoyment, diffused over their countenances, sufficiently express
their happiness. I have a pleasing sympathy in the prospect of so
much joy, and can never consider the source of it, without the
most agreeable emotions.

He tells me, that an oppressive and powerful neighbour had
attempted to dispossess him of his inheritance, and had long
disturbed all his innocent and social pleasures. I feel an
immediate indignation arise in me against such violence and

But it is no wonder, he adds, that a private wrong should proceed
from a man, who had enslaved provinces, depopulated cities, and
made the field and scaffold stream with human blood. I am struck
with horror at the prospect of so much misery, and am actuated by
the strongest antipathy against its author.

In general, it is certain, that, wherever we go, whatever we
reflect on or converse about, everything still presents us with
the view of human happiness or misery, and excites in our breast
a sympathetic movement of pleasure or uneasiness. In our serious
occupations, in our careless amusements, this principle still
exerts its active energy.

A man who enters the theatre, is immediately struck with the view
of so great a multitude, participating of one common amusement;
and experiences, from their very aspect, a superior sensibility
or disposition of being affected with every sentiment, which he
shares with his fellow-creatures.

He observes the actors to be animated by the appearance of a full
audience, and raised to a degree of enthusiasm, which they cannot
command in any solitary or calm moment.

Every movement of the theatre, by a skilful poet, is
communicated, as it were by magic, to the spectators; who weep,
tremble, resent, rejoice, and are inflamed with all the variety
of passions, which actuate the several personages of the drama.

Where any event crosses our wishes, and interrupts the happiness
of the favourite characters, we feel a sensible anxiety and
concern. But where their sufferings proceed from the treachery,
cruelty, or tyranny of an enemy, our breasts are affected with
the liveliest resentment against the author of these calamities.
It is here esteemed contrary to the rules of art to represent
anything cool and indifferent. A distant friend, or a confident,
who has no immediate interest in the catastrophe, ought, if
possible, to be avoided by the poet; as communicating a like
indifference to the audience, and checking the progress of the

Few species of poetry are more entertaining than PASTORAL; and
every one is sensible, that the chief source of its pleasure
arises from those images of a gentle and tender tranquillity,
which it represents in its personages, and of which it
communicates a like sentiment to the reader. Sannazarius, who
transferred the scene to the sea-shore, though he presented the
most magnificent object in nature, is confessed to have erred in
his choice. The idea of toil, labour, and danger, suffered by the
fishermen, is painful; by an unavoidable sympathy, which attends
every conception of human happiness or misery.

When I was twenty, says a French poet, Ovid was my favourite: Now
I am forty, I declare for Horace. We enter, to be sure, more
readily into sentiments, which resemble those we feel every day:
But no passion, when well represented, can be entirely
indifferent to us; because there is none, of which every man has
not, within him, at least the seeds and first principles. It is
the business of poetry to bring every affection near to us by
lively imagery and representation, and make it look like truth
and reality: A certain proof, that, wherever that reality is
found, our minds are disposed to be strongly affected by it.

Any recent event or piece of news, by which the fate of states,
provinces, or many individuals is affected, is extremely
interesting even to those whose welfare is not immediately
engaged. Such intelligence is propagated with celerity, heard
with avidity, and enquired into with attention and concern. The
interest of society appears, on this occasion, to be in some
degree the interest of each individual. The imagination is sure
to be affected; though the passions excited may not always be so
strong and steady as to have great influence on the conduct and

The perusal of a history seems a calm entertainment; but would be
no entertainment at all, did not our hearts beat with
correspondent movements to those which are described by the

Thucydides and Guicciardin support with difficulty our attention;
while the former describes the trivial encounters of the small
cities of Greece, and the latter the harmless wars of Pisa. The
few persons interested and the small interest fill not the
imagination, and engage not the affections. The deep distress of
the numerous Athenian army before Syracuse; the danger which so
nearly threatens Venice; these excite compassion; these move
terror and anxiety.

The indifferent, uninteresting style of Suetonius, equally with
the masterly pencil of Tacitus, may convince us of the cruel
depravity of Nero or Tiberius: But what a difference of
sentiment! While the former coldly relates the facts; and the

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