. 10
( 13)


war, his resources in distress, his cool and sedate judgment in danger,
his faithful attachment to his friends, his unexampled generosity to
his enemies, would all have been acknowledged; as the real merit of
Catiline, who had many great qualities, is acknowledged at this day.
But the insolence and injustice of his all-grasping ambition would have
darkened and extinguished the glory of all that real merit. Fortune has
in this, as well as in some other respects already mentioned, great in-
¬‚uence over the moral sentiments of mankind, and, according as she is
either favourable or adverse, can render the same character the object,
either of general love and admiration, or of universal hatred and con-
tempt. This great disorder in our moral sentiments is by no means,
however, without its utility; and we may on this, as well as on many

µ Caesar won the Roman civil war by defeating Pompey at the battle of Pharsalus ( BC) and lived
to write the victor™s history. Despite the hostile opposition of Marcus Porcius Cato Uticensis
(µ“ BC), a leader of the aristocratic party, Caesar could thus avoid having his attempts on the
Roman constitution seen as a conspiracy like that ascribed to Catiline by Cicero (cf. note  above).

The Theory of Moral Sentiments

other occasions, admire the wisdom of God even in the weakness and
folly of man. Our admiration of success is founded upon the same
principle with our respect for wealth and greatness, and is equally nec-
essary for establishing the distinction of ranks and the order of society.
By this admiration of success we are taught to submit more easily to
those superiors, whom the course of human affairs may assign to us;
to regard with reverence, and sometimes even with a sort of respectful
affection, that fortunate violence which we are no longer capable of
resisting; not only the violence of such splendid characters as those of
a C¦sar or an Alexander, but often that of the most brutal and savage
barbarians, of an Attila, a Gengis, or a Tamerlane.· To all such mighty
conquerors the great mob of mankind are naturally disposed to look
up with a wondering, though, no doubt, with a very weak and foolish
admiration. By this admiration, however, they are taught to acquiesce
with less reluctance under that government which an irresistible force
imposes upon them, and from which no reluctance could deliver them.

± Though in prosperity, however, the man of excessive self-estimation
may sometimes appear to have some advantage over the man of cor-
rect and modest virtue; though the applause of the multitude, and
of those who see them both only at a distance, is often much louder
in favour of the one than it ever is in favour of the other; yet, all
things fairly computed, the real balance of advantage is, perhaps in all
cases, greatly in favour of the latter and against the former. The man
who neither ascribes to himself, nor wishes that other people should
ascribe to him, any other merit besides that which really belongs to
him, fears no humiliation, dreads no detection; but rests contented
and secure upon the genuine truth and solidity of his own character.
His admirers may neither be very numerous nor very loud in their
applauses; but the wisest man who sees him the nearest and who
knows him the best, admires him the most. To a real wise man the
judicious and well-weighed approbation of a single wise man, gives
more heartfelt satisfaction than all the noisy applauses of ten thousand
ignorant though enthusiastic admirers. He may say with Parmenides,

 Cf. II.iii.. above.
· Attila (°“µ), king of the Huns; Genghis Khan (±±“±·), Mongol conqueror; Tamerlane,
or Tamburlaine (±“±°µ), Tatar conqueror.

Of the character of virtue

who, upon reading a philosophical discourse before a public assembly
at Athens, and observing, that, except Plato, the whole company had
left him, continued, notwithstanding, to read on, and said that Plato
alone was audience suf¬cient for him.

 It is otherwise with the man of excessive self-estimation. The wise
men who see him the nearest, admire him the least. Amidst the intox-
ication of prosperity, their sober and just esteem falls so far short of the
extravagance of his own self-admiration, that he regards it as mere ma-
lignity and envy. He suspects his best friends. Their company becomes
offensive to him. He drives them from his presence, and often rewards
their services, not only with ingratitude, but with cruelty and injustice.
He abandons his con¬dence to ¬‚atterers and traitors, who pretend to
idolize his vanity and presumption; and that character which in the
beginning, though in some respects defective, was, upon the whole,
both amiable and respectable, becomes contemptible and odious in the
end. Amidst the intoxication of prosperity, Alexander killed Clytus,
for having preferred the exploits of his father Philip to his own; put
Calisthenes to death in torture, for having refused to adore him in the
Persian manner; and murdered the great friend of his father, the vener-
able Parmenio, after having, upon the most groundless suspicions, sent
¬rst to the torture and afterwards to the scaffold the only remaining
son of that old man, the rest having all before died in his own service.
This was that Parmenio of whom Philip used to say, that the Athenians
were very fortunate who could ¬nd ten generals every year, while he
himself, in the whole course of his life, could never ¬nd one but
Parmenio.µ° It was upon the vigilance and attention of this Parmenio
that he reposed at all times with con¬dence and security, and, in
 Parmenides lived c. µ±µ-°s BC while Plato was born in ·, but a similar story is told about
Antimachus when he read a poem: Cicero, Brutus, li.±.
 Smith is referring to events during Alexander the Great™s military campaigns in Asia Minor and
beyond, - BC. Cleitus was the brother of Alexander™s foster-mother and a cavalry of¬cer who
had rescued the king™s life but was killed by Alexander at a drunken banquet in . Callisthenes
(b. c. ·°), a relative of Alexander™s tutor, Aristotle, was the king™s hagiographic historiographer
but he was murdered in ·, suspected of complicity in a plot and, reputedly, for refusing to greet
Alexander in the Persian way as a divinity. Parmenion (c. °°-°) was taken over as the trusted
second-in-command by Alexander from his father, King Philip, while Parmenion™s son Philotas
(c. °-°) was a rising of¬cer who was executed on suspicion of conspiracy; as a precaution
Alexander had the father killed as well.
µ° Plutarch, Apophthegmata (Moralia, Book III), ±·· c.

The Theory of Moral Sentiments

his hours of mirth and jollity, used to say, Let us drink, my friends,
we may do it with safety, for Parmenio never drinks.µ± It was this
same Parmenio, with whose presence and counsel, it had been said,
Alexander had gained all his victories; and without whose presence and
counsel, he had never gained a single victory.µ The humble, admiring,
and ¬‚attering friends, whom Alexander left in power and authority
behind him, divided his empire among themselves, and after having
thus robbed his family and kindred of their inheritance, put, one after
another, every single surviving individual of them, whether male or
female, to death.

 We frequently, not only pardon, but thoroughly enter into and sym-
pathize with the excessive self-estimation of those splendid characters
in which we observe a great and distinguished superiority above the
common level of mankind. We call them spirited, magnanimous, and
high-minded; words which all involve in their meaning a considerable
degree of praise and admiration. But we cannot enter into and sympa-
thize with the excessive self-estimation of those characters in which
we can discern no such distinguished superiority. We are disgusted
and revolted by it; and it is with some dif¬culty that we can either
pardon or suffer it. We call it pride or vanity; two words, of which
the latter always, and the former for the most part, involve in their
meaning a considerable degree of blame.

 Those two vices, however, though resembling, in some respects, as
being both modi¬cations of excessive self-estimation, are yet, in many
respects, very different from one another.

µ The proud man is sincere, and, in the bottom of his heart, is convinced
of his own superiority; though it may sometimes be dif¬cult to guess
upon what that conviction is founded. He wishes you to view him in
no other light than that in which, when he places himself in your situa-
tion, he really views himself. He demands no more of you than, what he
thinks, justice. If you appear not to respect him as he respects himself,

µ± See Athenaeus, Deipnosophistae, µ d, though Philip was talking about another of his generals,
µ Quintus Curtius, History of Alexander, VII.ii..

Of the character of virtue

he is more offended than morti¬ed, and feels the same indignant re-
sentment as if he had suffered a real injury. He does not even then, how-
ever, deign to explain the grounds of his own pretensions. He disdains
to court your esteem. He affects even to despise it, and endeavours
to maintain his assumed station, not so much by making you sensible
of his superiority, as of your own meanness. He seems to wish, not so
much to excite your esteem for himself, as to mortify that for yourself.

 The vain man is not sincere, and, in the bottom of his heart, is very
seldom convinced of that superiority which he wishes you to ascribe to
him. He wishes you to view him in much more splendid colours than
those in which, when he places himself in your situation, and supposes
you to know all that he knows, he can really view himself. When you ap-
pear to view him, therefore, in different colours, perhaps in his proper
colours, he is much more morti¬ed than offended. The grounds of his
claim to that character which he wishes you to ascribe to him, he takes
every opportunity of displaying, both by the most ostentatious and un-
necessary exhibition of the good qualities and accomplishments which
he possesses in some tolerable degree, and sometimes even by false pre-
tensions to those which he either possesses in no degree, or in so very
slender a degree that he may well enough be said to possess them in
no degree. Far from despising your esteem, he courts it with the most
anxious assiduity. Far from wishing to mortify your self-estimation,
he is happy to cherish it, in hopes that in return you will cherish his
own. He ¬‚atters in order to be ¬‚attered. He studies to please, and
endeavours to bribe you into a good opinion of him by politeness and
complaisance, and sometimes even by real and essential good of¬ces,
though often displayed, perhaps, with unnecessary ostentation.

· The vain man sees the respect which is paid to rank and fortune, and
wishes to usurp this respect, as well as that for talents and virtues. His
dress, his equipage, his way of living, accordingly, all announce both a
higher rank and a greater fortune than really belong to him; and in or-
der to support this foolish imposition for a few years in the beginning
of his life, he often reduces himself to poverty and distress long before
the end of it. As long as he can continue his expence, however, his
vanity is delighted with viewing himself, not in the light in which you
would view him if you knew all that he knows; but in that in which,

The Theory of Moral Sentiments

he imagines, he has, by his own address, induced you actually to view
him. Of all the illusions of vanity this is, perhaps, the most common.
Obscure strangers who visit foreign countries, or who, from a remote
province, come to visit, for a short time, the capital of their own coun-
try, most frequently attempt to practice it. The folly of the attempt,
though always very great and most unworthy of a man of sense, may
not be altogether so great upon such as upon most other occasions.
If their stay is short, they may escape any disgraceful detection; and,
after indulging their vanity for a few months or a few years, they may
return to their own homes, and repair, by future parsimony, the waste
of their past profusion.

 The proud man can very seldom be accused of this folly. His sense
of his own dignity renders him careful to preserve his independency,
and, when his fortune happens not to be large, though he wishes to be
decent, he studies to be frugal and attentive in all his expences. The
ostentatious expence of the vain man is highly offensive to him. It
outshines, perhaps, his own. It provokes his indignation as an insolent
assumption of a rank which is by no means due; and he never talks of
it without loading it with the harshest and severest reproaches.

 The proud man does not always feel himself at his ease in the company
of his equals, and still less in that of his superiors. He cannot lay down
his lofty pretensions, and the countenance and conversation of such
company overawe him so much that he dare not display them. He has
recourse to humbler company, for which he has little respect, which
he would not willingly chuse; and which is by no means agreeable to
him; that of his inferiors, his ¬‚atterers, and dependents. He seldom
visits his superiors, or, if he does, it is rather to show that he is entitled
to live in such company, than for any real satisfaction that he enjoys in
it. It is as Lord Clarendon says of the Earl of Arundel, that he some-
times went to court, because he could there only ¬nd a greater man
than himself; but that he went very seldom, because he found there a
greater man than himself.µ

° It is quite otherwise with the vain man. He courts the company of
his superiors as much as the proud man shuns it. Their splendour,
µ Clarendon, History of the Rebellion (cf. note µ above), I. ±±.

Of the character of virtue

he seems to think, re¬‚ects a splendour upon those who are much
about them. He haunts the courts of kings and the levees of minis-
ters, and gives himself the air of being a candidate for fortune and
preferment, when in reality he possesses the much more precious
happiness, if he knew how to enjoy it, of not being one. He is fond
of being admitted to the tables of the great, and still more fond of
magnifying to other people the familiarity with which he is honoured
there. He associates himself, as much as he can, with fashionable peo-
ple, with those who are supposed to direct the public opinion, with
the witty, with the learned, with the popular; and he shuns the com-
pany of his best friends whenever the very uncertain current of public
favour happens to run in any respect against them. With the people
to whom he wishes to recommend himself, he is not always very deli-
cate about the means which he employs for that purpose; unnecessary
ostentation, groundless pretensions, constant assentation, frequently
¬‚attery, though for the most part a pleasant and a sprightly ¬‚attery, and
very seldom the gross and fulsome ¬‚attery of a parasite. The proud
man, on the contrary, never ¬‚atters, and is frequently scarce civil to
any body.

± Notwithstanding all its groundless pretensions, however, vanity is al-
most always a sprightly and a gay, and very often a good-natured
passion. Pride is always a grave, a sullen, and a severe one. Even
the falsehoods of the vain man are all innocent falsehoods, meant to
raise himself, not to lower other people. To do the proud man justice,
he very seldom stoops to the baseness of falsehood. When he does,
however, his falsehoods are by no means so innocent. They are all mis-
chievous, and meant to lower other people. He is full of indignation
at the unjust superiority, as he thinks it, which is given to them. He
views them with malignity and envy, and, in talking of them, often
endeavours, as much as he can, to extenuate and lessen whatever are
the grounds upon which their superiority is supposed to be founded.
Whatever tales are circulated to their disadvantage, though he seldom
forges them himself, yet he often takes pleasure in believing them, is
by no means unwilling to repeat them, and even sometimes with some
degree of exaggeration. The worst falsehoods of vanity are all what we
call white lies: those of pride, whenever it condescends to falsehood,
are all of the opposite complexion.

The Theory of Moral Sentiments

 Our dislike to pride and vanity generally disposes us to rank the per-
sons whom we accuse of those vices rather below than above the com-
mon level. In this judgment, however, I think, we are most frequently in
the wrong, and that both the proud and the vain man are often (perhaps
for the most part) a good deal above it; though not near so much as
either the one really thinks himself, or as the other wishes you to think
him. If we compare them with their own pretensions, they may appear
the just objects of contempt. But when we compare them with what
the greater part of their rivals and competitors really are, they may ap-
pear quite otherwise, and very much above the common level. Where
there is this real superiority, pride is frequently attended with many
respectable virtues; with truth, with integrity, with a high sense of hon-
our, with cordial and steady friendship, with the most in¬‚exible ¬rm-
ness and resolution. Vanity, with many amiable ones; with humanity,
with politeness, with a desire to oblige in all little matters, and some-
times with a real generosity in great ones; a generosity, however, which
it often wishes to display in the most splendid colours that it can. By
their rivals and enemies, the French, in the last century, were accused
of vanity; the Spaniards, of pride; and foreign nations were disposed to
consider the one as the more amiable; the other, as the more respectable

 The words vain and vanity are never taken in a good sense. We some-
times say of a man, when we are talking of him in good humour, that
he is the better for his vanity, or that his vanity is more diverting
than offensive; but we still consider it as a foible and a ridicule in his

 The words proud and pride, on the contrary, are sometimes taken in
a good sense. We frequently say of a man, that he is too proud, or
that he has too much noble pride, ever to suffer himself to do a mean
thing. Pride is, in this case, confounded with magnanimity. Aristotle,
a philosopher who certainly knew the world, in drawing the character
of the magnanimous man, paints him with many features which, in the
two last centuries, were commonly ascribed to the Spanish character:
that he was deliberate in all his resolutions; slow, and even tardy, in all
his actions; that his voice was grave, his speech deliberate, his step and
motion slow; that he appeared indolent and even slothful, not at all

Of the character of virtue

disposed to bustle about little matters, but to act with the most deter-
mined and vigorous resolution upon all great and illustrious occasions;
that he was not a lover of danger, or forward to expose himself to little
dangers, but to great dangers; and that, when he exposed himself to
danger, he was altogether regardless of his life.µ

µ The proud man is commonly too well contented with himself to think
that his character requires any amendment. The man who feels himself
all-perfect, naturally enough despises all further improvement. His
self-suf¬ciency and absurd conceit of his own superiority, commonly
attend him from his youth to his most advanced age; and he dies, as
Hamlet says, with all his sins upon his head, unanointed, unanealed.µµ

 It is frequently quite otherwise with the vain man. The desire of the
esteem and admiration of other people, when for qualities and talents
which are the natural and proper objects of esteem and admiration, is
the real love of true glory; a passion which, if not the very best passion
of human nature, is certainly one of the best. Vanity is very frequently
no more than an attempt prematurely to usurp that glory before it is
due. Though your son, under ¬ve-and-twenty years of age, should be
but a coxcomb; do not, upon that account, despair of his becoming,
before he is forty, a very wise and worthy man, and a real pro¬cient
in all those talents and virtues to which, at present, he may only be
an ostentatious and empty pretender. The great secret of education is
to direct vanity to proper objects. Never suffer him to value himself
upon trivial accomplishments. But do not always discourage his pre-
tensions to those that are of real importance. He would not pretend
to them if he did not earnestly desire to possess them. Encourage this
desire; afford him every means to facilitate the acquisition; and do not
take too much offence, although he should sometimes assume the air
of having attained it a little before the time.

· Such, I say, are the distinguishing characteristics of pride and van-
ity, when each of them acts according to its proper character. But the
proud man is often vain; and the vain man is often proud. Nothing can

µ Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, IV., esp. ±±µa±“±, ±±b·“.
µµ Shakespeare™s Hamlet, I.v.·“, where the Ghost speaks of his death.

The Theory of Moral Sentiments

be more natural than that the man, who thinks much more highly of
himself than he deserves, should wish that other people should think
still more highly of him: or that the man, who wishes that other people
should think more highly of him than he thinks of himself, should, at
the same time, think much more highly of himself than he deserves.
Those two vices being frequently blended in the same character, the
characteristics of both are necessarily confounded; and we sometimes
¬nd the super¬cial and impertinent ostentation of vanity joined to the
most malignant and derisive insolence of pride. We are sometimes,
upon that account, at a loss how to rank a particular character, or
whether to place it among the proud or among the vain.

 Men of merit considerably above the common level, sometimes under-
rate as well as over-rate themselves. Such characters, though not very
digni¬ed, are often, in private society, far from being disagreeable.
His companions all feel themselves much at their ease in the society
of a man so perfectly modest and unassuming. If those companions,
however, have not both more discernment and more generosity than
ordinary, though they may have some kindness for him, they have sel-
dom much respect; and the warmth of their kindness is very seldom
suf¬cient to compensate the coldness of their respect. Men of no more
than ordinary discernment never rate any person higher than he ap-
pears to rate himself. He seems doubtful himself, they say, whether he
is perfectly ¬t for such a situation or such an of¬ce; and immediately
give the preference to some impudent blockhead who entertains no
doubt about his own quali¬cations. Though they should have discern-
ment, yet, if they want generosity, they never fail to take advantage
of his simplicity, and to assume over him an impertinent superiority
which they are by no means entitled to. His good-nature may enable
him to bear this for some time; but he grows weary at last, and fre-
quently when it is too late, and when that rank, which he ought to
have assumed, is lost irrecoverably, and usurped, in consequence of
his own backwardness, by some of his more forward, though much less
meritorious companions. A man of this character must have been very
fortunate in the early choice of his companions, if, in going through
the world, he meets always with fair justice, even from those whom,
from his own past kindness, he might have some reason to consider as
his best friends; and a youth, too unassuming and too unambitious, is

Of the character of virtue

frequently followed by an insigni¬cant, complaining, and discontented
old age.

 Those unfortunate persons whom nature has formed a good deal be-
low the common level, seem sometimes to rate themselves still more
below it than they really are. This humility appears sometimes to sink
them into idiotism. Whoever has taken the trouble to examine idiots
with attention, will ¬nd that, in many of them, the faculties of the
understanding are by no means weaker than in several other people,
who, though acknowledged to be dull and stupid, are not, by any body,
accounted idiots. Many idiots, with no more than ordinary education,
have been taught to read, write, and account tolerably well. Many
persons, never accounted idiots, notwithstanding the most careful ed-
ucation, and notwithstanding that, in their advanced age, they have
had spirit enough to attempt to learn what their early education had
not taught them, have never been able to acquire, in any tolerable de-
gree, any one of those three accomplishments. By an instinct of pride,
however, they set themselves upon a level with their equals in age and
situation; and, with courage and ¬rmness, maintain their proper sta-
tion among their companions. By an opposite instinct, the idiot feels
himself below every company into which you can introduce him. Ill-
usage, to which he is extremely liable, is capable of throwing him into
the most violent ¬ts of rage and fury. But no good usage, no kindness
or indulgence, can ever raise him to converse with you as your equal.
If you can bring him to converse with you at all, however, you will fre-
quently ¬nd his answers suf¬ciently pertinent, and even sensible. But
they are always stamped with a distinct consciousness of his own great
inferiority. He seems to shrink and, as it were, to retire from your look
and conversation; and to feel, when he places himself in your situa-
tion, that, notwithstanding your apparent condescension, you cannot
help considering him as immensely below you. Some idiots, perhaps
the greater part, seem to be so, chie¬‚y or altogether, from a certain
numbness or torpidity in the faculties of the understanding. But there
are others, in whom those faculties do not appear more torpid or
benumbed than in many other people who are not accounted idiots.
But that instinct of pride, necessary to support them upon an equality
with their brethren, seems totally wanting in the former and not in the

The Theory of Moral Sentiments

µ° That degree of self-estimation, therefore, which contributes most to
the happiness and contentment of the person himself, seems likewise
most agreeable to the impartial spectator. The man who esteems him-
self as he ought, and no more than he ought, seldom fails to obtain
from other people all the esteem that he himself thinks due. He de-
sires no more than is due to him, and he rests upon it with complete

µ± The proud and the vain man, on the contrary, are constantly dissatis-
¬ed. The one is tormented with indignation at the unjust superiority,
as he thinks it, of other people. The other is in continual dread of
the shame which, he foresees, would attend upon the detection of his
groundless pretensions. Even the extravagant pretensions of the man
of real magnanimity, though, when supported by splendid abilities and
virtues, and, above all, by good fortune, they impose upon the mul-
titude, whose applauses he little regards, do not impose upon those
wise men whose approbation he can only value, and whose esteem he
is most anxious to acquire. He feels that they see through, and suspects
that they despise his excessive presumption; and he often suffers the
cruel misfortune of becoming, ¬rst the jealous and secret, and at last
the open, furious, and vindictive enemy of those very persons, whose
friendship it would have given him the greatest happiness to enjoy
with unsuspicious security.

µ Though our dislike to the proud and the vain often disposes us to
rank them rather below than above their proper station, yet, unless
we are provoked by some particular and personal impertinence, we
very seldom venture to use them ill. In common cases, we endeavour,
for our own ease, rather to acquiesce, and, as well as we can, to ac-
commodate ourselves to their folly. But, to the man who under-rates
himself, unless we have both more discernment and more generosity
than belong to the greater part of men, we seldom fail to do, at least,
all the injustice which he does to himself, and frequently a great deal
more. He is not only more unhappy in his own feelings than either
the proud or the vain, but he is much more liable to every sort of
ill-usage from other people. In almost all cases, it is better to be a little
too proud, than, in any respect, too humble; and, in the sentiment of

Of the character of virtue

self-estimation, some degree of excess seems, both to the person and
to the impartial spectator, to be less disagreeable than any degree of

µ In this, therefore, as well as in every other emotion, passion, and habit,
the degree that is most agreeable to the impartial spectator is likewise
most agreeable to the person himself; and according as either the ex-
cess or the defect is least offensive to the former, so, either the one or
the other is in proportion least disagreeable to the latter.

Conclusion of the Sixth Part
± Concern for our own happiness recommends to us the virtue of pru-
dence: concern for that of other people, the virtues of justice and benef-
icence; of which, the one restrains us from hurting, the other prompts
us to promote that happiness. Independent of any regard either to
what are, or to what ought to be, or to what upon a certain condition
would be, the sentiments of other people, the ¬rst of those three virtues
is originally recommended to us by our sel¬sh, the other two by our
benevolent affections. Regard to the sentiments of other people, how-
ever, comes afterwards both to enforce and to direct the practice of all
those virtues; and no man during, either the whole course of his life,
or that of any considerable part of it, ever trod steadily and uniformly
in the paths of prudence, of justice, or of proper bene¬cence, whose
conduct was not principally directed by a regard to the sentiments of
the supposed impartial spectator, of the great inmate of the breast, the
great judge and arbiter of conduct. If in the course of the day we have
swerved in any respect from the rules which he prescribes to us; if we
have either exceeded or relaxed in our frugality; if we have either ex-
ceeded or relaxed in our industry; if, through passion or inadvertency,
we have hurt in any respect the interest or happiness of our neighbour;
if we have neglected a plain and proper opportunity of promoting that
interest and happiness; it is this inmate who, in the evening, calls us to
an account for all those omissions and violations, and his reproaches
often make us blush inwardly both for our folly and inattention to our
own happiness, and for our still greater indifference and inattention,
perhaps, to that of other people.

The Theory of Moral Sentiments

 But though the virtues of prudence, justice, and bene¬cence, may, upon
different occasions, be recommended to us almost equally by two differ-
ent principles; those of self-command are, upon most occasions, prin-
cipally and almost entirely recommended to us by one; by the sense of
propriety, by regard to the sentiments of the supposed impartial spec-
tator. Without the restraint which this principle imposes, every passion
would, upon most occasions, rush headlong, if I may say so, to its own
grati¬cation. Anger would follow the suggestions of its own fury; fear
those of its own violent agitations. Regard to no time or place would
induce vanity to refrain from the loudest and most impertinent ostenta-
tion; or voluptuousness from the most open, indecent, and scandalous
indulgence. Respect for what are, or for what ought to be, or for what
upon a certain condition would be, the sentiments of other people, is the
sole principle which, upon most occasions, overawes all those mutinous
and turbulent passions into that tone and temper which the impartial
spectator can enter into and sympathize with.

 Upon some occasions, indeed, those passions are restrained, not so
much by a sense of their impropriety, as by prudential considerations
of the bad consequences which might follow from their indulgence. In
such cases, the passions, though restrained, are not always subdued, but
often remain lurking in the breast with all their original fury. The man
whose anger is restrained by fear, does not always lay aside his anger,
but only reserves its grati¬cation for a more safe opportunity. But the
man who, in relating to some other person the injury which has been
done to him, feels at once the fury of his passion cooled and becalmed
by sympathy with the more moderate sentiments of his companion,
who at once adopts those more moderate sentiments, and comes to
view that injury, not in the black and atrocious colours in which he had
originally beheld it, but in the much milder and fairer light in which his
companion naturally views it; not only restrains, but in some measure
subdues, his anger. The passion becomes really less than it was before,
and less capable of exciting him to the violent and bloody revenge which
at ¬rst, perhaps, he might have thought of in¬‚icting.

 Those passions which are restrained by the sense of propriety, are all
in some degree moderated and subdued by it. But those which are
restrained only by prudential considerations of any kind, are, on the

Of the character of virtue

contrary, frequently in¬‚amed by the restraint, and sometimes (long after
the provocation given, and when nobody is thinking about it) burst out
absurdly and unexpectedly, and with tenfold fury and violence.

µ Anger, however, as well as every other passion, may, upon many occa-
sions, be very properly restrained by prudential considerations. Some
exertion of manhood and self-command is even necessary for this sort
of restraint; and the impartial spectator may sometimes view it with that
sort of cold esteem due to that species of conduct which he considers as
a mere matter of vulgar prudence; but never with that affectionate ad-
miration with which he surveys the same passions, when, by the sense
of propriety, they are moderated and subdued to what he himself can
readily enter into. In the former species of restraint, he may frequently
discern some degree of propriety, and, if you will, even of virtue; but
it is a propriety and virtue of a much inferior order to those which he
always feels with transport and admiration in the latter.

 The virtues of prudence, justice, and bene¬cence, have no tendency
to produce any but the most agreeable effects. Regard to those effects,
as it originally recommends them to the actor, so does it afterwards
to the impartial spectator. In our approbation of the character of the
prudent man, we feel, with peculiar complacency, the security which
he must enjoy while he walks under the safeguard of that sedate and
deliberate virtue. In our approbation of the character of the just man,
we feel, with equal complacency, the security which all those connected
with him, whether in neighbourhood, society, or business, must derive
from his scrupulous anxiety never either to hurt or offend. In our
approbation of the character of the bene¬cent man, we enter into the
gratitude of all those who are within the sphere of his good of¬ces, and
conceive with them the highest sense of his merit. In our approbation
of all those virtues, our sense of their agreeable effects, of their utility,
either to the person who exercises them, or to some other persons, joins
with our sense of their propriety, and constitutes always a considerable,
frequently the greater part of that approbation.

· But in our approbation of the virtues of self-command, complacency
with their effects sometimes constitutes no part, and frequently but
a small part, of that approbation. Those effects may sometimes be

The Theory of Moral Sentiments

agreeable, and sometimes disagreeable; and though our approbation
is no doubt stronger in the former case, it is by no means altogether
destroyed in the latter. The most heroic valour may be employed indif-
ferently in the cause either of justice or of injustice; and though it is no
doubt much more loved and admired in the former case, it still appears
a great and respectable quality even in the latter. In that, and in all the
other virtues of self-command, the splendid and dazzling quality seems
always to be the greatness and steadiness of the exertion, and the strong
sense of propriety which is necessary in order to make and to maintain
that exertion. The effects are too often but too little regarded.

Part VII
Of systems of moral philosophy
Consisting of four sections±

Section I Of the questions which ought to be examined
in a theory of moral sentiments
± If we examine the most celebrated and remarkable of the different
theories which have been given concerning the nature and origin of
our moral sentiments, we shall ¬nd that almost all of them coincide
with some part or other of that which I have been endeavouring to give
an account of; and that if every thing which has already been said be
fully considered, we shall be at no loss to explain what was the view or
aspect of nature which led each particular author to form his particular
system. From some one or other of those principles which I have been
endeavouring to unfold, every system of morality that ever had any
reputation in the world has, perhaps, ultimately been derived. As they
are all of them, in this respect, founded upon natural principles, they
are all of them in some measure in the right. But as many of them are
derived from a partial and imperfect view of nature, there are many of
them too in some respects in the wrong.

 In treating of the principles of morals there are two questions to be
considered. First, wherein does virtue consist? Or what is the tone of
temper, and tenour of conduct, which constitutes the excellent and
praise-worthy character, the character which is the natural object of
esteem, honour, and approbation? And, secondly, by what power or

± In a letter to his publisher, Smith explained that his revisions of the Theory of Moral Sentiments
for the sixth edition were most extensive in Part III and in ˜the last part concerning the History
of Moral Philosophy.™ Corr. ±°“±±.

The Theory of Moral Sentiments

faculty in the mind is it, that this character, whatever it be, is rec-
ommended to us? Or in other words, how and by what means does it
come to pass, that the mind prefers one tenour of conduct to another,
denominates the one right and the other wrong; considers the one as
the object of approbation, honour, and reward, and the other of blame,
censure, and punishment?

 We examine the ¬rst question when we consider whether virtue
consists in benevolence, as Dr Hutcheson imagines; or in acting suit-
ably to the different relations we stand in, as Dr Clarke supposes; or in
the wise and prudent pursuit of our own real and solid happiness, as
has been the opinion of others.

 We examine the second question, when we consider, whether the vir-
tuous character, whatever it consists in, be recommended to us by self-
love, which makes us perceive that this character, both in ourselves and
others, tends most to promote our own private interest; or by reason,
which points out to us the difference between one character and an-
other, in the same manner as it does that between truth and falsehood;
or by a peculiar power of perception, called a moral sense, which this
virtuous character grati¬es and pleases, as the contrary disgusts and
displeases it; or last of all, by some other principle in human nature,
such as a modi¬cation of sympathy, or the like.

µ I shall begin with considering the systems which have been formed
concerning the ¬rst of these questions, and shall proceed afterwards to
examine those concerning the second.

Section II Of the different accounts which have been given
of the nature of virtue
± The different accounts which have been given of the nature of virtue, or
of the temper of mind which constitutes the excellent and praise-worthy
 Francis Hutcheson (±“±·), Inquiry into the Original of Our Ideas of Beauty and Virtue, II;
Samuel Clarke (±·µ“±·), A Discourse Concerning the Unchanging Obligation of Natural Religion
(±·°µ), I. As Professor of Moral Philosophy at the University of Glasgow, ±·°“, Hutcheson
taught Smith.

Of systems of moral philosophy

character, may be reduced to three different classes. According to some,
the virtuous temper of mind does not consist in any one species of
affections, but in the proper government and direction of all our affec-
tions, which may be either virtuous or vicious according to the objects
which they pursue, and the degree of vehemence with which they
pursue them. According to these authors, therefore, virtue consists in

 According to others, virtue consists in the judicious pursuit of our
own private interest and happiness, or in the proper government and
direction of those sel¬sh affections which aim solely at this end. In the
opinion of these authors, therefore, virtue consists in prudence.

 Another set of authors make virtue consist in those affections only
which aim at the happiness of others, not in those which aim at our
own. According to them, therefore, disinterested benevolence is the
only motive which can stamp upon any action the character of virtue.

 The character of virtue, it is evident, must either be ascribed indiffer-
ently to all our affections, when under proper government and direc-
tion; or it must be con¬ned to some one class or division of them. The
great division of our affections is into the sel¬sh and the benevolent.
If the character of virtue, therefore, cannot be ascribed indifferently
to all our affections, when under proper government and direction, it
must be con¬ned either to those which aim directly at our own private
happiness, or to those which aim directly at that of others. If virtue,
therefore, does not consist in propriety, it must consist either in pru-
dence or in benevolence. Besides these three, it is scarce possible to
imagine that any other account can be given of the nature of virtue. I
shall endeavour to show hereafter how all the other accounts, which are
seemingly different from any of these, coincide at bottom with some
one or other of them.

Chapter I Of those systems which make virtue consist in propriety
± According to Plato, to Aristotle, and to Zeno, virtue consists in the
propriety of conduct, or in the suitableness of the affection from which
we act to the object which excites it.

The Theory of Moral Sentiments

 In the system of Platoa the soul is considered as something like a
little state or republic, composed of three different faculties or orders.

 The ¬rst is the judging faculty, the faculty which determines not only
what are the proper means for attaining any end, but also what ends
are ¬t to be pursued, and what degree of relative value we ought to put
upon each. This faculty Plato called, as it is very properly called, rea-
son, and considered it as what had a right to be the governing principle
of the whole. Under this appellation, it is evident, he comprehended
not only that faculty by which we judge of truth and falsehood, but
that by which we judge of the propriety or impropriety of desires and

 The different passions and appetites, the natural subjects of this ruling
principle, but which are so apt to rebel against their master, he reduced
to two different classes or orders. The ¬rst consisted of those passions,
which are founded in pride and resentment, or in what the schoolmen
called the irascible part of the soul; ambition, animosity, the love of
honour, and the dread of shame, the desire of victory, superiority, and
revenge; all those passions, in short, which are supposed either to rise
from, or to denote what, by a metaphor in our language, we commonly
call spirit or natural ¬re. The second consisted of those passions which
are founded in the love of pleasure, or in what the schoolmen called
the concupiscible part of the soul. It comprehended all the appetites of
the body, the love of ease and security, and of all sensual grati¬cations.

µ It rarely happens that we break in upon that plan of conduct, which
the governing principle prescribes, and which in all our cool hours we
had laid down to ourselves as what was most proper for us to pursue,
but when prompted by one or other of those two different sets of
passions; either by ungovernable ambition and resentment, or by the
importunate solicitations of present ease and pleasure. But though
these two orders of passions are so apt to mislead us, they are still
considered as necessary parts of human nature: the ¬rst having been
given to defend us against injuries, to assert our rank and dignity in
the world, to make us aim at what is noble and honourable, and to

a See Plato, The Republic, book iv.

Of systems of moral philosophy

make us distinguish those who act in the same manner; the second, to
provide for the support and necessities of the body.

 In the strength, acuteness, and perfection of the governing principle
was placed the essential virtue of prudence, which, according to Plato,
consisted in a just and clear discernment, founded upon general and
scienti¬c ideas, of the ends which were proper to be pursued, and of
the means which were proper for attaining them.

· When the ¬rst set of passions, those of the irascible part of the soul,
had that degree of strength and ¬rmness, which enabled them, under
the direction of reason, to despise all dangers in the pursuit of what
was honourable and noble; it constituted the virtue of fortitude and
magnanimity. This order of passions, according to this system, was of a
more generous and noble nature than the other. They were considered
upon many occasions as the auxiliaries of reason, to check and restrain
the inferior and brutal appetites. We are often angry at ourselves, it
was observed, we often become the objects of our own resentment
and indignation, when the love of pleasure prompts to do what we
disapprove of; and the irascible part of our nature is in this manner
called in to assist the rational against the concupiscible.

 When all those three different parts of our nature were in perfect
concord with one another, when neither the irascible nor concupiscible
passions ever aimed at any grati¬cation which reason did not approve
of, and when reason never commanded any thing, but what these of
their own accord were willing to perform: this happy composure,
this perfect and complete harmony of soul, constituted that virtue
which in their language is expressed by a word which we commonly
translate temperance, but which might more properly be translated
good temper, or sobriety and moderation of mind.

 Justice, the last and greatest of the four cardinal virtues, took place, ac-
cording to this system, when each of those three faculties of the mind
con¬ned itself to its proper of¬ce, without attempting to encroach

 Smith is referring to Plato™s concept of phronˆsis.
 Sophrosune. Cf. Gorgias, µ°d ff.; Republic, ±a ff. and c“d.

The Theory of Moral Sentiments

upon that of any other; when reason directed and passion obeyed,
and when each passion performed its proper duty, and exerted itself
towards its proper object easily and without reluctance, and with that
degree of force and energy, which was suitable to the value of what it
pursued. In this consisted that complete virtue, that perfect propri-
ety of conduct, which Plato, after some of the ancient Pythagoreans,
denominated Justice.µ

±° The word, it is to be observed, which expresses justice in the Greek
language, has several different meanings; and as the correspondent
word in all other languages, so far as I know, has the same, there
must be some natural af¬nity among those various signi¬cations. In
one sense we are said to do justice to our neighbour when we abstain
from doing him any positive harm, and do not directly hurt him,
either in his person, or in his estate, or in his reputation. This is that
justice which I have treated of above, the observance of which may be
extorted by force, and the violation of which exposes to punishment.·
In another sense we are said not to do justice to our neighbour unless we
conceive for him all that love, respect, and esteem, which his character,
his situation, and his connexion with ourselves, render suitable and
proper for us to feel, and unless we act accordingly. It is in this sense
that we are said to do injustice to a man of merit who is connected
with us, though we abstain from hurting him in every respect, if we
do not exert ourselves to serve him and to place him in that situation
in which the impartial spectator would be pleased to see him. The ¬rst
sense of the word coincides with what Aristotle and the Schoolmen
call commutative justice, and with what Grotius calls the justitia
expletrix, which consists in abstaining from what is another™s, and
in doing voluntarily whatever we can with propriety be forced to
do. The second sense of the word coincides with what some have
called distributive justice,b and with the justitia attributrix of Grotius,

b The distributive justice of Aristotle is somewhat different. It consists in the proper distribution of
rewards from the public stock of a community. See Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics V..
µ 
For example Republic, IV, b ff. Dikaiosune.
· II.ii.±.µ above.
 Hugo Grotius (±µ“±µ), De Jure Belli ac Pacis (±µ) I.i..

Of systems of moral philosophy

which consists in proper bene¬cence, in the becoming use of what is
our own, and in the applying it to those purposes either of charity or
generosity, to which it is most suitable, in our situation, that it should be
applied. In this sense justice comprehends all the social virtues. There
is yet another sense in which the word justice is sometimes taken, still
more extensive than either of the former, though very much a-kin to
the last; and which runs too, so far as I know, through all languages.
It is in this last sense that we are said to be unjust, when we do not
seem to value any particular object with that degree of esteem, or to
pursue it with that degree of ardour which to the impartial spectator
it may appear to deserve or to be naturally ¬tted for exciting. Thus
we are said to do injustice to a poem or a picture, when we do not
admire them enough, and we are said to do them more than justice
when we admire them too much. In the same manner we are said
to do injustice to ourselves when we appear not to give suf¬cient
attention to any particular object of self-interest. In this last sense,
what is called justice means the same thing with exact and perfect
propriety of conduct and behaviour, and comprehends in it, not only
the of¬ces of both commutative and distributive justice, but of every
other virtue, of prudence, of fortitude, of temperance. It is in this
last sense that Plato evidently understands what he calls justice, and
which, therefore, according to him, comprehends in it the perfection
of every sort of virtue.

±± Such is the account given by Plato of the nature of virtue, or of that
temper of mind which is the proper object of praise and approbation. It
consists, according to him, in that state of mind in which every faculty
con¬nes itself within its proper sphere without encroaching upon that
of any other, and performs its proper of¬ce with that precise degree
of strength and vigour which belongs to it. His account, it is evident,
coincides in every respect with what we have said above concerning
the propriety of conduct.

± Virtue, according to Aristotle,c consists in the habit of mediocrity
according to right reason. Every particular virtue, according to him,

c See Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, II.µff. and III.µff.
 See in particular Nicomachean Ethics, II.vi.±µ (±±°b“±±°·a±).

The Theory of Moral Sentiments

lies in a kind of middle between two opposite vices, of which the one
offends from being too much, the other from being too little affected
by a particular species of objects. Thus the virtue of fortitude or
courage lies in the middle between the opposite vices of cowardice and
of presumptuous rashness, of which the one offends from being too
much, and the other from being too little affected by the objects of fear.
Thus too the virtue of frugality lies in a middle between avarice and
profusion, of which the one consists in an excess, the other in a defect of
the proper attention to the objects of self-interest. Magnanimity, in the
same manner, lies in a middle between the excess of arrogance and the
defect of pusillanimity, of which the one consists in too extravagant,
the other in too weak a sentiment of our own worth and dignity. It
is unnecessary to observe that this account of virtue corresponds too
pretty exactly with what has been said above concerning the propriety
and impropriety of conduct.±°

± According to Aristotle,d indeed, virtue did not so much consist in
those moderate and right affections, as in the habit of this moderation.
In order to understand this, it is to be observed, that virtue may
be considered either as the quality of an action, or as the quality of
a person. Considered as the quality of an action, it consists, even
according to Aristotle, in the reasonable moderation of the affection
from which the action proceeds, whether this disposition be habitual
to the person or not. Considered as the quality of a person, it consists
in the habit of this reasonable moderation, in its having become the
customary and usual disposition of the mind. Thus the action which
proceeds from an occasional ¬t of generosity is undoubtedly a generous
action, but the man who performs it, is not necessarily a generous
person, because it may be the single action of the kind which he ever
performed. The motive and disposition of heart, from which this
action was performed, may have been quite just and proper: but as
this happy mood seems to have been the effect rather of accidental
humour than of any thing steady or permanent in the character, it
can re¬‚ect no great honour on the performer. When we denominate a
character generous or charitable, or virtuous in any respect, we mean

See Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, II.±, , , and .

±° Cf. I.ii.intro., above.

Of systems of moral philosophy

to signify that the disposition expressed by each of those appellations
is the usual and customary disposition of the person. But single actions
of any kind, how proper and suitable soever, are of little consequence to
show that this is the case. If a single action was suf¬cient to stamp the
character of any virtue upon the person who performed it, the most
worthless of mankind might lay claim to all the virtues; since there is no
man who has not, upon some occasions, acted with prudence, justice,
temperance, and fortitude. But though single actions, how laudable
soever, re¬‚ect very little praise upon the person who performs them,
a single vicious action performed by one whose conduct is usually
very regular, greatly diminishes and sometime destroys altogether our
opinion of his virtue. A single action of this kind suf¬ciently shows
that his habits are not perfect, and that he is less to be depended upon,
than, from the usual train of his behaviour, we might have been apt to

± Aristotle too,e when he made virtue to consist in practical habits, had
it probably in his view to oppose the doctrine of Plato, who seems to
have been of opinion that just sentiments and reasonable judgments
concerning what was ¬t to be done or to be avoided, were alone suf¬-
cient to constitute the most perfect virtue. Virtue, according to Plato,
might be considered as a species of science, and no man, he thought,
could see clearly and demonstratively what was right and what was
wrong, and not act accordingly. Passion might make us act contrary to
doubtful and uncertain opinions, not to plain and evident judgments.
Aristotle, on the contrary, was of opinion, that no conviction of the
understanding was capable of getting the better of inveterate habits,
and that good morals arose not from knowledge but from action.

±µ According to Zeno,f the founder of the Stoical doctrine, every
animal was by nature recommended to its own care, and was endowed
with the principle of self-love, that it might endeavour to preserve,
not only its existence, but all the different parts of its nature, in the
best and most perfect state of which they were capable.±±
e See Aristotle, Magna Moralia, I.±
See Cicero De ¬nibus, book III; also Diogenes Laertius in Zenone, book VII, segment .

±± The particular references are Cicero, De ¬nibus, and Diogenes La¨ rtius, Lives of the
Philosophers, VII, §µ.

The Theory of Moral Sentiments

± The self-love of man embraced, if I may say so, his body and all its
different members, his mind and all its different faculties and powers,
and desired the preservation and maintenance of them all in their best
and most perfect condition. Whatever tended to support this state
of existence was, therefore, by nature pointed out to him as ¬t to be
chosen; and whatever tended to destroy it, as ¬t to be rejected. Thus
health, strength, agility and ease of body as well as the external con-
veniencies which could promote these; wealth, power, honours, the
respect and esteem of those we live with; were naturally pointed out
to us as things eligible, and of which the possession was preferable to
the want. On the other hand, sickness, in¬rmity, unwieldiness, pain of
body, as well as all the external inconveniencies which tend to occasion
or bring on any of them; poverty, the want of authority, the contempt
or hatred of those we live with; were, in the same manner, pointed out
to us as things to be shunned and avoided. In each of those two opposite
classes of objects, there were some which appeared to be more the ob-
jects either of choice or rejection, than others in the same class. Thus,
in the ¬rst class, health appeared evidently preferable to strength, and
strength to agility; reputation to power, and power to riches. And
thus too, in the second class, sickness was more to be avoided than
unwieldiness of body, ignominy than poverty, and poverty than the
loss of power. Virtue and the propriety of conduct consisted in choos-
ing and rejecting all different objects and circumstances according as
they were by nature rendered more or less the objects of choice or
rejection; in selecting always from among the several objects of choice
presented to us, that which was most to be chosen, when we could
not obtain them all; and in selecting too, out of the several objects
of rejection offered to us, that which was least to be avoided, when
it was not in our power to avoid them all. By choosing and reject-
ing with this just and accurate discernment, by thus bestowing upon
every object the precise degree of attention it deserved, according
to the place which it held in this natural scale of things, we main-
tained, according to the Stoics, that perfect rectitude of conduct which
constituted the essence of virtue. This was what they called to live con-
sistently, to live according to nature, and to obey those laws and direc-
tions which nature, or the Author of nature, had prescribed for our

Of systems of moral philosophy

±· So far the Stoical idea of propriety and virtue is not very different
from that of Aristotle and the ancient Peripatetics.±

± Among those primary objects which nature had recommended to us
as eligible, was the prosperity of our family, of our relations, of our
friends, of our country, of mankind, and of the universe in general.
Nature, too, had taught us, that as the prosperity of two was preferable
to that of one, that of many, or of all, must be in¬nitely more so.
That we ourselves were but one, and that consequently wherever our
prosperity was inconsistent with that, either of the whole, or of any
considerable part of the whole, it ought, even in our own choice, to
yield to what was so vastly preferable. As all the events in this world
were conducted by the providence of a wise, powerful, and good God,
we might be assured that whatever happened tended to the prosperity

± Editions ±“µ continue as follows (with minor variations):
What chie¬‚y distinguished those two systems from one another was the different
degrees of self-command which they required. The peripatetics allowed of some
degree of perturbation as suitable to the weakness of human nature, and as useful to
so imperfect a creature as man. If his own misfortunes excited no passionate grief, if his
own injuries called forth no violent resentment, reason, or a regard to the general rules
which determined what was right and ¬t to be done, would commonly, they thought,
be too weak to prompt him to avoid the one or to beat off the other. The Stoics, on the
contrary, demanded the most perfect apathy, and regarded every emotion that could
in the smallest degree disturb the tranquility of the mind, as the effect of levity and
folly. The Peripatetics seem to have thought that no passion exceeded the bounds of
propriety as long as the spectator, by the utmost effort of humanity, could sympathize
with it. The stoics, on the contrary, appear to have regarded every passion as improper,
which made any demand upon the sympathy of the spectator, or required him to alter
in any respect the natural and ordinary state of his mind, in order to keep time with
the vehemence of its emotions. A man of virtue, they seem to have thought, ought
not to depend upon the generosity of those he lives with for pardon or approbation.
± According to the stoics every event ought, to a wise man, to appear indifferent,
and what for its own sake could be the object neither of desire, nor aversion, neither
of joy, nor sorrow. If he preferred some events to others, if some situations were the
objects of his choice, and others of his rejection— , it was not, because he regarded the
one as in themselves, in any respect better than the other, or thought that his own
happiness would be more compleat in what is called the fortunate, than in what is
commonly regarded as the distressful situation; but because the propriety of action,
the rule which the gods had given him for the direction of his conduct, required him
to choose and reject in this manner. Here the text continued, with a minor variation,
in what is now the beginning of §± in the th edition.
Smith™s note:
— Some of these expressions sound a little aukward in the English language: they are
literal translations of the technical terms of the stoics.

The Theory of Moral Sentiments

and perfection of the whole. If we ourselves, therefore, were in poverty,
in sickness, or in any other calamity, we ought, ¬rst of all, to use our
utmost endeavours, so far as justice and our duty to others would allow,
to rescue ourselves from this disagreeable circumstance. But if, after
all we could do, we found this impossible, we ought to rest satis¬ed that
the order and perfection of the universe required that we should in
the mean time continue in this situation. And as the prosperity of the
whole should, even to us, appear preferable to so insigni¬cant a part
as ourselves, our situation, whatever it was, ought from that moment
to become the object of our liking, if we would maintain that complete
propriety and rectitude of sentiment and conduct in which consisted
the perfection of our nature. If, indeed, any opportunity of extricating
ourselves should offer, it became our duty to embrace it. The order of
the universe, it was evident, no longer required our continuance in this
situation, and the great Director of the world plainly called upon us
to leave it, by so clearly pointing out the road which we were to follow.
It was the same case with the adversity of our relations, our friends,
our country. If, without violating any more sacred obligation, it was in
our power to prevent or put an end to their calamity, it undoubtedly
was our duty to do so. The propriety of action, the rule which Jupiter
had given us for the direction of our conduct, evidently required this
of us. But if it was altogether out of our power to do either, we ought
then to consider this event as the most fortunate which could possibly
have happened; because we might be assured that it tended most to
the prosperity and order of the whole, which was what we ourselves,
if we were wise and equitable, ought most of all to desire. It was our
own ¬nal interest considered as a part of that whole, of which the
prosperity ought to be, not only the principal, but the sole object of
our desire.

± ˜In what sense,™ says Epictetus, ˜are some things said to be according
to our nature, and others contrary to it? It is in that sense in which we
consider ourselves as separated and detached from all other things. For
thus it may be said to be according to the nature of the foot to be always
clean. But if you consider it as a foot, and not as something detached
from the rest of the body, it must behove it sometimes to trample in
the dirt, and sometimes to tread upon thorns, and sometimes, too, to
be cut off for the sake of the whole body; and if it refuses this, it is no

Of systems of moral philosophy

longer a foot. Thus, too, ought we to conceive with regard to ourselves.
What are you? A man. If you consider yourself as something separated
and detached, it is agreeable to your nature to live to old age, to be rich,
to be in health. But if you consider yourself as a man, and as a part of
a whole, upon account of that whole, it will behove you sometimes to
be in sickness, sometimes to be exposed to the inconveniency of a sea
voyage, sometimes to be in want; and at last, perhaps, to die before
your time. Why then do you complain? Do not you know that by doing
so, as the foot ceases to be a foot, so you cease to be a man?™±

° A wise man never complains of the destiny of Providence, nor thinks
the universe in confusion when he is out of order. He does not look
upon himself as a whole, separated and detached from every other part
of nature, to be taken care of by itself and for itself. He regards himself
in the light in which he imagines the great genius of human nature, and
of the world, regards him. He enters, if I may say so, into the sentiments
of that divine Being, and considers himself as an atom, a particle, of
an immense and in¬nite system, which must and ought to be disposed
of, according to the conveniency of the whole. Assured of the wisdom
which directs all the events of human life, whatever lot befalls him, he
accepts it with joy, satis¬ed that, if he had known all the connections
and dependencies of the different parts of the universe, it is the very
± Smith translates Arrian™s Discourses of Epictetus, II.v, “. Epictetus (c. µµ“c. ±µ) wrote nothing
but his student Arrian (Flavius Arrianus, b. c. µ“°) wrote down his lectures.
Editions ±“µ continue with the following paragraph (with variations):
This submission to the order of the universe, this entire indifference with regard
to whatever concerns ourselves, when put into the balance with the interest of the
whole, could derive its propriety, it is evident, from no other principle besides that
upon which I have endeavoured to show that the propriety of justice was founded.
As long as we view our own interests with our own eyes, it is scarce possible that
we should willingly acquiesce in their being thus sacri¬ced to the interests of the
whole. It is only when we view those opposite interests with the eyes of others that
what concerns ourselves can appear to be so contemptible in the comparison, as to be
resigned without any reluctance. To every body but the person principally concerned
nothing can appear more agreeable to reason and propriety than that the part should
give place to the whole. But what is agreeable to the reason of all other men, ought not
to appear contrary to his. He himself therefore ought to approve of this sacri¬ce and
acknowledge its conformity to reason. But all the affections of a wise man, according
to the stoics are perfectly agreeable to reason and propriety, and of their own accord
coincide with whatever these ruling principles prescribe. A wise man, therefore, could
never feel any reluctance to comply with this disposition of things.
In editions ±“µ the text continues at VII.ii.±.. Of the intervening paragraphs, °“ are heavily
revised material from Part I and the rest are new to the sixth edition.

The Theory of Moral Sentiments

lot which he himself would have wished for. If it is life, he is contented
to live; and if it is death, as nature must have no further occasion for his
presence here, he willingly goes where he is appointed. I accept, said a
cynical philosopher, whose doctrines were in this respect the same as
those of the Stoics,± I accept, with equal joy and satisfaction, whatever
fortune can befall me. Riches or poverty, pleasure or pain, health or
sickness, all is alike: nor would I desire that the Gods should in any
respect change my destination. If I was to ask of them any thing beyond
what their bounty has already bestowed, it should be that they would
inform me before-hand what it was their pleasure should be done with
me, that I might of my own accord place myself in this situation, and
demonstrate the cheerfulness with which I embraced their allotment.
If I am going to sail, says Epictetus,±µ I chuse the best ship and the
best pilot, and I wait for the fairest weather that my circumstances
and duty will allow. Prudence and propriety, the principles which the
Gods have given me for the direction of my conduct, require this of
me; but they require no more: and if, notwithstanding, a storm arises,
which neither the strength of the vessel nor the skill of the pilot are
likely to withstand, I give myself no trouble about the consequence.
All that I had to do is done already. The directors of my conduct never
command me to be miserable, to be anxious, desponding, or afraid.
Whether we are to be drowned, or to come to a harbour, is the business
of Jupiter, not mine. I leave it entirely to his determination, nor ever
break my rest with considering which way he is likely to decide it, but
receive whatever comes with equal indifference and security.

± From this perfect con¬dence in that benevolent wisdom which gov-
erns the universe, and from this entire resignation to whatever order
that wisdom might think proper to establish, it necessarily followed,
that, to the Stoical wise man, all the events of human life must be in
a great measure indifferent. His happiness consisted altogether, ¬rst,
in the contemplation of the happiness and perfection of the great sys-
tem of the universe, of the good government of the great republic
of Gods and men, of all rational and sensible beings; and, secondly,

± Probably a reference to the Cynic Demetrius (¬rst century as cited by the Stoic Seneca,
De Providentia (Dialogues, Book ±), v.µ“.
±µ Cf. Discourses, II.v.±°“±.

Of systems of moral philosophy

in discharging his duty, in acting properly in the affairs of this great
republic whatever little part that wisdom had assigned to him. The
propriety or impropriety of his endeavours might be of great conse-
quence to him. Their success or disappointment could be of none at
all; could excite no passionate joy or sorrow, no passionate desire or
aversion. If he preferred some events to others, if some situations were
the objects of his choice and others of his rejection, it was not because
he regarded the one as in themselves in any respect better than the
other, or thought that his own happiness would be more complete in
what is called the fortunate than in what is regarded as the distress-
ful situation; but because the propriety of action, the rule which the
Gods had given him for the direction of his conduct, required him to
chuse and reject in this manner. All his affections were absorbed and
swallowed up in two great affections; in that for the discharge of his
own duty, and in that for the greatest possible happiness of all rational
and sensible beings. For the grati¬cation of this latter affection, he
rested with the most perfect security upon the wisdom and power of
the great Superintendant of the universe. His sole anxiety was about
the grati¬cation of the former; not about the event, but about the pro-
priety of his own endeavours. Whatever the event might be, he trusted
to a superior power and wisdom for turning it to promote that great
end which he himself was most desirous of promoting.

 This propriety of chusing and rejecting, though originally pointed out
to us, and as it were recommended and introduced to our acquaintance
by the things, and for the sake of the things, chosen and rejected;
yet when we had once become thoroughly acquainted with it, the
order, the grace, the beauty which we discerned in this conduct, the
happiness which we felt resulted from it, necessarily appeared to us
of much greater value than the actual obtaining of all the different
objects of choice, or the actual avoiding of all those of rejection. From
the observation of this propriety arose the happiness and the glory;
from the neglect of it, the misery and the disgrace of human nature.

 But to a wise man, to one whose passions were brought under perfect
subjection to the ruling principles of his nature, the exact observa-
tion of this propriety was equally easy upon all occasions. Was he in
prosperity, he returned thanks to Jupiter for having joined him with

The Theory of Moral Sentiments

circumstances which were easily mastered, and in which there was
little temptation to do wrong. Was he in adversity, he equally returned
thanks to the director of this spectacle of human life, for having op-
posed to him a vigorous athlete, over whom, though the contest was
likely to be more violent, the victory was more glorious, and equally
certain. Can there be any shame in that distress which is brought upon
us without any fault of our own, and in which we behave with per-
fect propriety? There can, therefore, be no evil, but, on the contrary,
the greatest good and advantage. A brave man exults in those dan-
gers in which, from no rashness of his own, his fortune has involved
him. They afford an opportunity of exercising that heroic intrepidity,
whose exertion gives the exalted delight which ¬‚ows from the con-
sciousness of superior propriety and deserved admiration. One who
is master of all his exercises has no aversion to measure his strength
and activity with the strongest. And, in the same manner, one who is
master of all his passions, does not dread any circumstance in which
the Superintendant of the universe may think proper to place him.
The bounty of that divine Being has provided him with virtues which
render him superior to every situation. If it is pleasure, he has tem-
perance to refrain from it; if it is pain, he has constancy to bear it;
if it is danger or death, he has magnanimity and fortitude to de-
spise it. The events of human life can never ¬nd him unprepared,
or at a loss how to maintain that propriety of sentiment and conduct
which, in his own apprehension, constitutes at once his glory and his

 Human life the Stoics appear to have considered as a game of great
skill; in which, however, there was a mixture of chance, or of what is
vulgarly understood to be chance. In such games the stake is commonly
a tri¬‚e, and the whole pleasure of the game arises from playing well,
from playing fairly, and playing skilfully. If notwithstanding all his
skill, however, the good player should, by the in¬‚uence of chance,
happen to lose, the loss ought to be a matter, rather of merriment,
than of serious sorrow. He has made no false stroke; he has done
nothing which he ought to be ashamed of; he has enjoyed completely
the whole pleasure of the game. If, on the contrary, the bad player,
notwithstanding all his blunders, should, in the same manner, happen
to win, his success can give him but little satisfaction. He is morti¬ed

Of systems of moral philosophy

by the remembrance of all the faults which he committed. Even during
the play he can enjoy no part of the pleasure which it is capable of
affording. From ignorance of the rules of the game, fear and doubt and
hesitation are the disagreeable sentiments that precede almost every
stroke which he plays; and when he has played it, the morti¬cation
of ¬nding it a gross blunder, commonly completes the unpleasing
circle of his sensations. Human life, with all the advantages which can
possibly attend it, ought, according to the Stoics, to be regarded but
as a mere two-penny stake; a matter by far too insigni¬cant to merit
any anxious concern. Our only anxious concern ought to be, not about
the stake, but about the proper method of playing. If we placed our
happiness in winning the stake, we placed it in what depended upon
causes beyond our power, and out of our direction. We necessarily
exposed ourselves to perpetual fear and uneasiness, and frequently to
grievous and mortifying disappointments. If we placed it in playing
well, in playing fairly, in playing wisely and skilfully; in the propriety
of our own conduct in short; we placed it in what, by proper discipline,
education, and attention, might be altogether in our own power, and
under our own direction. Our happiness was perfectly secure, and
beyond the reach of fortune. The event of our actions, if it was out of
our power, was equally out of our concern, and we could never feel
either fear or anxiety about it; nor ever suffer any grievous, or even
any serious disappointment.

µ Human life itself, as well as every different advantage or disadvantage
which can attend it, might, they said, according to different circum-
stances, be the proper object either of our choice or of our rejection.
If, in our actual situation, there were more circumstances agreeable to
nature than contrary to it; more circumstances which were the objects
of choice than of rejection; life, in this case, was, upon the whole, the
proper object of choice, and the propriety of conduct required that
we should remain in it. If, on the other hand, there were, in our actual
situation, without any probable hope of amendment, more circum-
stances contrary to nature than agreeable to it; more circumstances
which were the objects of rejection than of choice; life itself, in this
case, became, to a wise man, the object of rejection, and he was not
only at liberty to remove out of it, but the propriety of conduct, the
rule which the Gods had given him for the direction of his conduct,

The Theory of Moral Sentiments

required him to do so. I am ordered, says Epictetus,± not to dwell at
Nicopolis. I do not dwell there. I am ordered not to dwell at Athens. I
do not dwell at Athens. I am ordered not to dwell in Rome. I do not
dwell in Rome. I am ordered to dwell in the little and rocky island of
Gyar¦. I go and dwell there. But the house smokes in Gyarae. If the
smoke is moderate, I will bear it, and stay there. If it is excessive, I
will go to a house from whence no tyrant can remove me. I keep in
mind always that the door is open, that I can walk out when I please,
and retire to that hospitable house which is at all times open to all
the world; for beyond my undermost garment, beyond my body, no
man living has any power over me. If your situation is upon the whole
disagreeable; if your house smokes too much for you, said the Stoics,
walk forth by all means. But walk forth without repining; without
murmuring or complaining. Walk forth calm, contented, rejoicing,
returning thanks to the Gods, who, from their in¬nite bounty, have
opened the safe and quiet harbour of death, at all times ready to receive
us from the stormy ocean of human life; who have prepared this sa-
cred, this inviolable, this great asylum, always open, always accessible;
altogether beyond the reach of human rage and injustice; and large
enough to contain both all those who wish, and all those who do not
wish to retire to it: an asylum which takes away from every man every
pretence of complaining, or even of fancying that there can be any evil
in human life, except such as he may suffer from his own folly and

 The Stoics, in the few fragments of their philosophy which have come
down to us, sometimes talk of leaving life with a gaiety, and even with
a levity, which, were we to consider those passages by themselves,
might induce us to believe that they imagined we could with pro-
priety leave it whenever we had a mind, wantonly and capriciously,
upon the slightest disgust or uneasiness. ˜When you sup with such
a person,™ says Epictetus,±· ˜you complain of the long stories which
he tells you about his Mysian wars. “Now my friend, says he, having
told you how I took possession of an eminence at such a place, I will
tell you how I was besieged in such another place.” But if you have
± Discourses, I.xxv.±“±. Cf. § below.
±· A free translation of Discourses, I.xxv.±µ“±·.

Of systems of moral philosophy

a mind not to be troubled with his long stories, do not accept of his
supper. If you accept of his supper, you have not the least presence
to complain of his long stories. It is the same case with what you call
the evils of human life. Never complain of that of which it is at all
times in your power to rid yourself.™ Notwithstanding this gaiety and
even levity of expression, however, the alternative of leaving life, or
of remaining in it, was, according to the Stoics, a matter of the most
serious and important deliberation. We ought never to leave it till we
were distinctly called upon to do so by that superintending power
which had originally placed us in it. But we were to consider ourselves
as called upon to do so, not merely at the appointed and unavoidable
term of human life. Whenever the providence of that superintending
Power had rendered our condition in life upon the whole the proper
object rather of rejection than of choice; the great rule which he had
given us for the direction of our conduct, then required us to leave it.
We might then be said to hear the awful and benevolent voice of that
divine Being distinctly calling upon us to do so.

· It was upon this account that, according to the Stoics, it might be
the duty of a wise man to remove out of life though he was perfectly
happy; while, on the contrary, it might be the duty of a weak man to
remain in it, though he was necessarily miserable. If, in the situation of
the wise man, there were more circumstances which were the natural
objects of rejection than of choice, the whole situation became the
object of rejection, and the rule which the Gods had given him for
the direction of his conduct, required that he should remove out of it
as speedily as particular circumstances might render convenient. He
was, however, perfectly happy even during the time that he might think
proper to remain in it. He had placed his happiness, not in obtaining
the objects of his choice, or in avoiding those of his rejection; but in
always choosing and rejecting with exact propriety; not in the success,
but in the ¬tness of his endeavours and exertions. If, in the situation of
the weak man, on the contrary, there were more circumstances which
were the natural objects of choice than of rejection; his whole situation
became the proper object of choice, and it was his duty to remain in
it. He was unhappy, however, from not knowing how to use those
circumstances. Let his cards be ever so good, he did not know how to
play them, and could enjoy no sort of real satisfaction, either in the

The Theory of Moral Sentiments

progress, or in the event of the game, in whatever manner it might
happen to turn out.g±

 The propriety, upon some occasions, of voluntary death, though it
was, perhaps, more insisted upon by the Stoics, than by any other sect
of ancient philosophers, was, however, a doctrine common to them
all, even to the peaceable and indolent Epicureans. During the age in
which ¬‚ourished the founders of all the principal sects of ancient phi-
losophy; during the Peloponnesian war and for many years after its
conclusion, all the different republics of Greece were, at home, almost
always distracted by the most furious factions; and abroad, involved
in the most sanguinary wars, in which each sought, not merely supe-
riority or dominion, but either completely to extirpate all its enemies,
or, what was not less cruel, to reduce them into the vilest of all states,
that of domestic slavery, and to sell them, man, woman, and child,
like so many herds of cattle, to the highest bidder in the market. The
smallness of the greater part of those states, too, rendered it, to each
of them, no very improbable event, that it might itself fall into that
very calamity which it had so frequently, either, perhaps, actually in-
¬‚icted, or at least attempted to in¬‚ict upon some of its neighbours. In
this disorderly state of things, the most perfect innocence, joined to
both the highest rank and the greatest public services, could give no
security to any man that, even at home and among his own relations
and fellow-citizens, he was not, at some time or another, from the
prevalence of some hostile and furious faction, to be condemned to
the most cruel and ignominious punishment. If he was taken prisoner
in war, or if the city of which he was a member was conquered, he
was exposed, if possible, to still greater injuries and insults. But every
man naturally, or rather necessarily, familiarizes his imagination with
the distresses to which he foresees that his situation may frequently
expose him. It is impossible that a sailor should not frequently think of
storms and shipwrecks, and foundering at sea, and of how he himself
is likely both to feel and to act upon such occasions. It was impossible,
in the same manner, that a Grecian patriot or hero should not famil-
iarize his imagination with all the different calamities to which he

g See Cicero De ¬nibus, book III.±. Olivet™s edition.
± The reference should be III.±.

Of systems of moral philosophy

was sensible his situation must frequently, or rather constantly expose
him. As an American savage prepares his death-song, and considers
how he should act when he has fallen into the hands of his enemies,
and is by them put to death in the most lingering tortures, and amidst
the insults and derision of all the spectators;± so a Grecian patriot or
hero could not avoid frequently employing his thoughts in consider-


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