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An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals by David Hume

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latter sets before our eyes the venerable figures of a Soranus
and a Thrasea, intrepid in their fate, and only moved by the
melting sorrows of their friends and kindred. What sympathy then
touches every human heart! What indignation against the tyrant,
whose causeless fear or unprovoked malice gave rise to such
detestable barbarity!

If we bring these subjects nearer: If we remove all suspicion of
fiction and deceit: What powerful concern is excited, and how
much superior, in many instances, to the narrow attachments of
self-love and private interest! Popular sedition, party zeal, a
devoted obedience to factious leaders; these are some of the most
visible, though less laudable effects of this social sympathy in
human nature.

The frivolousness of the subject too, we may observe, is not able
to detach us entirely from what carries an image of human
sentiment and affection.

When a person stutters, and pronounces with difficulty, we even
sympathize with this trivial uneasiness, and suffer for him. And
it is a rule in criticism, that every combination of syllables or
letters, which gives pain to the organs of speech in the recital,
appears also from a species of sympathy harsh and disagreeable to
the ear. Nay, when we run over a book with our eye, we are
sensible of such unharmonious composition; because we still
imagine, that a person recites it to us, and suffers from the
pronunciation of these jarring sounds. So delicate is our

Easy and unconstrained postures and motions are always beautiful:
An air of health and vigour is agreeable: Clothes which warm,
without burthening the body; which cover, without imprisoning the
limbs, are well-fashioned. In every judgement of beauty, the
feelings of the person affected enter into consideration, and
communicate to the spectator similar touches of pain or pleasure.
[Footnote: 'Decentior equus cujus astricta suntilia; sed idem
velocior. Pulcher aspectu sit athleta, cujus lacertos execitatio
expressit; idem certamini paratior nunquam enim SPECIES ab
UTILITATE dividitur. Sed hoc quidem discernere modici judicii
est.'- Quintilian, Inst. lib. viii. cap. 3.]

What wonder, then, if we can pronounce no judgement concerning
the character and conduct of men, without considering the
tendencies of their actions, and the happiness or misery which
thence arises to society? What association of ideas would ever
operate, were that principle here totally unactive.

[Footnote: In proportion to the station which a man possesses,
according to the relations in which he is placed; we always
expect from him a greater or less degree of good, and when
disappointed, blame his inutility; and much more do we blame him,
if any ill or prejudice arise from his conduct and behaviour.
When the interests of one country interfere with those of
another, we estimate the merits of a statesman by the good or
ill, which results to his own country from his measures and
councils, without regard to the prejudice which he brings on its
enemies and rivals. His fellow-citizens are the objects, which
lie nearest the eye, while we determine his character. And as
nature has implanted in every one a superior affection to his own
country, we never expect any regard to distant nations, where a
competition arises. Not to mention, that, while every man
consults the good of his own community, we are sensible, that the
general interest of mankind is better promoted, than any loose
indeterminate views to the good of a species, whence no
beneficial action could ever result, for want of a duly limited
object, on which they could exert themselves.]

If any man from a cold insensibility, or narrow selfishness of
temper, is unaffected with the images of human happiness or
misery, he must be equally indifferent to the images of vice and
virtue: As, on the other hand, it is always found, that a warm
concern for the interests of our species is attended with a
delicate feeling of all moral distinctions; a strong resentment
of injury done to men; a lively approbation of their welfare. In
this particular, though great superiority is observable of one
man above another; yet none are so entirely indifferent to the
interest of their fellow-creatures, as to perceive no
distinctions of moral good and evil, in consequence of the
different tendencies of actions and principles. How, indeed, can
we suppose it possible in any one, who wears a human heart, that
if there be subjected to his censure, one character or system of
conduct, which is beneficial, and another which is pernicious to
his species or community, he will not so much as give a cool
preference to the former, or ascribe to it the smallest merit or
regard? Let us suppose such a person ever so selfish; let private
interest have ingrossed ever so much his attention; yet in
instances, where that is not concerned, he must unavoidably feel
SOME propensity to the good of mankind, and make it an object of
choice, if everything else be equal. Would any man, who is
walking along, tread as willingly on another's gouty toes, whom
he has no quarrel with, as on the hard flint and pavement? There
is here surely a difference in the case. We surely take into
consideration the happiness and misery of others, in weighing the
several motives of action, and incline to the former, where no
private regards draw us to seek our own promotion or advantage by
the injury of our fellow-creatures. And if the principles of
humanity are capable, in many instances, of influencing our
actions, they must, at all times, have some authority over our
sentiments, and give us a general approbation of what is useful
to society, and blame of what is dangerous or pernicious. The
degrees of these sentiments may be the subject of controversy;
but the reality of their existence, one should think, must be
admitted in every theory or system.

A creature, absolutely malicious and spiteful, were there any
such in nature, must be worse than indifferent to the images of
vice and virtue. All his sentiments must be inverted, and
directly opposite to those, which prevail in the human species.
Whatever contributes to the good of mankind, as it crosses the
constant bent of his wishes and desires, must produce uneasiness
and disapprobation; and on the contrary, whatever is the source
of disorder and misery in society, must, for the same reason, be
regarded with pleasure and complacency. Timon, who probably from
his affected spleen more than an inveterate malice, was
denominated the manhater, embraced Alcibiades with great
CALAMITIES TO THEM [Footnote: Plutarch fit vita Ale.]. Could we
admit the two principles of the Manicheans, it is an infallible
consequence, that their sentiments of human actions, as well as
of everything else, must be totally opposite, and that every
instance of justice and humanity, from its necessary tendency,
must please the one deity and displease the other. All mankind so
far resemble the good principle, that, where interest or revenge
or envy perverts not our disposition, we are always inclined,
from our natural philanthropy, to give the preference to the
happiness of society, and consequently to virtue above its
opposite. Absolute, unprovoked, disinterested malice has never
perhaps place in any human breast; or if it had, must there
pervert all the sentiments of morals, as well as the feelings of
humanity. If the cruelty of Nero be allowed entirely voluntary,
and not rather the effect of constant fear and resentment; it is
evident that Tigellinus, preferably to Seneca or Burrhus, must
have possessed his steady and uniform approbation.

A statesman or patriot, who serves our own country in our own
time, has always a more passionate regard paid to him, than one
whose beneficial influence operated on distant ages or remote
nations; where the good, resulting from his generous humanity,
being less connected with us, seems more obscure, and affects us
with a less lively sympathy. We may own the merit to be equally
great, though our sentiments are not raised to an equal height,
in both cases. The judgement here corrects the inequalities of
our internal emotions and perceptions; in like manner, as it
preserves us from error, in the several variations of images,
presented to our external senses. The same object, at a double
distance, really throws on the eye a picture of but half the
bulk; yet we imagine that it appears of the same size in both
situations; because we know that on our approach to it, its image
would expand on the eye, and that the difference consists not in
the object itself, but in our position with regard to it. And,
indeed, without such a correction of appearances, both in
internal and external sentiment, men could never think or talk
steadily on any subject; while their fluctuating situations
produce a continual variation on objects, and throw them into
such different and contrary lights and positions.

[Footnote: For a little reason, the tendencies of actions and
characters, not their real accidental consequences, are alone
regarded in our more determinations or general judgements; though
in our real feeling or sentiment, we cannot help paying greater
regard to one whose station, joined to virtue, renders him really
useful to society, then to one, who exerts the social virtues
only in good intentions and benevolent affections. Separating the
character from the furtone, by an easy and necessary effort of
thought, we pronounce these persons alike, and give them the
appearance: But is not able entirely to prevail our sentiment.

Why is this peach-tree said to be better than that other; but
because it produces more or better fruit? And would not the same
praise be given it, though snails or vermin had destroyed the
peaches, before they came to full maturity? In morals too, is not
THE TREE KNOWN BY THE FRUIT? And cannot we easily distinguish
between nature and accident, in the one case as well as in the

The more we converse with mankind, and the greater social
intercourse we maintain, the more shall we be familiarized to
these general preferences and distinctions, without which our
conversation and discourse could scarcely be rendered
intelligible to each other. Every man's interest is peculiar to
himself, and the aversions and desires, which result from it,
cannot be supposed to affect others in a like degree. General
language, therefore, being formed for general use, must be
moulded on some more general views, and must affix the epithets
of praise or blame, in conformity to sentiments, which arise from
the general interests of the community. And if these sentiments,
in most men, be not so strong as those, which have a reference to
private good; yet still they must make some distinction, even in
persons the most depraved and selfish; and must attach the notion
of good to a beneficent conduct, and of evil to the contrary.
Sympathy, we shall allow, is much fainter than our concern for
ourselves, and sympathy with persons remote from us much fainter
than that with persons near and contiguous; but for this very
reason it is necessary for us, in our calm judgements and
discourse concerning the characters of men, to neglect all these
differences, and render our sentiments more public and social.
Besides, that we ourselves often change our situation in this
particular, we every day meet with persons who are in a situation
different from us, and who could never converse with us were we
to remain constantly in that position and point of view, which is
peculiar to ourselves. The intercourse of sentiments, therefore,
in society and conversation, makes us form some general
unalterable standard, by which we may approve or disapprove of
characters and manners. And though the heart takes not part
entirely with those general notions, nor regulates all its love
and hatred by the universal abstract differences of vice and
virtue, without regard to self, or the persons with whom we are
more intimately connected; yet have these moral differences a
considerable influence, and being sufficient, at least for
discourse, serve all our purposes in company, in the pulpit, on
the theatre, and in the schools.

[Footnote: It is wisely ordained by nature, that private
connexions should commonly prevail over univeral views and
considerations; otherwise our affections and actions would be
dissopated and lost, for want of a proper limited object. Thus a
small benefit done to ourselves, or our near friends, excites
more lively sentiments of love and approbation than a great
benefit done to a distant commonwealth: But still we know here,
as in all the senses, to correct these inequalities by
reflection, and retain a general standard of vice and virtue,
founded chiefly on a general usefulness.]

Thus, in whatever light we take this subject, the merit, ascribed
to the social virtues, appears still uniform, and arises chiefly
from that regard, which the natural sentiment of benevolence
engages us to pay to the interests of mankind and society. If we
consider the principles of the human make, such as they appear to
daily experience and observation, we must, A PRIORI, conclude it
impossible for such a creature as man to be totally indifferent
to the well or ill-being of his fellow-creatures, and not
readily, of himself, to pronounce, where nothing gives him any
particular bias, that what promotes their happiness is good, what
tends to their misery is evil, without any farther regard or
consideration. Here then are the faint rudiments, at least, or
outlines, of a GENERAL distinction between actions; and in
proportion as the humanity of the person is supposed to increase,
his connexion with those who are injured or benefited, and his
lively conception of their misery or happiness; his consequent
censure or approbation acquires proportionable vigour. There is
no necessity, that a generous action, barely mentioned in an old
history or remote gazette, should communicate any strong feelings
of applause and admiration. Virtue, placed at such a distance, is
like a fixed star, which, though to the eye of reason it may
appear as luminous as the sun in his meridian, is so infinitely
removed as to affect the senses, neither with light nor heat.
Bring this virtue nearer, by our acquaintance or connexion with
the persons, or even by an eloquent recital of the case; our
hearts are immediately caught, our sympathy enlivened, and our
cool approbation converted into the warmest sentiments of
friendship and regard. These seem necessary and infallible
consequences of the general principles of human nature, as
discovered in common life and practice.

Again; reverse these views and reasonings: Consider the matter a
posteriori; and weighing the consequences, enquire if the merit
of social virtue be not, in a great measure, derived from the
feelings of humanity, with which it affects the spectators. It
appears to be matter of fact, that the circumstance of UTILITY,
in all subjects, is a source of praise and approbation: That it
is constantly appealed to in all moral decisions concerning the
merit and demerit of actions: That it is the SOLE source of that
high regard paid to justice, fidelity, honour, allegiance, and
chastity: That it is inseparable from all the other social
virtues, humanity, generosity, charity, affability, lenity,
mercy, and moderation: And, in a word, that it is a foundation of
the chief part of morals, which has a reference to mankind and
our fellow-creatures.

It appears also, that, in our general approbation of characters
and manners, the useful tendency of the social virtues moves us
not by any regards to self-interest, but has an influence much
more universal and extensive. It appears that a tendency to
public good, and to the promoting of peace, harmony, and order in
society, does always, by affecting the benevolent principles of
our frame, engage us on the side of the social virtues. And it
appears, as an additional confirmation, that these principles of
humanity and sympathy enter so deeply into all our sentiments,
and have so powerful an influence, as may enable them to excite
the strongest censure and applause. The present theory is the
simple result of all these inferences, each of which seems
founded on uniform experience and observation.

Were it doubtful, whether there were any such principle in our
nature as humanity or a concern for others, yet when we see, in
numberless instances, that whatever has a tendency to promote the
interests of society, is so highly approved of, we ought thence
to learn the force of the benevolent principle; since it is
impossible for anything to please as means to an end, where the
end is totally indifferent. On the other hand, were it doubtful,
whether there were, implanted in our nature, any general
principle of moral blame and approbation, yet when we see, in
numberless instances, the influence of humanity, we ought thence
to conclude, that it is impossible, but that everything which
promotes the interest of society must communicate pleasure, and
what is pernicious give uneasiness. But when these different
reflections and observations concur in establishing the same
conclusion, must they not bestow an undisputed evidence upon it?

It is however hoped, that the progress of this argument will
bring a farther confirmation of the present theory, by showing
the rise of other sentiments of esteem and regard from the same
or like principles.




IT seems evident, that where a quality or habit is subjected to
our examination, if it appear in any respect prejudicial to the
person possessed of it, or such as incapacitates him for business
and action, it is instantly blamed, and ranked among his faults
and imperfections. Indolence, negligence, want of order and
method, obstinacy, fickleness, rashness, credulity; these
qualities were never esteemed by any one indifferent to a
character; much less, extolled as accomplishments or virtues. The
prejudice, resulting from them, immediately strikes our eye, and
gives us the sentiment of pain and disapprobation.

No quality, it is allowed, is absolutely either blameable or
praiseworthy. It is all according to its degree. A due medium,
says the Peripatetics, is the characteristic of virtue. But this
medium is chiefly determined by utility. A proper celerity, for
instance, and dispatch in business, is commendable. When
defective, no progress is ever made in the execution of any
purpose: When excessive, it engages us in precipitate and ill-
concerted measures and enterprises: By such reasonings, we fix
the proper and commendable mediocrity in all moral and prudential
disquisitions; and never lose view of the advantages, which
result from any character or habit. Now as these advantages are
enjoyed by the person possessed of the character, it can never be
SELF-LOVE which renders the prospect of them agreeable to us, the
spectators, and prompts our esteem and approbation. No force of
imagination can convert us into another person, and make us
fancy, that we, being that person, reap benefit from those
valuable qualities, which belong to him. Or if it did, no
celerity of imagination could immediately transport us back, into
ourselves, and make us love and esteem the person, as different
from us. Views and sentiments, so opposite to known truth and to
each other, could never have place, at the same time, in the same
person. All suspicion, therefore, of selfish regards, is here
totally excluded. It is a quite different principle, which
actuates our bosom, and interests us in the felicity of the
person whom we contemplate. Where his natural talents and
acquired abilities give us the prospect of elevation,
advancement, a figure in life, prosperous success, a steady
command over fortune, and the execution of great or advantageous
undertakings; we are struck with such agreeable images, and feel
a complacency and regard immediately arise towards him. The ideas
of happiness, joy, triumph, prosperity, are connected with every
circumstance of his character, and diffuse over our minds a
pleasing sentiment of sympathy and humanity.

[Footnote: One may venture to affirm, that there is no human
nature, to whom the appearance of happiness (where envy or
revenge has no place) does not give pleasure, that of misery,
uneasiness. This seems inseparable from our make and
constitution. But they are only more generous minds, that are
thence prompted to seek zealously the good of others, and to have
a real passion for their welfare. With men of narrow and
ungenerous spirits, this sympathy goes not beyond a slight
feeling of the imagination, which serves only to excite
sentiments of complacency or ensure, and makes them apply to the
object either honorable or dishonorable appellations. A griping
miser, for instance, praises extremely INDUSTRY and FRUGALITY
even in others, and sets them, in his estimation, above all the
other virtues. He knows the good that results from them, and
feels that species of happiness with a more lively sympathy, than
any other you could represent to him; though perhaps he would not
part with a shilling to make the fortune of the industrious man,
whom he praises so highly.]

Let us suppose a person originally framed so as to have no
manner of concern for his fellow-creatures, but to regard the
happiness and misery of all sensible beings with greater
indifference than even two contiguous shades of the same colour.
Let us suppose, if the prosperity of nations were laid on the one
hand, and their ruin on the other, and he were desired to choose;
that he would stand like the schoolman's ass, irresolute and
undetermined, between equal motives; or rather, like the same ass
between two pieces of wood or marble, without any inclination or
propensity to either side. The consequence, I believe, must be
allowed just, that such a person, being absolutely unconcerned,
either for the public good of a community or the private utility
of others, would look on every quality, however pernicious, or
however beneficial, to society, or to its possessor, with the
same indifference as on the most common and uninteresting object.

But if, instead of this fancied monster, we suppose a MAN to form
a judgement or determination in the case, there is to him a plain
foundation of preference, where everything else is equal; and
however cool his choice may be, if his heart be selfish, or if
the persons interested be remote from him; there must still be a
choice or distinction between what is useful, and what is
pernicious. Now this distinction is the same in all its parts,
with the MORAL DISTINCTION, whose foundation has been so often,
and so much in vain, enquired after. The same endowments of the
mind, in every circumstance, are agreeable to the sentiment of
morals and to that of humanity; the same temper is susceptible of
high degrees of the one sentiment and of the other; and the same
alteration in the objects, by their nearer approach or by
connexions, enlivens the one and the other. By all the rules of
philosophy, therefore, we must conclude, that these sentiments
are originally the same; since, in each particular, even the most
minute, they are governed by the same laws, and are moved by the
same objects.

Why do philosophers infer, with the greatest certainty, that the
moon is kept in its orbit by the same force of gravity, that
makes bodies fall near the surface of the earth, but because
these effects are, upon computation, found similar and equal? And
must not this argument bring as strong conviction, in moral as in
natural disquisitions?

To prove, by any long detail, that all the qualities, useful to
the possessor, are approved of, and the contrary censured, would
be superfluous. The least reflection on what is every day
experienced in life, will be sufficient. We shall only mention a
few instances, in order to remove, if possible, all doubt and

The quality, the most necessary for the execution of any useful
enterprise, is discretion; by which we carry on a safe
intercourse with others, give due attention to our own and to
their character, weigh each circumstance of the business which we
undertake, and employ the surest and safest means for the
attainment of any end or purpose. To a Cromwell, perhaps, or a De
Retz, discretion may appear an alderman-like virtue, as Dr. Swift
calls it; and being incompatible with those vast designs, to
which their courage and ambition prompted them, it might really,
in them, be a fault or imperfection. But in the conduct of
ordinary life, no virtue is more requisite, not only to obtain
success, but to avoid the most fatal miscarriages and
disappointments. The greatest parts without it, as observed by an
elegant writer, may be fatal to their owner; as Polyphemus,
deprived of his eye, was only the more exposed, on account of his
enormous strength and stature.

The best character, indeed, were it not rather too perfect for
human nature, is that which is not swayed by temper of any kind;
but alternately employs enterprise and caution, as each is useful
to the particular purpose intended. Such is the excellence which
St. Evremond ascribes to Mareschal Turenne, who displayed every
campaign, as he grew older, more temerity in his military
enterprises; and being now, from long experience, perfectly
acquainted with every incident in war, he advanced with greater
firmness and security, in a road so well known to him. Fabius,
says Machiavel, was cautious; Scipio enterprising: And both
succeeded, because the situation of the Roman affairs, during the
command of each, was peculiarly adapted to his genius; but both
would have failed, had these situations been reversed. He is
happy, whose circumstances suit his temper; but he is more
excellent, who can suit his temper to any circumstances.

What need is there to display the praises of industry, and to
extol its advantages, in the acquisition of power and riches, or
in raising what we call a FORTUNE in the world? The tortoise,
according to the fable, by his perseverance, gained the race of
the hare, though possessed of much superior swiftness. A man's
time, when well husbanded, is like a cultivated field, of which a
few acres produce more of what is useful to life, than extensive
provinces, even of the richest soil, when over-run with weeds and

But all prospect of success in life, or even of tolerable
subsistence, must fail, where a reasonable frugality is wanting.
The heap, instead of increasing, diminishes daily, and leaves its
possessor so much more unhappy, as, not having been able to
confine his expences to a large revenue, he will still less be
able to live contentedly on a small one. The souls of men,
according to Plato [Footnote: Phaedo.], inflamed with impure
appetites, and losing the body, which alone afforded means of
satisfaction, hover about the earth, and haunt the places, where
their bodies are deposited; possessed with a longing desire to
recover the lost organs of sensation. So may we see worthless
prodigals, having consumed their fortune in wild debauches,
thrusting themselves into every plentiful table, and every party
of pleasure, hated even by the vicious, and despised even by

The one extreme of frugality is avarice, which, as it both
deprives a man of all use of his riches, and checks hospitality
and every social enjoyment, is justly censured on a double
account. PRODIGALITY, the other extreme, is commonly more hurtful
to a man himself; and each of these extremes is blamed above the
other, according to the temper of the person who censures, and
according to his greater or less sensibility to pleasure, either
social or sensual.

Qualities often derive their merit from complicated sources.
Honesty, fidelity, truth, are praised for their immediate
tendency to promote the interests of society; but after those
virtues are once established upon this foundation, they are also
considered as advantageous to the person himself, and as the
source of that trust and confidence, which can alone give a man
any consideration in life. One becomes contemptible, no less than
odious, when he forgets the duty, which, in this particular, he
owes to himself as well as to society.

Perhaps, this consideration is one CHIEF source of the high
blame, which is thrown on any instance of failure among women in
point of CHASTITY. The greatest regard, which can be acquired by
that sex, is derived from their fidelity; and a woman becomes
cheap and vulgar, loses her rank, and is exposed to every insult,
who is deficient in this particular. The smallest failure is here
sufficient to blast her character. A female has so many
opportunities of secretly indulging these appetites, that nothing
can give us security but her absolute modesty and reserve; and
where a breach is once made, it can scarcely ever be fully
repaired. If a man behave with cowardice on one occasion, a
contrary conduct reinstates him in his character. But by what
action can a woman, whose behaviour has once been dissolute, be
able to assure us, that she has formed better resolutions, and
has self-command enough to carry them into execution?

All men, it is allowed, are equally desirous of happiness; but
few are successful in the pursuit: One considerable cause is the
want of strength of mind, which might enable them to resist the
temptation of present ease or pleasure, and carry them forward in
the search of more distant profit and enjoyment. Our affections,
on a general prospect of their objects, form certain rules of
conduct, and certain measures of preference of one above another:
and these decisions, though really the result of our calm
passions and propensities, (for what else can pronounce any
object eligible or the contrary?) are yet said, by a natural
abuse of terms, to be the determinations of pure REASON and
reflection. But when some of these objects approach nearer to us,
or acquire the advantages of favourable lights and positions,
which catch the heart or imagination; our general resolutions are
frequently confounded, a small enjoyment preferred, and lasting
shame and sorrow entailed upon us. And however poets may employ
their wit and eloquence, in celebrating present pleasure, and
rejecting all distant views to fame, health, or fortune; it is
obvious, that this practice is the source of all dissoluteness
and disorder, repentance and misery. A man of a strong and
determined temper adheres tenaciously to his general resolutions,
and is neither seduced by the allurements of pleasure, nor
terrified by the menaces of pain; but keeps still in view those
distant pursuits, by which he, at once, ensures his happiness and
his honour.

Self-satisfaction, at least in some degree, is an advantage,
which equally attends the fool and the wise man: But it is the
only one; nor is there any other circumstance in the conduct of
life, where they are upon an equal footing. Business, books,
conversation; for all of these, a fool is totally incapacitated,
and except condemned by his station to the coarsest drudgery,
remains a useless burthen upon the earth. Accordingly, it is
found, that men are extremely jealous of their character in this
particular; and many instances are seen of profligacy and
treachery, the most avowed and unreserved; none of bearing
patiently the imputation of ignorance and stupidity. Dicaearchus,
the Macedonian general, who, as Polybius tells us [Footnote: Lib.
xvi. Cap. 35.], openly erected one altar to impiety, another to
injustice, in order to bid defiance to mankind; even he, I am
well assured, would have started at the epithet of FOOL, and have
meditated revenge for so injurious an appellation. Except the
affection of parents, the strongest and most indissoluble bond in
nature, no connexion has strength sufficient to support the
disgust arising from this character. Love itself, which can
subsist under treachery, ingratitude, malice, and infidelity, is
immediately extinguished by it, when perceived and acknowledged;
nor are deformity and old age more fatal to the dominion of that
passion. So dreadful are the ideas of an utter incapacity for any
purpose or undertaking, and of continued error and misconduct in

When it is asked, whether a quick or a slow apprehension be most
valuable? Whether one, that, at first view, penetrates far into a
subject, but can perform nothing upon study; or a contrary
character, which must work out everything by dint of application?
Whether a clear head or a copious invention? Whether a profound
genius or a sure judgement? In short, what character, or peculiar
turn of understanding, is more excellent than another? It is
evident, that we can answer none of these questions, without
considering which of those qualities capacitates a man best for
the world, and carries him farthest in any undertaking.

If refined sense and exalted sense be not so USEFUL as common
sense, their rarity, their novelty, and the nobleness of their
objects make some compensation, and render them the admiration of
mankind: As gold, though less serviceable than iron, acquires
from its scarcity a value which is much superior.

The defects of judgement can be supplied by no art or invention;
but those of memory frequently may, both in business and in
study, by method and industry, and by diligence in committing
everything to writing; and we scarcely ever hear a short memory
given as a reason for a man's failure in any undertaking. But in
ancient times, when no man could make a figure without the talent
of speaking, and when the audience were too delicate to bear such
crude, undigested harangues as our extemporary orators offer to
public assemblies; the faculty of memory was then of the utmost
consequence, and was accordingly much more valued than at
present. Scarce any great genius is mentioned in antiquity, who
is not celebrated for this talent; and Cicero enumerates it among
the other sublime qualities of Caesar himself. [Footnote: Fruit
in Illo Ingenium, ratio, memoria, literae, cura, cogitatio,
diligentia &c. Phillip. 2.].

Particular customs and manners alter the usefulness of qualities:
they also alter their merit. Particular situations and accidents
have, in some degree, the same influence. He will always be more
esteemed, who possesses those talents and accomplishments, which
suit his station and profession, than he whom fortune has
misplaced in the part which she has assigned him. The private or
selfish virtues are, in this respect, more arbitrary than the
public and social. In other respects they are, perhaps, less
liable to doubt and controversy.

In this kingdom, such continued ostentation, of late years, has
prevailed among men in ACTIVE life with regard to PUBLIC SPIRIT,
and among those in SPECULATIVE with regard to BENEVOLENCE; and so
many false pretensions to each have been, no doubt, detected,
that men of the world are apt, without any bad intention, to
discover a sullen incredulity on the head of those moral
endowments, and even sometimes absolutely to deny their existence
and reality. In like manner I find, that, of old, the perpetual
cant of the STOICS and CYNICS concerning VIRTUE, their
magnificent professions and slender performances, bred a disgust
in mankind; and Lucian, who, though licentious with regard to
pleasure, is yet in other respects a very moral writer, cannot
sometimes talk of virtue, so much boasted without betraying
symptoms of spleen and irony. But surely this peevish delicacy,
whence-ever it arises can never be carried so far as to make us
deny the existence of every species of merit, and all distinction
of manners and behaviour. Besides DISCRETION, CAUTION,
PRUDENCE, DISCERNMENT; besides these endowments, I say, whose
very names force an avowal of their merit, there are many others,
to which the most determined scepticism cannot for a moment
refuse the tribute of praise and approbation. TEMPERANCE,
and a thousand more of the same kind, no man will ever deny to be
excellencies and perfections. As their merit consists in their
tendency to serve the person, possessed of them, without any
magnificent claim to public and social desert, we are the less
jealous of their pretensions, and readily admit them into the
catalogue of laudable qualities. We are not sensible that, by
this concession, we have paved the way for all the other moral
excellencies, and cannot consistently hesitate any longer, with
regard to disinterested benevolence, patriotism, and humanity.

It seems, indeed, certain, that first appearances are here, as
usual, extremely deceitful, and that it is more difficult, in a
speculative way, to resolve into self-love the merit which we
ascribe to the selfish virtues above mentioned, than that even of
the social virtues, justice and beneficence. For this latter
purpose, we need but say, that whatever conduct promotes the good
of the community is loved, praised, and esteemed by the
community, on account of that utility and interest, of which
every one partakes; and though this affection and regard be, in
reality, gratitude, not self-love, yet a distinction, even of
this obvious nature, may not readily be made by superficial
reasoners; and there is room, at least, to support the cavil and
dispute for a moment. But as qualities, which tend only to the
utility of their possessor, without any reference to us, or to
the community, are yet esteemed and valued; by what theory or
system can we account for this sentiment from self-love, or
deduce it from that favourite origin? There seems here a
necessity for confessing that the happiness and misery of others
are not spectacles entirely indifferent to us; but that the view
of the former, whether in its causes or effects, like sunshine or
the prospect of well-cultivated plains (to carry our pretensions
no higher), communicates a secret joy and satisfaction; the
appearance of the latter, like a lowering cloud or barren

landscape, throws a melancholy damp over the imagination. And
this concession being once made, the difficulty is over; and a
natural unforced interpretation of the phenomena of human life
will afterwards, we may hope, prevail among all speculative


It may not be improper, in this place, to examine the influence
of bodily endowments, and of the goods of fortune, over our
sentiments of regard and esteem, and to consider whether these
phenomena fortify or weaken the present theory. It will naturally
be expected, that the beauty of the body, as is supposed by all
ancient moralists, will be similar, in some respects, to that of
the mind; and that every kind of esteem, which is paid to a man,
will have something similar in its origin, whether it arise from
his mental endowments, or from the situation of his exterior

It is evident, that one considerable source of BEAUTY in all
animals is the advantage which they reap from the particular
structure of their limbs and members, suitably to the particular
manner of life, to which they are by nature destined. The just
proportions of a horse, described by Xenophon and Virgil, are the
same that are received at this day by our modern jockeys; because
the foundation of them is the same, namely, experience of what is
detrimental or useful in the animal.

Broad shoulders, a lank belly, firm joints, taper legs; all these
are beautiful in our species, because signs of force and vigour.
Ideas of utility and its contrary, though they do not entirely
determine what is handsome or deformed, are evidently the source
of a considerable part of approbation or dislike.

In ancient times, bodily strength and dexterity, being of greater
USE and importance in war, was also much more esteemed and
valued, than at present. Not to insist on Homer and the poets, we
may observe, that historians scruple not to mention FORCE OF BODY
among the other accomplishments even of Epaminondas, whom they
acknowledge to be the greatest hero, statesman, and general of
all the Greeks. [Footnote: CUM ALACRIBUS, SALTU; CUMM VELOCIBUS,
praise is given to Pompey, one of the greatest of the Romans.
[Footnote: Diodorus Siculus, lib. xv. It may be improper to give
the character of Epaminondas, as drawn by the historian, in order
to show the idea of perfect merit, which prevailed in those ages.
In other illustrious men, say he, you will observe, that each
possessed some one shining quality, which was the foundation of
his fame: In Epaminondas all the VIRTUES are found united; force
of body. eloquence of expression, vigour of mind, contempt of
riches, gentleness of disposition, and what is chiefly to be
regarded, courage and conduct of war.] This instance is similar
to what we observed above with regard to memory.

What derision and contempt, with both sexes, attend IMPOTENCE;
while the unhappy object is regarded as one deprived of so
capital a pleasure in life, and at the same time, as disabled
from communicating it to others. BARRENNESS in women, being also
a species of INUTILITY, is a reproach, but not in the same
degree: of which the reason is very obvious, according to the
present theory.

There is no rule in painting or statuary more indispensible than
that of balancing the figures, and placing them with the greatest
exactness on their proper centre of gravity. A figure, which is
not justly balanced, is ugly; because it conveys the disagreeable
ideas of fall, harm, and pain.

[Footenote: All men are equally liable to pain and disease and
sickness; and may again recover health and ease. These
circumstances, as they make no distinction between one man and
another, are no source of pride or humility, regard or contempt.
But comparing our own species to superior ones, it is a very
mortifying consideration, that we should all be so liable to
diseases and infirmities; and divines accordingly employ this
topic, in order to depress self-conceit and vanity. They would
have more success, if the common bent of our thoughts were not
perpetually turned to compare ourselves with others.

The infirmities of old age are mortifying; because a comparison
with the young may take place. The king's evil is industriously
concealed, because it affects others, and is often transmitted to
posterity. The case is nearly the same with such diseases as
convey any nauseous or frightful images; the epilepsy, for
instance, ulcers, sores, scabs, &c.]

A disposition or turn of mind, which qualifies a man to rise in
the world and advance his fortune, is entitled to esteem and
regard, as has already been explained. It may, therefore,
naturally be supposed, that the actual possession of riches and
authority will have a considerable influence over these

Let us examine any hypothesis by which we can account for the
regard paid to the rich and powerful; we shall find none
satisfactory, but that which derives it from the enjoyment
communicated to the spectator by the images of prosperity,
happiness, ease, plenty, authority, and the gratification of
every appetite. Self-love, for instance, which some affect so
much to consider as the source of every sentiment, is plainly
insufficient for this purpose. Where no good-will or friendship
appears, it is difficult to conceive on what we can found our
hope of advantage from the riches of others; though we naturally
respect the rich, even before they discover any such favourable
disposition towards us.

We are affected with the same sentiments, when we lie so much out
of the sphere of their activity, that they cannot even be
supposed to possess the power of serving us. A prisoner of war,
in all civilized nations, is treated with a regard suited to his
condition; and riches, it is evident, go far towards fixing the
condition of any person. If birth and quality enter for a share,
this still affords us an argument to our present purpose. For
what is it we call a man of birth, but one who is descended from
a long succession of rich and powerful ancestors, and who
acquires our esteem by his connexion with persons whom we esteem?
His ancestors, therefore, though dead, are respected, in some
measure, on account of their riches; and consequently, without
any kind of expectation.

But not to go so far as prisoners of war or the dead, to find
instances of this disinterested regard for riches; we may only
observe, with a little attention, those phenomena which occur in
common life and conversation. A man, who is himself, we shall
suppose, of a competent fortune, and of no profession, being
introduced to a company of strangers, naturally treats them with
different degrees of respect, as he is informed of their
different fortunes and conditions; though it is impossible that
he can so suddenly propose, and perhaps he would not accept of,
any pecuniary advantage from them. A traveller is always admitted
into company, and meets with civility, in proportion as his train
and equipage speak him a man of great or moderate fortune. In
short, the different ranks of men are, in a great measure,
regulated by riches; and that with regard to superiors as well as
inferiors, strangers as well as acquaintance.

What remains, therefore, but to conclude, that, as riches are
desired for ourselves only as the means of gratifying our
appetites, either at present or in some imaginary future period,
they beget esteem in others merely from their having that
influence. This indeed is their very nature or offence: they have
a direct reference to the commodities, conveniences, and
pleasures of life. The bill of a banker, who is broke, or gold in
a desert island, would otherwise be full as valuable. When we
approach a man who is, as we say, at his ease, we are presented
with the pleasing ideas of plenty, satisfaction, cleanliness,
warmth; a cheerful house, elegant furniture, ready service, and
whatever is desirable in meat, drink, or apparel. On the
contrary, when a poor man appears, the disagreeable images of
want, penury, hard labour, dirty furniture, coarse or ragged
clothes, nauseous meat and distasteful liquor, immediately strike
our fancy. What else do we mean by saying that one is rich, the
other poor? And as regard or contempt is the natural consequence
of those different situations in life, it is easily seen what
additional light and evidence this throws on our preceding
theory, with regard to all moral distinctions.

[Footnote: There is something extraordinary, and seemingly
unaccountable in the operation of our passions, when we consider
the fortune and situation of others. Very often another's
advancement and prosperity produces envy, which has a strong
mixture of hatred, and arises chiefly from the comparison of
ourselves with the person. At the very same time, or at least in
very short intervals, we may feel the passion of respect, which
is a species of affection or good-will, with a mixture of
humility. On the other hand, the misfortunes of our fellows often
cause pity, which has in it a strong mixture of good-will. This
sentiment of pity is nearly allied to contempt, which is a
species of dislike, with a mixture of pride. I only point out
these phenomena, as a subject of speculation to such as are
curious with regard to moral enquiries. It is sufficient for the
present purpose to observe in general, that power and riches
commonly cause respect, poverty and meanness contempt, though
particular views and incidents may sometimes raise the passions
of envy and of pity.]

A man who has cured himself of all ridiculous pre-possessions,
and is fully, sincerely, and steadily convinced, from experience
as well as philosophy, that the difference of fortune makes less
difference in happiness than is vulgarly imagined; such a one
does not measure out degrees of esteem according to the rent-
rolls of his acquaintance. He may, indeed, externally pay a
superior deference to the great lord above the vassal; because
riches are the most convenient, being the most fixed and
determinate, source of distinction. But his internal sentiments
are more regulated by the personal characters of men, than by the
accidental and capricious favours of fortune.

In most countries of Europe, family, that is, hereditary riches,
marked with titles and symbols from the sovereign, is the chief
source of distinction. In England, more regard is paid to present
opulence and plenty. Each practice has its advantages and
disadvantages. Where birth is respected, unactive, spiritless
minds remain in haughty indolence, and dream of nothing but
pedigrees and genealogies: the generous and ambitious seek honour
and authority, and reputation and favour. Where riches are the
chief idol, corruption, venality, rapine prevail: arts,
manufactures, commerce, agriculture flourish. The former
prejudice, being favourable to military virtue, is more suited to
monarchies. The latter, being the chief spur to industry, agrees
better with a republican government. And we accordingly find that
each of these forms of government, by varying the utility of
those customs, has commonly a proportionable effect on the
sentiments of mankind.



Whoever has passed an evening with serious melancholy people, and
has observed how suddenly the conversation was animated, and what
sprightliness diffused itself over the countenance, discourse,
and behaviour of every one, on the accession of a good-humoured,
lively companion; such a one will easily allow that cheerfulness
carries great merit with it, and naturally conciliates the good-
will of mankind. No quality, indeed, more readily communicates
itself to all around; because no one has a greater propensity to
display itself, in jovial talk and pleasant entertainment. The
flame spreads through the whole circle; and the most sullen and
morose are often caught by it. That the melancholy hate the
merry, even though Horace says it, I have some difficulty to
allow; because I have always observed that, where the jollity is
moderate and decent, serious people are so much the more
delighted, as it dissipates the gloom with which they are
commonly oppressed, and gives them an unusual enjoyment.

From this influence of cheerfulness, both to communicate itself
and to engage approbation, we may perceive that there is another
set of mental qualities, which, without any utility or any
tendency to farther good, either of the community or of the
possessor, diffuse a satisfaction on the beholders, and procure
friendship and regard. Their immediate sensation, to the person
possessed of them, is agreeable. Others enter into the same
humour, and catch the sentiment, by a contagion or natural
sympathy; and as we cannot forbear loving whatever pleases, a
kindly emotion arises towards the person who communicates so much
satisfaction. He is a more animating spectacle; his presence
diffuses over us more serene complacency and enjoyment; our
imagination, entering into his feelings and disposition, is
affected in a more agreeable manner than if a melancholy,
dejected, sullen, anxious temper were presented to us. Hence the
affection and probation which attend the former: the aversion and
disgust with which we regard the latter.

[Footnote: There is no man, who, on particular occasions, is not
affected with all the disagreeable passions, fear, anger,
dejection, grief, melancholy, anxiety, &c. But these, so far as
they are natural, and universal, make no difference between one
man and another, and can never be the object of blame. It is only
when the disposition gives a PROPENSITY to any of these
disagreeable passions, that they disfigure the character, and by
giving uneasiness, convey the sentiment of disapprobation to the

Few men would envy the character which Caesar gives of Cassius:

He loves no play,
As thou do'st, Anthony: he hears no music:
Seldom he smiles; and smiles in such a sort,
As if he mock'd himself, and scorn'd his spirit
That could be mov'd to smile at any thing.

Not only such men, as Caesar adds, are commonly DANGEROUS, but
also, having little enjoyment within themselves, they can never
become agreeable to others, or contribute to social
entertainment. In all polite nations and ages, a relish for
pleasure, if accompanied with temperance and decency, is esteemed
a considerable merit, even in the greatest men; and becomes still
more requisite in those of inferior rank and character. It is an
agreeable representation, which a French writer gives of the
situation of his own mind in this particular, VIRTUE I LOVE, says
WITHOUT FEARING ITS END. [Footnote: 'J'aime la vertu, sans
rudesse; J'aime le plaisir, sans molesse; J'aime la vie, et n'en
crains point la fin.'-ST. EVREMONT.]

Who is not struck with any signal instance of greatness of mind
or dignity of character; with elevation of sentiment, disdain of
slavery, and with that noble pride and spirit, which arises from
conscious virtue? The sublime, says Longinus, is often nothing
but the echo or image of magnanimity; and where this quality
appears in any one, even though a syllable be not uttered, it
excites our applause and admiration; as may be observed of the
famous silence of Ajax in the Odyssey, which expresses more noble
disdain and resolute indignation than any language can convey
[Footnote: Cap. 9.].

PARMENIO. This saying is admirable, says Longinus, from a like
principle. [Footnote: Idem.]

GO! cries the same hero to his soldiers, when they refused to
follow him to the Indies, GO TELL YOUR COUNTRYMEN, THAT YOU LEFT
the Prince of Conde, who always admired this passage, 'abandoned
by his soldiers, among barbarians, not yet fully subdued, felt in
himself such a dignity and right of empire, that he could not
believe it possible that any one would refuse to obey him.
Whether in Europe or in Asia, among Greeks or Persians, all was
indifferent to him: wherever he found men, he fancied he should
find subjects.'

The confident of Medea in the tragedy recommends caution and
submission; and enumerating all the distresses of that
unfortunate heroine, asks her, what she has to support her
against her numerous and implacable enemies. MYSELF, replies she;
MYSELF I SAY, AND IT IS ENOUGH. Boileau justly recommends this
passage as an instance of true sublime [Footnote: Reflexion 10
sur Longin.].

When Phocion, the modest, the gentle Phocion, was led to
execution, he turned to one of his fellow-sufferers, who was
lamenting his own hard fate, IS IT NOT GLORY ENOUGH FOR YOU, says
he, THAT YOU DIE WITH PHOCION? [Footnote: Plutarch in Phoc.]

Place in opposition the picture which Tacitus draws of Vitellius,
fallen from empire, prolonging his ignominy from a wretched love
of life, delivered over to the merciless rabble; tossed,
buffeted, and kicked about; constrained, by their holding a
poinard under his chin, to raise his head, and expose himself to
every contumely. What abject infamy! What low humilation! Yet
even here, says the historian, he discovered some symptoms of a
mind not wholly degenerate. To a tribune, who insulted him, he

[Footnote: Tacit. hist. lib. iii. The author entering upon the
misericordiam abstulerat. To enter thoroughly into this method of
thinking, we must make allowance for the ancient maxims, that no
one ought to prolong his life after it became dishonourable; but,
as he had always a right to dispose of it, it then became a duty
to part with it.]

We never excuse the absolute want of spirit and dignity of
character, or a proper sense of what is due to one's self, in
society and the common intercourse of life. This vice constitutes
what we properly call MEANNESS; when a man can submit to the
basest slavery, in order to gain his ends; fawn upon those who
abuse him; and degrade himself by intimacies and familiarities
with undeserving inferiors. A certain degree of generous pride or
self-value is so requisite, that the absence of it in the mind
displeases, after the same manner as the want of a nose, eye, or
any of the most material feature of the face or member of the

[Footnote: The absence of virtue may often be a vice; and that of
the highest kind; as in the instance of ingratitude, as well as
meanness. Where we expect a beauty, the disappointment gives an
uneasy sensation, and produces a real deformity. An abjectness of
character, likewise, is disgustful and contemptible in another
view. Where a man has no sense of value in himself, we are not
likely to have any higher esteem of him. And if the same person,
who crouches to his superiors, is insolent to his inferiors (as
often happens), this contrariety of behaviour, instead of
correcting the former vice, aggravates it extremely by the
addition of a vice still more odious. See Sect. VIII.]

The utility of courage, both to the public and to the person
possessed of it, is an obvious foundation of merit. But to any
one who duly considers of the matter, it will appear that this
quality has a peculiar lustre, which it derives wholly from
itself, and from that noble elevation inseparable from it. Its
figure, drawn by painters and by poets, displays, in each
feature, a sublimity and daring confidence; which catches the
eye, engages the affections, and diffuses, by sympathy, a like
sublimity of sentiment over every spectator.

Under what shining colours does Demosthenes [Footnote: De
Corona.] represent Philip; where the orator apologizes for his
own administration, and justifies that pertinacious love of
liberty, with which he had inspired the Athenians. 'I beheld
Philip,' says he, 'he with whom was your contest, resolutely,
while in pursuit of empire and dominion, exposing himself to
every wound; his eye gored, his neck wrested, his arm, his thigh
pierced, what ever part of his body fortune should seize on, that
cheerfully relinquishing; provided that, with what remained, he
might live in honour and renown. And shall it be said that he,
born in Pella, a place heretofore mean and ignoble, should be
inspired with so high an ambition and thirst of fame: while you,
Athenians, &c.' These praises excite the most lively admiration;
but the views presented by the orator, carry us not, we see,
beyond the hero himself, nor ever regard the future advantageous
consequences of his valour.

The material temper of the Romans, inflamed by continual wars,
had raised their esteem of courage so high, that, in their
language, it was called VIRTUE, by way of excellence and of
distinction from all other moral qualities. THE Suevi, in the
opinion of Tacitus, tus, [Footnote: De moribus Germ.] DRESSED
historian, which would sound a little oddly in other nations and
other ages.

The Scythians, according to Herodotus, [Footnote: Lib. iv.]
after scalping their enemies, dressed the skin like leather, and
used it as a towel; and whoever had the most of those towels was
most esteemed among them. So much had martial bravery, in that
nation, as well as in many others, destroyed the sentiments of
humanity; a virtue surely much more useful and engaging.

It is indeed observable, that, among all uncultivated nations,
who have not as yet had full experience of the advantages
attending beneficence, justice, and the social virtues, courage
is the predominant excellence; what is most celebrated by poets,
recommended by parents and instructors, and admired by the public
in general. The ethics of Homer are, in this particular, very
different from those of Fenelon, his elegant imitator; and such
as were well suited to an age, when one hero, as remarked by
Thucydides [Lib.i.], could ask another, without offence, whether
he were a robber or not. Such also very lately was the system of
ethics which prevailed in many barbarous parts of Ireland; if we
may credit Spencer, in his judicious account of the state of that

[Footnote from Spencer: It is a common use, says he, amongst
their gentlemen's sons, that, as soon as they are able to use
their weapons, they strait gather to themselves three or four
stragglers or kern, with whom wandering a while up and down idly
the country, taking only meat, he at last falleth into some bad
occasion, that shall be offered; which being once made known, he
is thenceforth counted a man of worth, in whom there is courage.]

Of the same class of virtues with courage is that undisturbed
philosophical tranquillity, superior to pain, sorrow, anxiety,
and each assault of adverse fortune. Conscious of his own virtue,
say the philosophers, the sage elevates himself above every
accident of life; and securely placed in the temple of wisdom,
looks down on inferior mortals engaged in pursuit of honours,
riches, reputation, and every frivolous enjoyment. These
pretentious, no doubt, when stretched to the utmost, are by far
too magnificent for human nature. They carry, however, a grandeur
with them, which seizes the spectator, and strikes him with
admiration. And the nearer we can approach in practice to this
sublime tranquillity and indifference (for we must distinguish it
from a stupid insensibility), the more secure enjoyment shall we
attain within ourselves, and the more greatness of mind shall we
discover to the world. The philosophical tranquillity may,
indeed, be considered only as a branch of magnanimity.

Who admires not Socrates; his perpetual serenity and contentment,
amidst the greatest poverty and domestic vexations; his resolute
contempt of riches, and his magnanimous care of preserving
liberty, while he refused all assistance from his friends and
disciples, and avoided even the dependence of an obligation?
Epictetus had not so much as a door to his little house or hovel;
and therefore, soon lost his iron lamp, the only furniture which
he had worth taking. But resolving to disappoint all robbers for
the future, he supplied its place with an earthen lamp, of which
he very peacefully kept possession ever after.

Among the ancients, the heroes in philosophy, as well as those in
war and patriotism, have a grandeur and force of sentiment, which
astonishes our narrow souls, and is rashly rejected as
extravagant and supernatural. They, in their turn, I allow, would
have had equal reason to consider as romantic and incredible, the
degree of humanity, clemency, order, tranquillity, and other
social virtues, to which, in the administration of government, we
have attained in modern times, had any one been then able to have
made a fair representation of them. Such is the compensation,
which nature, or rather education, has made in the distribution
of excellencies and virtues, in those different ages.

The merit of benevolence, arising from its utility, and its
tendency to promote the good of mankind has been already
explained, and is, no doubt, the source of a CONSIDERABLE part of
that esteem, which is so universally paid to it. But it will also
be allowed, that the very softness and tenderness of the
sentiment, its engaging endearments, its fond expressions, its
delicate attentions, and all that flow of mutual confidence and
regard, which enters into a warm attachment of love and
friendship: it will be allowed, I say, that these feelings, being
delightful in themselves, are necessarily communicated to the
spectators, and melt them into the same fondness and delicacy.
The tear naturally starts in our eye on the apprehension of a
warm sentiment of this nature: our breast heaves, our heart is
agitated, and every humane tender principle of our frame is set
in motion, and gives us the purest and most satisfactory

When poets form descriptions of Elysian fields, where the blessed
inhabitants stand in no need of each other's assistance, they yet
represent them as maintaining a constant intercourse of love and
friendship, and sooth our fancy with the pleasing image of these
soft and gentle passions. The idea of tender tranquillity in a
pastoral Arcadia is agreeable from a like principle, as has been
observed above. [Footnote: Sect. v. Part 2.]

Who would live amidst perpetual wrangling, and scolding, and
mutual reproaches? The roughness and harshness of these emotions
disturb and displease us: we suffer by contagion and sympathy;
nor can we remain indifferent spectators, even though certain
that no pernicious consequences would ever follow from such angry

As a certain proof that the whole merit of benevolence is not
derived from its usefulness, we may observe, that in a kind way
of blame, we say, a person is TOO GOOD; when he exceeds his part
in society, and carries his attention for others beyond the
proper bounds. In like manner, we say, a man is too HIGH-
reproaches, which really, at bottom, imply more esteem than many
panegyrics. Being accustomed to rate the merit and demerit of
characters chiefly by their useful or pernicious tendencies, we
cannot forbear applying the epithet of blame, when we discover a
sentiment, which rises to a degree, that is hurtful; but it may
happen, at the same time, that its noble elevation, or its
engaging tenderness so seizes the heart, as rather to increase
our friendship and concern for the person.

[Footnote: Cheerfulness could scarce admit of blame from its
excess, were it not that dissolute mirth, without a proper cause
or subject, is a sure symptom and characteristic of folly, and on
that account disgustful.]

The amours and attachments of Harry the IVth of France, during
the civil wars of the league, frequently hurt his interest and
his cause; but all the young, at least, and amorous, who can
sympathize with the tender passions, will allow that this very
weakness, for they will readily call it such, chiefly endears
that hero, and interests them in his fortunes.

The excessive bravery and resolute inflexibility of Charles the
XIIth ruined his own country, and infested all his neighbours;
but have such splendour and greatness in their appearance, as
strikes us with admiration; and they might, in some degree, be
even approved of, if they betrayed not sometimes too evident
symptoms of madness and disorder.

The Athenians pretended to the first invention of agriculture and
of laws: and always valued themselves extremely on the benefit
thereby procured to the whole race of mankind. They also boasted,
and with reason, of their war like enterprises; particularly
against those innumerable fleets and armies of Persians, which
invaded Greece during the reigns of Darius and Xerxes. But though
there be no comparison in point of utility, between these
peaceful and military honours; yet we find, that the orators, who
have writ such elaborate panegyrics on that famous city, have
chiefly triumphed in displaying the warlike achievements. Lysias,
Thucydides, Plato, and Isocrates discover, all of them, the same
partiality; which, though condemned by calm reason and
reflection, appears so natural in the mind of man.

It is observable, that the great charm of poetry consists in
lively pictures of the sublime passions, magnanimity, courage,
disdain of fortune; or those of the tender affections, love and
friendship; which warm the heart, and diffuse over it similar
sentiments and emotions. And though all kinds of passion, even
the most disagreeable, such as grief and anger, are observed,
when excited by poetry, to convey a satisfaction, from a
mechanism of nature, not easy to be explained: Yet those more
elevated or softer affections have a peculiar influence, and
please from more than one cause or principle. Not to mention that
they alone interest us in the fortune of the persons represented,
or communicate any esteem and affection for their character.

And can it possibly be doubted, that this talent itself of poets,
to move the passions, this pathetic and sublime of sentiment, is
a very considerable merit; and being enhanced by its extreme
rarity, may exalt the person possessed of it, above every
character of the age in which he lives? The prudence, address,
steadiness, and benign government of Augustus, adorned with all
the splendour of his noble birth and imperial crown, render him
but an unequal competitor for fame with Virgil, who lays nothing
into the opposite scale but the divine beauties of his poetical

The very sensibility to these beauties, or a delicacy of taste,
is itself a beauty in any character; as conveying the purest, the
most durable, and most innocent of all enjoyments.

These are some instances of the several species of merit, that
are valued for the immediate pleasure which they communicate to
the person possessed of them. No views of utility or of future
beneficial consequences enter into this sentiment of approbation;
yet is it of a kind similar to that other sentiment, which arises
from views of a public or private utility. The same social
sympathy, we may observe, or fellow-feeling with human happiness
or misery, gives rise to both; and this analogy, in all the parts
of the present theory, may justly be regarded as a confirmation
of it.



[Footnote: It is the nature and, indeed, the definition of
qualities produce pleasure, because they are useful to society,
or useful or agreeable to the person himself; others produce it
more immediately, which is the case with the class of virtues
here considered.]

AS the mutual shocks, in SOCIETY, and the oppositions of interest
and self-love have constrained mankind to establish the laws of
JUSTICE, in order to preserve the advantages of mutual assistance
and protection: in like manner, the eternal contrarieties, in
COMPANY, of men's pride and self-conceit, have introduced the
rules of Good Manners or Politeness, in order to facilitate the
intercourse of minds, and an undisturbed commerce and
conversation. Among well-bred people, a mutual deference is
affected; contempt of others disguised; authority concealed;
attention given to each in his turn; and an easy stream of
conversation maintained, without vehemence, without interruption,
without eagerness for victory, and without any airs of
superiority. These attentions and regards are immediately
AGREEABLE to others, abstracted from any consideration of utility
or beneficial tendencies: they conciliate affection, promote
esteem, and extremely enhance the merit of the person who
regulates his behaviour by them.

Many of the forms of breeding are arbitrary and casual; but the
thing expressed by them is still the same. A Spaniard goes out of
his own house before his guest, to signify that he leaves him
master of all. In other countries, the landlord walks out last,
as a common mark of deference and regard.

But, in order to render a man perfect GOOD COMPANY, he must have
Wit and Ingenuity as well as good manners. What wit is, it may
not be easy to define; but it is easy surely to determine that it
is a quality immediately AGREEABLE to others, and communicating,
on its first appearance, a lively joy and satisfaction to every
one who has any comprehension of it. The most profound
metaphysics, indeed, might be employed in explaining the various
kinds and species of wit; and many classes of it, which are now
received on the sole testimony of taste and sentiment, might,
perhaps, be resolved into more general principles. But this is
sufficient for our present purpose, that it does affect taste and
sentiment, and bestowing an immediate enjoyment, is a sure source
of approbation and affection.

In countries where men pass most of their time in conversation,
and visits, and assemblies, these COMPANIONABLE qualities, so to
speak, are of high estimation, and form a chief part of personal
merit. In countries where men live a more domestic life, and
either are employed in business, or amuse themselves in a
narrower circle of acquaintance, the more solid qualities are
chiefly regarded. Thus, I have often observed, that, among the
French, the first questions with regard to a stranger are, IS HE
POLITE? HAS HE WIT? In our own country, the chief praise bestowed
is always that of a GOOD-NATURED, SENSIBLE FELLOW.

In conversation, the lively spirit of dialogue is AGREEABLE, even
to those who desire not to have any share in the discourse: hence
the teller of long stories, or the pompous declaimer, is very
little approved of. But most men desire likewise their turn in
the conversation, and regard, with a very evil eye, that
LOQUACITY which deprives them of a right they are naturally so
jealous of.

There is a sort of harmless LIARS, frequently to be met with in
company, who deal much in the marvellous. Their usual intention
is to please and entertain; but as men are most delighted with
what they conceive to be truth, these people mistake extremely
the means of pleasing, and incur universal blame. Some
indulgence, however, to lying or fiction is given in HUMOROUS
stories; because it is there really agreeable and entertaining,
and truth is not of any importance.

Eloquence, genius of all kinds, even good sense, and sound
reasoning, when it rises to an eminent degree, and is employed
upon subjects of any considerable dignity and nice discernment;
all these endowments seem immediately agreeable, and have a merit
distinct from their usefulness. Rarity, likewise, which so much
enhances the price of every thing, must set an additional value
on these noble talents of the human mind.

Modesty may be understood in different senses, even abstracted
from chastity, which has been already treated of. It sometimes
means that tenderness and nicety of honour, that apprehension of
blame, that dread of intrusion or injury towards others, that
Pudor, which is the proper guardian of every kind of virtue, and
a sure preservative against vice and corruption. But its most
usual meaning is when it is opposed to IMPUDENCE and ARROGRANCE,
and expresses a diffidence of our own judgement, and a due
attention and regard for others. In young men chiefly, this
quality is a sure sign of good sense; and is also the certain
means of augmenting that endowment, by preserving their ears open
to instruction, and making them still grasp after new
attainments. But it has a further charm to every spectator; by
flattering every man's vanity, and presenting the appearance of a
docile pupil, who receives, with proper attention and respect,
every word they utter.

Men have, in general, a much greater propensity to overvalue than
undervalue themselves; notwithstanding the opinion of Aristotle
[Footnote: Ethic. ad Nicomachum.]. This makes us more jealous of
the excess on the former side, and causes us to regard, with a
peculiar indulgence, all tendency to modesty and self-diffidence;
as esteeming the danger less of falling into any vicious extreme
of that nature. It is thus in countries where men's bodies are
apt to exceed in corpulency, personal beauty is placed in a much
greater degree of slenderness, than in countries where that is
the most usual defect. Being so often struck with instances of
one species of deformity, men think they can never keep at too
great a distance from it, and wish always to have a leaning to
the opposite side. In like manner, were the door opened to self-
praise, and were Montaigne's maxim observed, that one should say
BEAUTY, OR WIT, as it is sure we often think so; were this the
case, I say, every one is sensible that such a flood of
impertinence would break in upon us, as would render society
wholly intolerable. For this reason custom has established it as
a rule, in common societies, that men should not indulge
themselves in self-praise, or even speak much of themselves; and
it is only among intimate friends or people of very manly
behaviour, that one is allowed to do himself justice. Nobody
finds fault with Maurice, Prince of Orange, for his reply to one
who asked him, whom he esteemed the first general of the age, THE
MARQUIS OF SPINOLA, said he, IS THE SECOND. Though it is
observable, that the self-praise implied is here better implied,
than if it had been directly expressed, without any cover or

He must be a very superficial thinker, who imagines that all
instances of mutual deference are to be understood in earnest,
and that a man would be more esteemable for being ignorant of his
own merits and accomplishments. A small bias towards modesty,
even in the internal sentiment, is favourably regarded,
especially in young people; and a strong bias is required in the
outward behaviour; but this excludes not a noble pride and
spirit, which may openly display itself in its full extent, when
one lies under calumny or oppression of any kind. The generous
contumacy of Socrates, as Cicero calls it, has been highly
celebrated in all ages; and when joined to the usual modesty of
his behaviour, forms a shining character. Iphicrates, the
Athenian, being accused of betraying the interests of his
country, asked his accuser, WOULD YOU, says he, HAVE, ON A LIKE
other. AND CAN YOU THEN IMAGINE, cried the hero, that Iphicrates
WOULD BE GUILTY? [Footnote: Quinctil. lib. v. cap. 12.]--In
short, a generous spirit and self-value, well founded, decently
disguised, and courageously supported under distress and calumny,
is a great excellency, and seems to derive its merit from the
noble elevation of its sentiment, or its immediate agreeableness
to its possessor. In ordinary characters, we approve of a bias
towards modesty, which is a quality immediately agreeable to
others: the vicious excess of the former virtue, namely,
insolence or haughtiness, is immediately disagreeable to others;
the excess of the latter is so to the possessor. Thus are the
boundaries of these duties adjusted.

A desire of fame, reputation, or a character with others, is so
far from being blameable, that it seems inseparable from virtue,
genius, capacity, and a generous or noble disposition. An
attention even to trivial matters, in order to please, is also
expected and demanded by society; and no one is surprised, if he
find a man in company to observe a greater elegance of dress and
more pleasant flow of conversation, than when he passes his time
at home, and with his own family. Wherein, then, consists Vanity,
which is so justly regarded as a fault or imperfection. It seems
to consist chiefly in such an intemperate display of our
advantages, honours, and accomplishments; in such an importunate
and open demand of praise and admiration, as is offensive to
others, and encroaches too far on their secret vanity and
ambition. It is besides a sure symptom of the want of true
dignity and elevation of mind, which is so great an ornament in
any character. For why that impatient desire of applause; as if
you were not justly entitled to it, and might not reasonably
expect that it would for ever at tend you? Why so anxious to
inform us of the great company which you have kept; the obliging
things which were said to you; the honours, the distinctions
which you met with; as if these were not things of course, and
what we could readily, of ourselves, have imagined, without being
told of them?

Decency, or a proper regard to age, sex, character, and station
in the world, may be ranked among the qualities which are
immediately agreeable to others, and which, by that means,
acquire praise and approbation. An effeminate behaviour in a man,
a rough manner in a woman; these are ugly because unsuitable to
each character, and different from the qualities which we expect
in the sexes. It is as if a tragedy abounded in comic beauties,
or a comedy in tragic. The disproportions hurt the eye, and
convey a disagreeable sentiment to the spectators, the source of
blame and disapprobation. This is that INDECORUM, which is
explained so much at large by Cicero in his Offices.

Among the other virtues, we may also give Cleanliness a place;
since it naturally renders us agreeable to others, and is no
inconsiderable source of love and affection. No one will deny,
that a negligence in this particular is a fault; and as faults
are nothing but smaller vices, and this fault can have no other
origin than the uneasy sensation which it excites in others; we
may, in this instance, seemingly so trivial, clearly discover the
origin of moral distinctions, about which the learned have
involved themselves in such mazes of perplexity and error.

But besides all the AGREEABLE qualities, the origin of whose
beauty we can, in some degree, explain and account for, there
still remains something mysterious and inexplicable, which
conveys an immediate satisfaction to the spectator, but how, or
why, or for what reason, he cannot pretend to determine. There is
a manner, a grace, an ease, a genteelness, an I-know-not-what,
which some men possess above others, which is very different from
external beauty and comeliness, and which, however, catches our
affection almost as suddenly and powerfully. And though this
MANNER be chiefly talked of in the passion between the sexes,
where the concealed magic is easily explained, yet surely much of
it prevails in all our estimation of characters, and forms no
inconsiderable part of personal merit. This class of
accomplishments, therefore, must be trusted entirely to the
blind, but sure testimony of taste and sentiment; and must be
considered as a part of ethics, left by nature to baffle all the
pride of philosophy, and make her sensible of her narrow
boundaries and slender acquisitions.

We approve of another, because of his wit, politeness, modesty,
decency, or any agreeable quality which he possesses; although he
be not of our acquaintance, nor has ever given us any
entertainment, by means of these accomplishments. The idea, which
we form of their effect on his acquaintance, has an agreeable
influence on our imagination, and gives us the sentiment of
approbation. This principle enters into all the judgements which
we form concerning manners and characters.




IT may justly appear surprising that any man in so late an age,
should find it requisite to prove, by elaborate reasoning, that
Personal Merit consists altogether in the possession of mental
qualities, USEFUL or AGREEABLE to the PERSON HIMSELF or to
OTHERS. It might be expected that this principle would have
occurred even to the first rude, unpractised enquirers concerning
morals, and been received from its own evidence, without any
argument or disputation. Whatever is valuable in any kind, so
naturally classes itself under the division of USEFUL or
AGREEABLE, the UTILE or the DULCE, that it is not easy to imagine
why we should ever seek further, or consider the question as a
matter of nice research or inquiry. And as every thing useful or
agreeable must possess these qualities with regard either to the
PERSON HIMSELF or to OTHERS, the complete delineation or
description of merit seems to be performed as naturally as a
shadow is cast by the sun, or an image is reflected upon water.
If the ground, on which the shadow is cast, be not broken and
uneven; nor the surface from which the image is reflected,
disturbed and confused; a just figure is immediately presented,
without any art or attention. And it seems a reasonable
presumption, that systems and hypotheses have perverted our
natural understanding, when a theory, so simple and obvious,
could so long have escaped the most elaborate examination.

But however the case may have fared with philosophy, in common
life these principles are still implicitly maintained; nor is any
other topic of praise or blame ever recurred to, when we employ
any panegyric or satire, any applause or censure of human action
and behaviour. If we observe men, in every intercourse of
business or pleasure, in every discourse and conversation, we
shall find them nowhere, except the schools, at any loss upon
this subject. What so natural, for instance, as the following
dialogue? You are very happy, we shall suppose one to say,
addressing himself to another, that you have given your daughter
to Cleanthes. He is a man of honour and humanity. Every one, who
has any intercourse with him, is sure of FAIR and KIND treatment.
[Footnote: Qualities useful to others.] I congratulate you too,
says another, on the promising expectations of this son-in-law;
whose assiduous application to the study of the laws, whose quick
penetration and early knowledge both of men and business,
prognosticate the greatest honours and advancement. [Footnote:
Qualities useful to the person himself.] You surprise me, replies
a third, when you talk of Cleanthes as a man of business and
application. I met him lately in a circle of the gayest company,
and he was the very life and soul of our conversation: so much
wit with good manners; so much gallantry without affectation; so
much ingenious knowledge so genteelly delivered, I have never
before observed in any one. [Footnote: Qualities immediately
agreeable to others,] You would admire him still more, says a
fourth, if you knew him more familiarly. That cheerfulness, which
you might remark in him, is not a sudden flash struck out by
company: it runs through the whole tenor of his life, and
preserves a perpetual serenity on his countenance, and
tranquillity in his soul. He has met with severe trials,
misfortunes as well as dangers; and by his greatness of mind, was
still superior to all of them [Footnote: Qualities immediately
agreeable to the person himself]. The image, gentlemen, which you
have here delineated of Cleanthes, cried I, is that of
accomplished merit. Each of you has given a stroke of the pencil
to his figure; and you have unawares exceeded all the pictures
drawn by Gratian or Castiglione. A philosopher might select this
character as a model of perfect virtue.

And as every quality which is useful or agreeable to ourselves or
others is, in common life, allowed to be a part of personal
merit; so no other will ever be received, where men judge of
things by their natural, unprejudiced reason, without the
delusive glosses of superstition and false religion. Celibacy,
fasting, penance, mortification, self-denial, humility, silence,
solitude, and the whole train of monkish virtues; for what reason
are they everywhere rejected by men of sense, but because they
serve to no manner of purpose; neither advance a man's fortune in
the world, nor render him a more valuable member of society;
neither qualify him for the entertainment of company, nor
increase his power of self-enjoyment? We observe, on the
contrary, that they cross all these desirable ends; stupify the
understanding and harden the heart, obscure the fancy and sour
the temper. We justly, therefore, transfer them to the opposite
column, and place them in the catalogue of vices; nor has any
superstition force sufficient among men of the world, to pervert
entirely these natural sentiments. A gloomy, hair-brained
enthusiast, after his death, may have a place in the calendar;
but will scarcely ever be admitted, when alive, into intimacy and
society, except by those who are as delirious and dismal as

It seems a happiness in the present theory, that it enters not
into that vulgar dispute concerning the DEGREES of benevolence or
self-love, which prevail in human nature; a dispute which is
never likely to have any issue, both because men, who have taken
part, are not easily convinced, and because the phenomena, which
can be produced on either side, are so dispersed, so uncertain,
and subject to so many interpretations, that it is scarcely
possible accurately to compare them, or draw from them any
determinate inference or conclusion. It is sufficient for our
present purpose, if it be allowed, what surely, without the
greatest absurdity cannot be disputed, that there is some
benevolence, however small, infused into our bosom; some spark of
friendship for human kind; some particle of the dove kneaded into
our frame, along with the elements of the wolf and serpent. Let
these generous sentiments be supposed ever so weak; let them be
insufficient to move even a hand or finger of our body, they must
still direct the determinations of our mind, and where everything
else is equal, produce a cool preference of what is useful and
serviceable to mankind, above what is pernicious and dangerous. A
MORAL DISTINCTION, therefore, immediately arises; a general
sentiment of blame and approbation; a tendency, however faint, to
the objects of the one, and a proportionable aversion to those of
the other. Nor will those reasoners, who so earnestly maintain
the predominant selfishness of human kind, be any wise
scandalized at hearing of the weak sentiments of virtue implanted
in our nature. On the contrary, they are found as ready to
maintain the one tenet as the other; and their spirit of satire
(for such it appears, rather than of corruption) naturally gives
rise to both opinions; which have, indeed, a great and almost an
indissoluble connexion together.

Avarice, ambition, vanity, and all passions vulgarly, though
improperly, comprised under the denomination of SELF-LOVE, are
here excluded from our theory concerning the origin of morals,
not because they are too weak, but because they have not a proper
direction for that purpose. The notion of morals implies some
sentiment common to all mankind, which recommends the same object
to general approbation, and makes every man, or most men, agree
in the same opinion or decision concerning it. It also implies
some sentiment, so universal and comprehensive as to extend to
all mankind, and render the actions and conduct, even of the
persons the most remote, an object of applause or censure,
according as they agree or disagree with that rule of right which
is established. These two requisite circumstances belong alone to
the sentiment of humanity here insisted on. The other passions
produce in every breast, many strong sentiments of desire and
aversion, affection and hatred; but these neither are felt so
much in common, nor are so comprehensive, as to be the foundation
of any general system and established theory of blame or

When a man denominates another his ENEMY, his RIVAL, his
ANTAGONIST, his ADVERSARY, he is understood to speak the language
of self-love, and to express sentiments, peculiar to himself, and
arising from his particular circumstances and situation. But when
he bestows on any man the epithets of VICIOUS or ODIOUS or
DEPRAVED, he then speaks another language, and expresses
sentiments, in which he expects all his audience are to concur
with him. He must here, therefore, depart from his private and
particular situation, and must choose a point of view, common to
him with others; he must move some universal principle of the
human frame, and touch a string to which all mankind have an
accord and symphony. If he mean, therefore, to express that this
man possesses qualities, whose tendency is pernicious to society,
he has chosen this common point of view, and has touched the
principle of humanity, in which every man, in some degree,
concurs. While the human heart is compounded of the same elements
as at present, it will never be wholly indifferent to public
good, nor entirely unaffected with the tendency of characters and
manners. And though this affection of humanity may not generally
be esteemed so strong as vanity or ambition, yet, being common to
all men, it can alone be the foundation of morals, or of any-
general system of blame or praise. One man's ambition is not
another's ambition, nor will the same event or object satisfy
both; but the humanity of one man is the humanity of every one,
and the same object touches this passion in all human creatures.

But the sentiments, which arise from humanity, are not only the
same in all human creatures, and produce the same approbation or
censure; but they also comprehend all human creatures; nor is
there any one whose conduct or character is not, by their means,
an object to every one of censure or approbation. On the
contrary, those other passions, commonly denominated selfish,
both produce different sentiments in each individual, according
to his particular situation; and also contemplate the greater
part of mankind with the utmost indifference and unconcern.
Whoever has a high regard and esteem for me flatters my vanity;
whoever expresses contempt mortifies and displeases me; but as my
name is known but to a small part of mankind, there are few who
come within the sphere of this passion, or excite, on its
account, either my affection or disgust. But if you represent a
tyrannical, insolent, or barbarous behaviour, in any country or
in any age of the world, I soon carry my eye to the pernicious
tendency of such a conduct, and feel the sentiment of repugnance
and displeasure towards it. No character can be so remote as to
be, in this light, wholly indifferent to me. What is beneficial
to society or to the person himself must still be preferred. And
every quality or action, of every human being, must, by this
means, be ranked under some class or denomination, expressive of
general censure or applause.

What more, therefore, can we ask to distinguish the sentiments,
dependent on humanity, from those connected with any other
passion, or to satisfy us, why the former are the origin of
morals, not the latter? Whatever conduct gains my approbation, by
touching my humanity, procures also the applause of all mankind,
by affecting the same principle in them; but what serves my
avarice or ambition pleases these passions in me alone, and
affects not the avarice and ambition of the rest of mankind.
There is no circumstance of conduct in any man, provided it have
a beneficial tendency, that is not agreeable to my humanity,
however remote the person; but every man, so far removed as
neither to cross nor serve my avarice and ambition, is regarded
as wholly indifferent by those passions. The distinction,
therefore, between these species of sentiment being so great and
evident, language must soon be moulded upon it, and must invent a
peculiar set of terms, in order to express those universal
sentiments of censure or approbation, which arise from humanity,
or from views of general usefulness and its contrary. Virtue and
Vice become then known; morals are recognized; certain general
ideas are framed of human conduct and behaviour; such measures
are expected from men in such situations. This action is
determined to be conformable to our abstract rule; that other,
contrary. And by such universal principles are the particular
sentiments of self-love frequently controlled and limited.

[Footnote: It seems certain, both from reason and experience,
that a rude, untaught savage regulates chiefly his love and
hatred by the ideas of private utility and injury, and has but
faint conceptions of a general rule or system of behaviour. The
man who stands opposite to him in battle, he hates heartedly, not
only for the present moment, which is almost unavoidable, but for
ever after; nor is he satisfied without the most extreme
punishment and vengeance. But we, accustomed to society, and to
more enlarged reflections, consider, that this man is serving his
own country and community; that any man, in the same situation,
would do the same; that we ourselves, in like circumstances,
observe a like conduct; that; in general, human society is best
supported on such maxims: and by these suppositions and views, we
correct, in some measure, our ruder and narrower positions. And
though much of our friendship and enemity be still regulated by
private considerations of benefit and harm, we pay, at least,
this homage to general rules, which we are accustomed to respect,
that we commonly perver our adversary's conduct, by imputing
malice or injustice to him, in order to give vent to those
passions, which arise from self-love and private interest. When
the heart is full of rage, it never wants pretences of this
nature; though sometimes as frivolous, as those from which
Horace, being almost crushed by the fall of a tree, effects to
accuse of parricide the first planter of it.]

From instances of popular tumults, seditions, factions, panics,
and of all passions, which are shared with a multitude, we may
learn the influence of society in exciting and supporting any
emotion; while the most ungovernable disorders are raised, we
find, by that means, from the slightest and most frivolous
occasions. Solon was no very cruel, though, perhaps, an unjust
legislator, who punished neuters in civil wars; and few, I
believe, would, in such cases, incur the penalty, were their
affection and discourse allowed sufficient to absolve them. No
selfishness, and scarce any philosophy, have there force
sufficient to support a total coolness and indifference; and he
must be more or less than man, who kindles not in the common
blaze. What wonder then, that moral sentiments are found of such
influence in life; though springing from principles, which may
appear, at first sight, somewhat small and delicate? But these
principles, we must remark, are social and universal; they form,
in a manner, the PARTY of humankind against vice or disorder, its
common enemy. And as the benevolent concern for others is
diffused, in a greater or less degree, over all men, and is the
same in all, it occurs more frequently in discourse, is cherished
by society and conversation, and the blame and approbation,
consequent on it, are thereby roused from that lethargy into
which they are probably lulled, in solitary and uncultivated
nature. Other passions, though perhaps originally stronger, yet
being selfish and private, are often overpowered by its force,
and yield the dominion of our breast to those social and public

Another spring of our constitution, that brings a great addition
of force to moral sentiments, is the love of fame; which rules,
with such uncontrolled authority, in all generous minds, and is
often the grand object of all their designs and undertakings. By
our continual and earnest pursuit of a character, a name, a
reputation in the world, we bring our own deportment and conduct
frequently in review, and consider how they appear in the eyes of
those who approach and regard us. This constant habit of
surveying ourselves, as it were, in reflection, keeps alive all
the sentiments of right and wrong, and begets, in noble natures,
a certain reverence for themselves as well as others, which is
the surest guardian of every virtue. The animal conveniencies and
pleasures sink gradually in their value; while every inward
beauty and moral grace is studiously acquired, and the mind is
accomplished in every perfection, which can adorn or embellish a
rational creature.

Here is the most perfect morality with which we are acquainted:
here is displayed the force of many sympathies. Our moral
sentiment is itself a feeling chiefly of that nature, and our
regard to a character with others seems to arise only from a care
of preserving a character with ourselves; and in order to attain
this end, we find it necessary to prop our tottering judgement on
the correspondent approbation of mankind.

But, that we may accommodate matters, and remove if possible
every difficulty, let us allow all these reasonings to be false.
Let us allow that, when we resolve the pleasure, which arises
from views of utility, into the sentiments of humanity and
sympathy, we have embraced a wrong hypothesis. Let us confess it
necessary to find some other explication of that applause, which
is paid to objects, whether inanimate, animate, or rational, if
they have a tendency to promote the welfare and advantage of
mankind. However difficult it be to conceive that an object is
approved of on account of its tendency to a certain end, while
the end itself is totally indifferent: let us swallow this
absurdity, and consider what are the consequences. The preceding
delineation or definition of Personal Merit must still retain its
evidence and authority: it must still be allowed that every
quality of the mind, which is USEFUL or AGREEABLE to the PERSON
HIMSELF or to OTHERS, communicates a pleasure to the spectator,
engages his esteem, and is admitted under the honourable
denomination of virtue or merit. Are not justice, fidelity,
honour, veracity, allegiance, chastity, esteemed solely on
account of their tendency to promote the good of society? Is not
that tendency inseparable from humanity, benevolence, lenity,
generosity, gratitude, moderation, tenderness, friendship, and
all the other social virtues? Can it possibly be doubted that
industry, discretion, frugality, secrecy, order, perseverance,
forethought, judgement, and this whole class of virtues and
accomplishments, of which many pages would not contain the
catalogue; can it be doubted, I say, that the tendency of these
qualities to promote the interest and happiness of their
possessor, is the sole foundation of their merit? Who can dispute
that a mind, which supports a perpetual serenity and
cheerfulness, a noble dignity and undaunted spirit, a tender
affection and good-will to all around; as it has more enjoyment
within itself, is also a more animating and rejoicing spectacle,
than if dejected with melancholy, tormented with anxiety,
irritated with rage, or sunk into the most abject baseness and
degeneracy? And as to the qualities, immediately AGREEABLE to
OTHERS, they speak sufficiently for themselves; and he must be
unhappy, indeed, either in his own temper, or in his situation
and company, who has never perceived the charms of a facetious
wit or flowing affability, of a delicate modesty or decent
genteelness of address and manner.

I am sensible, that nothing can be more unphilosophical than to
be positive or dogmatical on any subject; and that, even if
excessive scepticism could be maintained, it would not be more
destructive to all just reasoning and inquiry. I am convinced
that, where men are the most sure and arrogant, they are commonly
the most mistaken, and have there given reins to passion, without
that proper deliberation and suspense, which can alone secure
them from the grossest absurdities. Yet, I must confess, that
this enumeration puts the matter in so strong a light, that I
cannot, at PRESENT, be more assured of any truth, which I learn
from reasoning and argument, than that personal merit consists
entirely in the usefulness or agreeableness of qualities to the
person himself possessed of them, or to others, who have any
intercourse with him. But when I reflect that, though the bulk
and figure of the earth have been measured and delineated, though
the motions of the tides have been accounted for, the order and
economy of the heavenly bodies subjected to their proper laws,
and Infinite itself reduced to calculation; yet men still dispute
concerning the foundation of their moral duties. When I reflect
on this, I say, I fall back into diffidence and scepticism, and
suspect that an hypothesis, so obvious, had it been a true one,
would, long ere now, have been received by the unanimous suffrage
and consent of mankind.


Having explained the moral APPROBATION attending merit or virtue,
there remains nothing but briefly to consider our interested
OBLIGATION to it, and to inquire whether every man, who has any
regard to his own happiness and welfare, will not best find his
account in the practice of every moral duty. If this can be
clearly ascertained from the foregoing theory, we shall have the
satisfaction to reflect, that we have advanced principles, which
not only, it is hoped, will stand the test of reasoning and
inquiry, but may contribute to the amendment of men's lives, and
their improvement in morality and social virtue. And though the
philosophical truth of any proposition by no means depends on its
tendency to promote the interests of society; yet a man has but a
bad grace, who delivers a theory, however true, which, he must
confess, leads to a practice dangerous and pernicious. Why rake
into those corners of nature which spread a nuisance all around?
Why dig up the pestilence from the pit in which it is buried? The
ingenuity of your researches may be admired, but your systems
will be detested; and mankind will agree, if they cannot refute
them, to sink them, at least, in eternal silence and oblivion.
Truths which are pernicious to society, if any such there be,
will yield to errors which are salutary and ADVANTAGEOUS.

But what philosophical truths can be more advantageous to
society, than those here delivered, which represent virtue in all
her genuine and most engaging charms, and makes us approach her
with ease, familiarity, and affection? The dismal dress falls
off, with which many divines, and some philosophers, have covered
her; and nothing appears but gentleness, humanity, beneficence,
affability; nay, even at proper intervals, play, frolic, and
gaiety. She talks not of useless austerities and rigours,
suffering and self-denial. She declares that her sole purpose is
to make her votaries and all mankind, during every instant of
their existence, if possible, cheerful and happy; nor does she
ever willingly part with any pleasure but in hopes of ample
compensation in some other period of their lives. The sole
trouble which she demands, is that of just calculation, and a
steady preference of the greater happiness. And if any austere
pretenders approach her, enemies to joy and pleasure, she either
rejects them as hypocrites and deceivers; or, if she admit them
in her train, they are ranked, however, among the least favoured
of her votaries.

And, indeed, to drop all figurative expression, what hopes can we
ever have of engaging mankind to a practice which we confess full
of austerity and rigour? Or what theory of morals can ever serve
any useful purpose, unless it can show, by a particular detail,
that all the duties which it recommends, are also the true
interest of each individual? The peculiar advantage of the
foregoing system seems to be, that it furnishes proper mediums
for that purpose.

That the virtues which are immediately USEFUL or AGREEABLE to the
person possessed of them, are desirable in a view to self-interest,
it would surely be superfluous to prove. Moralists, indeed, may
spare themselves all the pains which they often take in
recommending these duties. To what purpose collect arguments to
evince that temperance is advantageous, and the excesses of
pleasure hurtful, when it appears that these excesses are only
denominated such, because they are hurtful; and that, if the
unlimited use of strong liquors, for instance, no more impaired
health or the faculties of mind and body than the use of air or
water, it would not be a whit more vicious or blameable?

It seems equally superfluous to prove, that the COMPANIONABLE
virtues of good manners and wit, decency and genteelness, are
more desirable than the contrary qualities. Vanity alone, without
any other consideration, is a sufficient motive to make us wish
for the possession of these accomplishments. No man was ever
willingly deficient in this particular. All our failures here
proceed from bad education, want of capacity, or a perverse and
unpliable disposition. Would you have your company coveted,
admired, followed; rather than hated, despised, avoided? Can any
one seriously deliberate in the case? As no enjoyment is sincere,
without some reference to company and society; so no society can
be agreeable, or even tolerable, where a man feels his presence
unwelcome, and discovers all around him symptoms of disgust and

But why, in the greater society or confederacy of mankind, should
not the case be the same as in particular clubs and companies?
Why is it more doubtful, that the enlarged virtues of humanity,
generosity, beneficence, are desirable with a view of happiness
and self-interest, than the limited endowments of ingenuity and
politeness? Are we apprehensive lest those social affections
interfere, in a greater and more immediate degree than any other
pursuits, with private utility, and cannot be gratified, without
some important sacrifice of honour and advantage? If so, we are
but ill-instructed in the nature of the human passions, and are
more influenced by verbal distinctions than by real differences.

Whatever contradiction may vulgarly be supposed between the
SELFISH and SOCIAL sentiments or dispositions, they are really no
more opposite than selfish and ambitious, selfish and revengeful,
selfish and vain. It is requisite that there be an original
propensity of some kind, in order to be a basis to self-love, by
giving a relish to the objects of its pursuit; and none more fit
for this purpose than benevolence or humanity. The goods of
fortune are spent in one gratification or another: the miser who
accumulates his annual income, and lends it out at interest, has
really spent it in the gratification of his avarice. And it would
be difficult to show why a man is more a loser by a generous
action, than by any other method of expense; since the utmost
which he can attain by the most elaborate selfishness, is the
indulgence of some affection.

Now if life, without passion, must be altogether insipid and
tiresome; let a man suppose that he has full power of modelling

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