. 11
( 13)


ing what he ought both to suffer and to do in banishment, in captivity,
when reduced to slavery, when put to the torture, when brought to
the scaffold. But the philosophers of all the different sects very justly
represented virtue; that is, wise, just, ¬rm, and temperate conduct;
not only as the most probable, but as the certain and infallible road to
happiness even in this life. This conduct, however, could not always
exempt, and might even sometimes expose the person who followed it
to all the calamities which were incident to that unsettled situation of
public affairs. They endeavoured, therefore, to show that happiness
was either altogether, or at least in a great measure, independent of
fortune; the Stoics, that it was so altogether; the Academic° and Peri-
patetic philosophers, that it was so in a great measure. Wise, prudent,
and good conduct was, in the ¬rst place, the conduct most likely to
ensure success in every species of undertaking; and secondly, though
it should fail of success, yet the mind was not left without consolation.
The virtuous man might still enjoy the complete approbation of his
own breast; and might still feel that, how untoward soever things might
be without, all was calm and peace and concord within. He might gen-
erally comfort himself, too, with the assurance that he possessed the
love and esteem of every intelligent and impartial spectator, who could
not fail both to admire his conduct, and to regret his misfortune.

 Those philosophers endeavoured, at the same time, to show, that the
greatest misfortunes to which human life was liable, might be sup-
ported more easily than was commonly imagined. They endeavoured
to point out the comforts which a man might still enjoy when reduced
to poverty, when driven into banishment, when exposed to the in-
justice of popular clamour, when labouring under blindness, under
deafness, in the extremity of old age, upon the approach of death.

± Cf. V.. above.
° Plato™s school.

The Theory of Moral Sentiments

They pointed out, too, the considerations which might contribute to
support his constancy under the agonies of pain and even of torture, in
sickness, in sorrow for the loss of children, for the death of friends and
relations, etc. The few fragments which have come down to us of what
the ancient philosophers had written upon these subjects, form, per-
haps, one of the most instructive, as well as one a the most interesting
remains of antiquity. The spirit and manhood of their doctrines make
a wonderful contrast with the desponding, plaintive, and whining tone
of some modern systems.±

° But while those ancient philosophers endeavoured in this manner to
suggest every consideration which could, as Milton says, arm the
obdured breast with stubborn patience, as with triple steel; they, at the
same time, laboured above all to convince their followers that there
neither was nor could be any evil in death; and that, if their situation
became at any time too hard for their constancy to support, the remedy
was at hand, the door was open, and they might, without fear, walk
out when they pleased. If there was no world beyond the present,
death, they said, could be no evil; and if there was another world, the
Gods must likewise be in that other, and a just man could fear no evil
while under their protection. Those philosophers, in short, prepared
a death-song, if I may say so, which the Grecian patriots and heroes
might make use of upon the proper occasions; and, of all the different
sects, the Stoics, I think it must be acknowledged, had prepared by far
the most animated and spirited song.

± Suicide, however, never seems to have been very common among the
Greeks. Excepting Cleomenes, I cannot at present recollect any very
illustrious either patriot or hero of Greece, who died by his own hand.
The death of Aristomenes is as much beyond the period of true his-
tory as that of Ajax. The common story of the death of Themistocles,
though within that period, bears upon its face all the marks of a most
romantic fable. Of all the Greek heroes whose lives have been written

± Cf. III.. above.
 John Milton, Paradise Lost (±·), II.µ“.
 Cf. Smith™s account of the death song of American Indians, above V...

Of systems of moral philosophy

by Plutarch, Cleomenes appears to have been the only one who per-
ished in this manner. Theramines, Socrates, and Phocion, who cer-
tainly did not want courage, suffered themselves to be sent to prison,
and submitted patiently to that death to which the injustice of their
fellow-citizens had condemned them. The brave Eumenes allowed
himself to be delivered up, by his own mutinous soldiers, to his enemy
Antigonus, and was starved to death, without attempting any vio-
lence. The gallant Philopoemen suffered himself to be taken prisoner
by the Messenians, was thrown into a dungeon, and was supposed to
have been privately poisoned.µ Several of the philosophers, indeed,
are said to have died in this manner; but their lives have been so very
foolishly written, that very little credit is due to the greater part of
the tales which are told of them. Three different accounts have been
given of the death of Zeno the Stoic. One is, that after enjoying, for
ninety-eight years, the most perfect state of health, he happened, in
going out of his school, to fall; and though he suffered no other damage
than that of breaking or dislocating one of his ¬ngers, he struck the
ground with his hand, and, in the words of the Niobe of Euripides,
said, I come, why doest thou call me? and immediately went home and

 Cleomenes III (c. °“± BC) king of Sparta µ“±; see Plutarch, Parallel Lives: ˜Aratus™,
˜Cleomenes™. As if to illustrate his point, Smith mistakes two legendary chiefs of Messenia, a
region in the south west of Peloponnesus. It was Aristodemus of the First Messenian War against
Sparta in the eighth century BC, not Aristomenes of the Second War in the seventh century,
who committed suicide. Both are described in the second century AD by Pausanius in Description
of Greece, IV.“± (Aristodemus), IV.±“ (Aristomenes). The death of Ajax, king of Salamis and
one of the heroes on the Greek side in Homer™s Iliad, was recorded in several different ways, but
according to the Odyssey it was a mad suicide, dramatized in Sophocles™ play Ajax. Themistocles
(c. µ“c. µ BC) was the democratic statesman who led the Athenians to victory over the Persians
at Salamis (°) but who subsequently had to go into political exile in Asia Minor. The contempo-
rary legend of his suicide (see Aristophanes (c. µ“c. µ), Equites ) was rejected by Thucydides
(b. around °“µµ, d. c. ), History I.±; cf. Plutarch, Parallel Lives, ˜Themistocles™.
µ See Plutarch, Parallel Lives: ˜Phocion™, ˜Eumenes™, ˜Philopoemen™, and, for Socrates, ˜Alcibiades™.
Theramines (c. µµ“°/ BC), oligarchic Athenian politician and one of the Thirty Tyrants, was
put to death for being too moderate; cf. Aristotle, Constitution of Athens, “·. Socrates (“
BC) was executed for impiety and corruption of youth. Phocion, Athenian general, was executed
for treason in ± BC because of his advocacy of peace with Macedonia. In all three cases the
method of death was to drink hemlock. It is strange that Smith does not recall the poison-suicide
of Phocion™s great adversary, Demosthenes. Eumenes (c. “± BC) and Antigonus (probably
“°± BC) were among the generals who competed for control of Alexander the Great™s empire.
Philopoemen (c. µ°“± BC) was the leading general of the Achaean Confederacy in Peloponnesus,
an early experiment in federalism, and he came to the grief mentioned by Smith in a campaign
against the rebelling city of Messene.

The Theory of Moral Sentiments

hanged himself. At that great age, one should think, he might have
had a little more patience. Another account is, that, at the same age,
and in consequence of a like accident, he starved himself to death.
The third account is, that, at seventy-two years of age, he died in the
natural way; by far the most probable account of the three, and sup-
ported too by the authority of a cotemporary, who must have had every
opportunity of being well informed; of Pers¦us, originally the slave,
and afterwards the friend and disciple of Zeno. The ¬rst account is
given by Apollonius of Tyre, who ¬‚ourished about the time of Au-
gustus C¦sar, between two and three hundred years after the death of
Zeno. I know not who is the author of the second account. Apollonius,
who was himself a Stoic, had probably thought it would do honour to
the founder of a sect which talked so much about voluntary death, to
die in this manner by his own hand. Men of letters, though, after their
death, they are frequently more talked of than the greatest princes or
statesmen of their times, are generally, during their life, so obscure
and insigni¬cant that their adventures are seldom recorded by cotem-
porary historians. Those of after-ages, in order to satisfy the public
curiosity, and having no authentic documents either to support or to
contradict their narratives, seem frequently to have fashioned them
according to their own fancy; and almost always with a great mix-
ture of the marvellous. In this particular case the marvellous, though
supported by no authority, seems to have prevailed over the probable,
though supported by the best. Diogenes Laertius plainly gives the
preference to the story of Apollonius. Lucian and Lactantius appear
both to have given credit to that of the great age and of the violent

 This fashion of voluntary death appears to have been much more
prevalent among the proud Romans, than it ever was among the lively,
ingenious, and accommodating Greeks. Even among the Romans, the
fashion seems not to have been established in the early and, what are
 Here and in the following Smith is reporting, somewhat inaccurately, Diogenes Laertius, Lives of
the Philosophers, VII. “±. For Zeno, see above III..± (note ). Niobe, now lost, was probably
not by Euripides (c. µ“° BC) but by Timotheus (c. µ°“c. °), apparently an associate of
Euripides. Apollonius is the hero of the anonymous History of Apollonius, King of Tyre, a romance
now known only in a sixth-century Latin translation from a Greek original from the third century.
· Smith is reporting, again inaccurately, Lucian (c. ±±µ“ after ±° AD), Octogenarians, ±, and
Lactantius (c. µ“c. µ AD), Divine Institutes, III.±, and Epitome, .

Of systems of moral philosophy

called, the virtuous ages of the republic. The common story of the
death of Regulus, though probably a fable, could never have been in-
vented, had it been supposed that any dishonour could fall upon that
hero, from patiently submitting to the tortures which the Carthagini-
ans are said to have in¬‚icted upon him.  In the later ages of the
republic some dishonour, I apprehend, would have attended this sub-
mission. In the different civil wars which preceded the fall of the
commonwealth, many of the eminent men of all the contending par-
ties chose rather to perish by their own hands, than to fall into those
of their enemies. The death of Cato, celebrated by Cicero, and cen-
sured by C¦sar, and become the subject of a very serious controversy
between, perhaps, the two most illustrious advocates that the world
had ever beheld, stamped a character of splendour upon this method
of dying which it seems to have retained for several ages after. The
eloquence of Cicero was superior to that of C¦sar. The admiring
prevailed greatly over the censuring party, and the lovers of liberty,
for many ages afterwards, looked up to Cato as to the most venerable
martyr of the republican party.  The head of a party, the Cardinal
de Retz observes, may do what he pleases; as long as he retains the
con¬dence of his own friends, he can never do wrong; a maxim of
which his Eminence had himself, upon several occasions, an oppor-
tunity of experiencing the truth.° Cato, it seems, joined to his other
virtues that of an excellent bottle companion. His enemies accused
him of drunkenness, but, says Seneca, whoever objected this vice to
Cato, will ¬nd it much easier to prove that drunkenness is a virtue,
than that Cato could be addicted to any vice.±

 Under the Emperors this method of dying seems to have been, for
a long time, perfectly fashionable. In the epistles of Pliny we ¬nd an
 Marcus Atilius Regulus, Roman consul in µ and µ BC, was captured in µµ by the Carthaginians
during the First Punic War (“±). Sent on a peace mission to Rome, he, instead, advocated
war but kept his word of honour and returned to Carthage where he, according to very dubious
legend, was tortured to death for his trouble. See Horace, Odes, III.µ, ±“°; Cicero, De of¬ciis,
III.xxvi.“±°°; Seneca, De Providentia, III.“±±.
 Marcus Porcius Cato Uticensis (µ“ BC), staunch upholder of republican theory and practice
against Julius Caesar, committed suicide after the latter defeated the republican forces. Smith™s
references are to two lost works, Cicero™s eulogy, Cato, and Caesar™s Anticato; cf. Plutarch, Parallel
Lives: ˜Cato Minor™.
° Smith™s reference has not been found.
± Seneca, De Tranquillitate Animi, xvii..

The Theory of Moral Sentiments

account of several persons who chose to die in this manner, rather from
vanity and ostentation, it would seem, than from what would appear,
even to a sober and judicious Stoic, any proper or necessary reason.
Even the ladies, who are seldom behind in following the fashion, seem
frequently to have chosen, most unnecessarily, to die in this manner;
and, like the ladies in Bengal, to accompany, upon some occasions,
their husbands to the tomb. The prevalence of this fashion certainly
occasioned many deaths which would not otherwise have happened.
All the havock, however, which this, perhaps the highest exertion of
human vanity and impertinence, could occasion, would, probably, at
no time, be very great.

 The principle of suicide, the principle which would teach us, upon
some occasions, to consider that violent action as an object of applause
and approbation, seems to be altogether a re¬nement of philosophy.
Nature, in her sound and healthful state, seems never to prompt us
to suicide. There is, indeed, a species of melancholy (a disease to
which human nature, among its other calamities, is unhappily sub-
ject) which seems to be accompanied with, what one may call, an
irresistible appetite for self-destruction. In circumstances often of the
highest external prosperity, and sometimes too, in spite even of the
most serious and deeply impressed sentiments of religion, this disease
has frequently been known to drive its wretched victims to this fatal
extremity. The unfortunate persons who perish in this miserable man-
ner, are the proper objects, not of censure, but of commiseration. To
attempt to punish them, when they are beyond the reach of all human
punishment, is not more absurd than it is unjust. That punishment
can fall only on their surviving friends and relations, who are always
perfectly innocent, and to whom the loss of their friend, in this dis-
graceful manner, must always be alone a very heavy calamity. Nature,
in her sound and healthful state, prompts us to avoid distress upon all
occasions; upon many occasions to defend ourselves against it, though
at the hazard, or even with the certainty of perishing in that defence.
 Pliny the Younger (± or “±± AD), Letters, I.±; III.±; VI..
 Such re¬nement was to be found in several modern philosophers, but see in particular
Montesquieu, Persian Letters (±·±), No. ·; Rousseau, Julie, or the New Heloise (±·±), III,
Letter xxi; and Hume, ˜Of Suicide™ (±···).

Of systems of moral philosophy

But, when we have neither been able to defend ourselves from it, nor
have perished in that defence, no natural principle, no regard to the
approbation of the supposed impartial spectator, to the judgment of
the man within the breast, seems to call upon us to escape from it by
destroying ourselves. It is only the consciousness of our own weakness,
of our own incapacity to support the calamity with proper manhood
and ¬rmness, which can drive us to this resolution. I do not remember
to have either read or heard of any American savage, who, upon being
taken prisoner by some hostile tribe, put himself to death, in order to
avoid being afterwards put to death in torture, and amidst the insults
and mockery of his enemies. He places his glory in supporting those
torments with manhood, and in retorting those insults with tenfold
contempt and derision.

µ This contempt of life and death, however, and, at the same time, the
most entire submission to the order of Providence; the most complete
contentment with every event which the current of human affairs
could possibly cast up, may be considered as the two fundamental
doctrines upon which rested the whole fabric of Stoical morality. The
independent and spirited, but often harsh Epictetus, may be consid-
ered as the great apostle of the ¬rst of those doctrines: the mild, the
humane, the benevolent Antoninus, of the second.

 The emancipated slave of Epaphriditus, who, in his youth, had been
subjected to the insolence of a brutal master, who, in his riper years,
was, by the jealousy and caprice of Domitian, banished from Rome and
Athens, and obliged to dwell at Nicopolis, and who, by the same tyrant,
might expect every moment to be sent to Gyar¦, or, perhaps, to be put
to death; could preserve his tranquillity only by fostering in his mind
the most sovereign contempt of human life. He never exults so much,
accordingly his eloquence is never so animated as when he represents
the futility and nothingness of all its pleasures and all its pains. µ

 Cf. above VI.ii..µ (note ).
µ Epictetus (cf. note ± above) was the slave of Nero™s and Domitian™s secretary, Epaphroditus, who
freed the future teacher of stoicism. The emperor Domitian banished the philosopher from Rome
in AD  and Epictetus lived the rest of his life in Nicopolis (in Epirus). The island of Gyaros
(today Nisos) in the Aegean Sea was used as a place of banishment.

The Theory of Moral Sentiments

· The good-natured Emperor, the absolute sovereign of the whole civ-
ilized part of the world, who certainly had no peculiar reason to com-
plain of his own allotment, delights in expressing his contentment
with the ordinary course of things, and in pointing out beauties even
in those parts of it where vulgar observers are not apt to see any. There
is a propriety and even an engaging grace, he observes, in old age as
well as in youth; and the weakness and decrepitude of the one state
are as suitable to nature as the bloom and vigour of the other.· Death,
too, is just as proper a termination of old age, as youth is of childhood,
or manhood of youth. As we frequently say, he remarks upon another
occasion, that the physician has ordered to such a man to ride on
horseback, or to use the cold bath, or to walk barefooted; so ought we
to say, that Nature, the great conductor and physician of the universe,
has ordered to such a man a disease, or the amputation of a limb, or the
loss of a child. By the prescriptions of ordinary physicians the patient
swallows many a bitter potion; undergoes many a painful operation.
From the very uncertain hope, however, that health may be the con-
sequence, he gladly submits to all. The harshest prescriptions of the
great Physician of nature, the patient may, in the same manner, hope
will contribute to his own health, to his own ¬nal prosperity and happi-
ness: and he may be perfectly assured that they not only contribute, but
are indispensably necessary to the health, to the prosperity and happi-
ness of the universe, to the furtherance and advancement of the great
plan of Jupiter. Had they not been so, the universe would never have
produced them; its all-wise Architect and Conductor would never have
suffered them to happen. As all, even the smallest of the co-existent
parts of the universe, are exactly ¬tted to one another, and all con-
tribute to compose one immense and connected system; so all, even
apparently the most insigni¬cant of the successive events which follow
one another, make parts, and necessary parts, of that great chain of
causes and effects which had no beginning, and which will have no end;
and which, as they all necessarily result from the original arrangement
and contrivance of the whole; so they are all essentially necessary, not
 In this paragraph Smith is paraphrasing Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, which had received an
important translation with annotations by Smith™s teacher, Francis Hutcheson (jointly with
James Moor; Glasgow ±·); here III..
· IX.

 V.

Of systems of moral philosophy

only to its prosperity, but to its continuance and preservation. Who-
ever does not cordially embrace whatever befals him, whoever is sorry
that it has befallen him, whoever wishes that it had not befallen him,
wishes, so far as in him lies, to stop the motion of the universe, to break
that great chain of succession, by the progress of which that system can
alone be continued and preserved, and, for some little conveniency of
his own, to disorder and discompose the whole machine of the world.
˜O world,™ says he, in another place, ˜all things are suitable to me which
are suitable to thee. Nothing is too early or too late to me which is sea-
sonable for thee. All is fruit to me which thy seasons bring forth. From
thee are all things; in thee are all things; for thee are all things. One man
says, O beloved city of Cecrops. Wilt not thou say, O beloved city of

 From these very sublime doctrines the Stoics, or at least some of the
Stoics, attempted to deduce all their paradoxes.

 The Stoical wise man endeavoured to enter into the views of the great
Superintendant of the universe, and to see things in the same light in
which that divine Being beheld them. But, to the great Superinten-
dant of the universe, all the different events which the course of his
providence may bring forth, what to us appear the smallest and the
greatest, the bursting of a bubble, as Mr. Pope says,° and that of a
world, for example, were perfectly equal, were equally parts of that
great chain which he had predestined from all eternity, were equally
the effects of the same unerring wisdom, of the same universal and
boundless benevolence. To the Stoical wise man, in the same man-
ner, all those different events were perfectly equal. In the course of
those events, indeed, a little department, in which he had himself
some little management and direction, had been assigned to him. In
this department he endeavoured to act as properly as he could, and to
conduct himself according to those orders which, he understood, had
been prescribed to him. But he took no anxious or passionate con-
cern either in the success, or in the disappointment of his own most
faithful endeavours. The highest prosperity and the total destruction

 IV.. The city of Cecrops is Athens.
° Alexander Pope, Essay on Man, I.°.

The Theory of Moral Sentiments

of that little department, of that little system which had been in some
measure committed to his charge, were perfectly indifferent to him.
If those events had depended upon him, he would have chosen the
one, and he would have rejected the other. But as they did not depend
upon him, he trusted to a superior wisdom, and was perfectly satis¬ed
that the event which happened, whatever it might be, was the very
event which he himself, had he known all the connections and depen-
dencies of things, would most earnestly and devoutly have wished for.
Whatever he did under the in¬‚uence and direction of those principles
was equally perfect; and when he stretched out his ¬nger, to give the
example which they commonly made use of,± he performed an action
in every respect as meritorious, as worthy of praise and admiration, as
when he laid down his life for the service of his country. As, to the great
Superintendant of the universe, the greatest and the smallest exertions
of his power, the formation and dissolution of a world, the formation
and dissolution of a bubble, were equally easy, were equally admirable,
and equally the effects of the same divine wisdom and benevolence; so,
to the Stoical wise man, what we would call the great action required
no more exertion than the little one, was equally easy, proceeded from
exactly the same principles, was in no respect more meritorious, nor
worthy of any higher degree of praise and admiration.

° As all those who had arrived at this state of perfection, were equally
happy; so all those who fell in the smallest degree short of it, how
nearly soever they might approach to it, were equally miserable. As
the man, they said, who was but an inch below the surface of the water,
could no more breathe than he who was an hundred yards below it;
so the man who had not completely subdued all his private, partial,
and sel¬sh passions, who had any other earnest desire but that for the
universal happiness, who had not completely emerged from that abyss
of misery and disorder into which his anxiety for the grati¬cation of
those private, partial, and sel¬sh passions had involved him, could no
more breathe the free air of liberty and independency, could no more
enjoy the security and happiness of the wise man, than he who was
most remote from that situation. As all the actions of the wise man

± Plutarch, Against the Stoics on Common Conceptions, xxii and xxiv, in Moralia (±° F and ±°·° B).
 Plutarch, Against the Stoics on Common Conceptions, x, in Moralia (±° A).

Of systems of moral philosophy

were perfect, and equally perfect; so all those of the man who had not
arrived at this supreme wisdom were faulty, and, as some Stoics pre-
tended, equally faulty. As one truth, they said, could not be more true,
nor one falsehood more false than another; so an honourable action
could not be more honourable, nor a shameful one more shameful than
another. As in shooting at a mark, the man who missed it by an inch
had equally missed it with him who had done so by a hundred yards; so
the man who, in what to us appears the most insigni¬cant action, had
acted improperly and without a suf¬cient reason, was equally faulty
with him who had done so in, what to us appears, the most important;
the man who has killed a cock, for example, improperly and without
a suf¬cient reason, with him who had murdered his father.

± If the ¬rst of those two paradoxes should appear suf¬ciently violent,
the second is evidently too absurd to deserve any serious considera-
tion. It is, indeed, so very absurd that one can scarce help suspecting
that it must have been in some measure misunderstood or misrepre-
sented. At any rate, I cannot allow myself to believe that such men as
Zeno or Cleanthes, men, it is said, of the most simple as well as of the
most sublime eloquence, could be the authors, either of these, or of
the greater part of the other Stoical paradoxes, which are in general
mere impertinent quibbles, and do so little honour to their system
that I shall give no further account of them. I am disposed to impute
them rather to Chrysippus, the disciple and follower, indeed, of Zeno
and Cleanthes, but who, from all that has been delivered down to us
concerning him, seems to have been a mere dialectical pedant, with-
out taste or elegance of any kind. He may have been the ¬rst who
reduced their doctrines into a scholastic or technical system of arti¬-
cial de¬nitions, divisions, and subdivisions; one of the most effectual
expedients, perhaps, for extinguishing whatever degree of good sense
there may be in any moral or metaphysical doctrine. Such a man may
very easily be supposed to have understood too literally some ani-
mated expressions of his masters in describing the happiness of the
man of perfect virtue, and the unhappiness of whoever fell short of
that character.

 Concerning Zeno and Chrysippus, see note  at III..± above. Between these two came Cleanthes
(c. ±“ c.  BC) as head of the stoic school.

The Theory of Moral Sentiments

 The Stoics in general seem to have admitted that there might be a de-
gree of pro¬ciency in those who had not advanced to perfect virtue and
happiness. They distributed those pro¬cients into different classes,
according to the degree of their advancement; and they called the im-
perfect virtues which they supposed them capable of exercising, not
rectitudes, but proprieties, ¬tnesses, decent and becoming actions, for
which a plausible or probable reason could be assigned, what Cicero
expresses by the Latin word of¬cia, and Seneca, I think more exactly,
by that of convenientia. The doctrine of those imperfect, but attain-
able virtues, seems to have constituted what we may call the practical
morality of the Stoics. It is the subject of Cicero™s Of¬ces; and is
said to have been that of another book written by Marcus Brutus, but
which is now lost.µ

 The plan and system which Nature has sketched out for our conduct,
seems to be altogether different from that of the Stoical philosophy.

 By Nature the events which immediately affect that little department
in which we ourselves have some little management and direction,
which immediately affect ourselves, our friends, our country, are the
events which interest us the most, and which chie¬‚y excite our de-
sires and aversions, our hopes and fears, our joys and sorrows. Should
those passions be, what they are very apt to be, too vehement, Nature
has provided a proper remedy and correction. The real or even the
imaginary presence of the impartial spectator, the authority of the man
within the breast, is always at hand to overawe them into the proper
tone and temper of moderation.

µ If, notwithstanding our most faithful exertions, all the events which
can affect this little department, should turn out the most unfortu-
nate and disastrous, Nature has by no means left us without conso-
lation. That consolation may be drawn, not only from the complete
approbation of the man within the breast, but, if possible, from a still
nobler and more generous principle, from a ¬rm reliance upon, and a
 Cicero, De Of¬ciis.
µ In Epistles, XV, µ.µ Seneca refers to Marcus Junius Brutus (c. µ“ BC), one of the assassins
of Julius Caesar, as author of a now lost book in Greek that subsequently was known in Latin as
De of¬ciis.

Of systems of moral philosophy

reverential submission to, that benevolent wisdom which directs all
the events of human life, and which, we may be assured, would
never have suffered those misfortunes to happen, had they not been
indispensably necessary for the good of the whole.

 Nature has not prescribed to us this sublime contemplation as the
great business and occupation of our lives. She only points it out
to us as the consolation of our misfortunes. The Stoical philoso-
phy prescribes it as the great business and occupation of our lives.
That philosophy teaches us to interest ourselves earnestly and anx-
iously in no events, external to the good order of our own minds,
to the propriety of our own choosing and rejecting, except in those
which concern a department where we neither have nor ought to
have any sort of management or direction, the department of the
great Superintendant of the universe. By the perfect apathy which
it prescribes to us, by endeavouring, not merely to moderate, but to
eradicate all our private, partial, and sel¬sh affections, by suffering
us to feel for whatever can befall ourselves, our friends, our coun-
try, not even the sympathetic and reduced passions of the impartial
spectator, it endeavours to render us altogether indifferent and un-
concerned in the success or miscarriage of every thing which Nature
has prescribed to us as the proper business and occupation of our

· The reasonings of philosophy, it may be said, though they may con-
found and perplex the understanding, can never break down the nec-
essary connection which Nature has established between causes and
their effects. The causes which naturally excite our desires and aver-
sions, our hopes and fears, our joys and sorrows, would no doubt,
notwithstanding all the reasonings of Stoicism, produce upon each
individual, according to the degree of his actual sensibility, their
proper and necessary effects. The judgments of the man within the
breast, however, might be a good deal affected by those reasonings,
and that great inmate might be taught by them to attempt to overawe
all our private, partial, and sel¬sh affections into a more or less per-
fect tranquillity. To direct the judgments of this inmate is the great
purpose of all systems of morality. That the Stoical philosophy had
very great in¬‚uence upon the character and conduct of its followers,

The Theory of Moral Sentiments

cannot be doubted; and that though it might sometimes incite them
to unnecessary violence, its general tendency was to animate them
to actions of the most heroic magnanimity and most extensive

 Besides these ancient, there are some modern systems, according
to which virtue consists in propriety; or in the suitableness of the af-
fection from which we act, to the cause or object which excites it. The
system of Dr Clark, which places virtue in acting according to the re-
lations of things, in regulating our conduct according to the ¬tness or
incongruity which there may be in the application of certain actions to
certain things, or to certain relations: that of Mr Woollaston, which
places it in acting according to the truth of things, according to their
proper nature and essence, or in treating them as what they really
are, and not as what they are not: that of my Lord Shaftesbury,·
which places it in maintaining a proper balance of the affections,
and in allowing no passion to go beyond its proper sphere; are all
of them more or less inaccurate descriptions of the same fundamental

 None of those systems either give, or even pretend to give, any precise
or distinct measure by which this ¬tness or propriety of affection can
be ascertained or judged of. That precise and distinct measure can be
found nowhere but in the sympathetic feelings of the impartial and
well-informed spectator.

µ° The description of virtue, besides, which is either given, or at least
meant and intended to be given in each of those systems, for some
of the modern authors are not very fortunate in their manner of ex-
pressing themselves, is no doubt quite just, so far as it goes. There is
no virtue without propriety, and wherever there is propriety some
degree of approbation is due. But still this description is imper-
fect. For though propriety is an essential ingredient in every virtuous
 Concerning Samuel Clarke, see note  above. William Wollaston (±°“±·), Religion of Nature
Delineated (±·), I.
· Anthony Ashley Cooper, rd Earl of Shaftesbury (±·±“±·±), Inquiry Concerning Virtue (±)
I.ii., in his Characteristics of Men, Manners, Opinions, Times, ed. L. E. Klein, Cambridge, ±,
pp. ±·“. Smith has a more extensive discussion of Shaftesbury in Rhetoric i.±·“i.v.±.

Of systems of moral philosophy

action, it is not always the sole ingredient. Bene¬cent actions have in
them another quality by which they appear not only to deserve appro-
bation but recompense. None of those systems account either easily
or suf¬ciently for that superior degree of esteem which seems due to
such actions, or for that diversity of sentiment which they naturally
excite. Neither is the description of vice more complete. For, in the
same manner, though impropriety is a necessary ingredient in every
vicious action, it is not always the sole ingredient; and there is often
the highest degree of absurdity and impropriety in very harmless and
insigni¬cant actions. Deliberate actions, of a pernicious tendency to
those we live with, have, besides their impropriety, a peculiar quality
of their own by which they appear to deserve, not only disapprobation,
but punishment; and to be the objects, not of dislike merely, but of
resentment and revenge: and none of those systems easily and suf¬-
ciently account for that superior degree of detestation which we feel
for such actions.

Chapter II Of those systems which make virtue consist in prudence
± The most ancient of those systems which make virtue consist in pru-
dence, and of which any considerable remains have come down to us,
is that of Epicurus, who is said, however, to have borrowed all the
leading principles of his philosophy from some of those who had gone
before him, particularly from Aristippus; though it is very probable,
notwithstanding this allegation of his enemies, that at least his manner
of applying those principles was altogether his own.

 According to Epicurus,h bodily pleasure and pain were the sole ul-
timate objects of natural desire and aversion. That they were always
the natural objects of those passions, he thought required no proof.
Pleasure might, indeed, appear sometimes to be avoided; not, however,
because it was pleasure, but because, by the enjoyment of it, we should
either forfeit some greater pleasure, or expose ourselves to some pain
that was more to be avoided than this pleasure was to be desired.
Pain, in the same manner, might appear sometimes to be eligible;

See Cicero De ¬nibus, book I. Diogenes Laert. ±. x.

 See note µ to VI.±.±° above.

The Theory of Moral Sentiments

not, however, because it was pain, but because by enduring it we might
either avoid a still greater pain, or acquire some pleasure of much more
importance. That bodily pain and pleasure, therefore, were always the
natural objects of desire and aversion, was, he thought, abundantly ev-
ident. Nor was it less so, he imagined, that they were the sole ultimate
objects of those passions. Whatever else was either desired or avoided,
was so, according to him, upon account of its tendency to produce one
or other of those sensations. The tendency to procure pleasure ren-
dered power and riches desirable, as the contrary tendency to produce
pain made poverty and insigni¬cancy the objects of aversion. Honour
and reputation were valued, because the esteem and love of those we
live with were of the greatest consequence both to procure pleasure
and to defend us from pain. Ignominy and bad fame, on the contrary,
were to be avoided, because the hatred, contempt, and resentment of
those we lived with, destroyed all security, and necessarily exposed us
to the greatest bodily evils.

 All the pleasures and pains of the mind were, according to Epicurus,
ultimately derived from those of the body. The mind was happy when
it thought of the past pleasures of the body, and hoped for others
to come: and it was miserable when it thought of the pains which
the body had formerly endured, and dreaded the same or greater

 But the pleasures and pains of the mind, though ultimately derived
from those of the body, were vastly greater than their originals. The
body felt only the sensation of the present instant, whereas the mind
felt also the past and the future, the one by remembrance, the other
by anticipation, and consequently both suffered and enjoyed much
more. When we are under the greatest bodily pain, he observed, we
shall always ¬nd, if we attend to it, that it is not the suffering of the
present instant which chie¬‚y torments us, but either the agonizing
remembrance of the past, or the yet more horrible dread of the future.
The pain of each instant, considered by itself, and cut off from all
that goes before and all that comes after it, is a tri¬‚e, not worth the
regarding. Yet this is all which the body can ever be said to suffer.
In the same manner, when we enjoy the greatest pleasure, we shall
always ¬nd that the bodily sensation, the sensation of the present

Of systems of moral philosophy

instant, makes but a small part of our happiness, that our enjoyment
chie¬‚y arises either from the cheerful recollection of the past, or the
still more joyous anticipation of the future, and that the mind always
contributes by much the largest share of the entertainment.

µ Since our happiness and misery, therefore, depended chie¬‚y on the
mind, if this part of our nature was well disposed, if our thoughts and
opinions were as they should be, it was of little importance in what
manner our body was affected. Though under great bodily pain, we
might still enjoy a considerable share of happiness, if our reason and
judgment maintained their superiority. We might entertain ourselves
with the remembrance of past, and with the hopes of future pleasure;
we might soften the rigour of our pains, by recollecting what it was
which, even in this situation, we were under any necessity of suffering.
That this was merely the bodily sensation, the pain of the present
instant, which by itself could never be very great. That whatever
agony we suffered from the dread of its continuance, was the effect of
an opinion of the mind, which might be corrected by juster sentiments;
by considering that, if our pains were violent, they would probably
be of short duration; and that if they were of long continuance, they
would probably be moderate, and admit of many intervals of ease; and
that, at any rate, death was always at hand and within call to deliver
us, which as, according to him, it put an end to all sensation, either of
pain or pleasure, could not be regarded as an evil. When we are, said
he, death is not; and when death is, we are not; death therefore can be
nothing to us.

 If the actual sensation of positive pain was in itself so little to be feared,
that of pleasure was still less to be desired. Naturally the sensation of
pleasure was much less pungent than that of pain. If, therefore, this
last could take so very little from the happiness of a well-disposed
mind, the other could add scarce any thing to it. When the body was
free from pain and the mind from fear and anxiety, the superadded
sensation of bodily pleasure could be of very little importance; and
though it might diversify, could not properly be said to increase the
happiness of this situation.

 After Diogenes Laertius, Lives of the Philosophers, X.±µ.

The Theory of Moral Sentiments

· In ease of body, therefore, and in security or tranquillity of mind,
consisted, according to Epicurus, the most perfect state of human
nature, the most complete happiness which man was capable of en-
joying. To obtain this great end of natural desire was the sole object
of all the virtues, which, according to him, were not desirable upon
their own account, but upon account of their tendency to bring about
this situation.

 Prudence, for example, though, according to this philosophy, the
source and principle of all the virtues, was not desirable upon its own
account. That careful and laborious and circumspect state of mind,
ever watchful and ever attentive to the most distant consequences of
every action, could not be a thing pleasant or agreeable for its own
sake, but upon account of its tendency to procure the greatest goods
and to keep off the greatest evils.

 To abstain from pleasure too, to curb and restrain our natural passions
for enjoyment, which was the of¬ce of temperance, could never be
desirable for its own sake. The whole value of this virtue arose from
its utility, from its enabling us to postpone the present enjoyment for
the sake of a greater to come, or to avoid a greater pain that might
ensue from it. Temperance, in short, was nothing but prudence with
regard to pleasure.

±° To support labour, to endure pain, to be exposed to danger or to death,
the situations which fortitude would often lead us into, were surely
still less the objects of natural desire. They were chosen only to avoid
greater evils. We submitted to labour, in order to avoid the greater
shame and pain of poverty, and we exposed ourselves to danger and
to death in defence of our liberty and property, the means and in-
struments of pleasure and happiness; or in defence of our country, in
the safety of which our own was necessarily comprehended. Fortitude
enabled us to do all this cheerfully, as the best which, in our present
situation, could possibly be done, and was in reality no more than pru-
dence, good judgment, and presence of mind in properly appreciating
pain, labour, and danger, always choosing the less in order to avoid the

Of systems of moral philosophy

±± It is the same case with justice. To abstain from what is another™s was
not desirable on its own account, and it could not surely be better
for you, that I should possess what is my own, than that you should
possess it. You ought, however, to abstain from whatever belongs to
me, because by doing otherwise you will provoke the resentment and
indignation of mankind. The security and tranquillity of your mind
will be entirely destroyed. You will be ¬lled with fear and consternation
at the thought of that punishment which you will imagine that men are
at all times ready to in¬‚ict upon you, and from which no power, no art,
no concealment, will ever, in your own fancy, be suf¬cient to protect
you. That other species of justice which consists in doing proper
good of¬ces to different persons, according to the various relations of
neighbours, kinsmen, friends, benefactors, superiors, or equals, which
they may stand in to us, is recommended by the same reasons. To act
properly in all these different relations procures us the esteem and
love of those we live with; as to do otherwise excites their contempt
and hatred. By the one we naturally secure, by the other we necessarily
endanger our own ease and tranquillity, the great and ultimate objects
of all our desires. The whole virtue of justice, therefore, the most
important of all the virtues, is no more than discreet and prudent
conduct with regard to our neighbours.

± Such is the doctrine of Epicurus concerning the nature of virtue. It
may seem extraordinary that this philosopher, who is described as
a person of the most amiable manners, should never have observed,
that, whatever may be the tendency of those virtues, or of the contrary
vices, with regard to our bodily ease and security, the sentiments
which they naturally excite in others are the objects of a much more
passionate desire or aversion than all their other consequences; that to
be amiable, to be respectable, to be the proper object of esteem, is by
every well-disposed mind more valued than all the ease and security
which love, respect, and esteem can procure us; that, on the contrary,
to be odious, to be contemptible, to be the proper object of indignation,
is more dreadful than all that we can suffer in our body from hatred,
contempt, or indignation; and that consequently our desire of the one
character, and our aversion to the other, cannot arise from any regard
to the effects which either of them is likely to produce upon the body.

The Theory of Moral Sentiments

± This system is, no doubt, altogether inconsistent with that which I
have been endeavouring to establish. It is not dif¬cult, however, to
discover from what phasis, if I may say so, from what particular view
or aspect of nature, this account of things derives its probability. By
the wise contrivance of the Author of nature, virtue is upon all or-
dinary occasions, even with regard to this life, real wisdom, and the
surest and readiest means of obtaining both safety and advantage. Our
success or disappointment in our undertakings must very much de-
pend upon the good or bad opinion which is commonly entertained
of us, and upon the general disposition of those we live with, either
to assist or to oppose us. But the best, the surest, the easiest, and the
readiest way of obtaining the advantageous and of avoiding the un-
favourable judgments of others, is undoubtedly to render ourselves
the proper objects of the former and not of the latter. ˜Do you desire,™
said Socrates, ˜the reputation of a good musician? The only sure way
of obtaining it, is to become a good musician. Would you desire in the
same manner to be thought capable of serving your country either as
a general or as a statesman? The best way in this case too is really to
acquire the art and experience of war and government, and to become
really ¬t to be a general or a statesman. And in the same manner if you
would be reckoned sober, temperate, just, and equitable, the best way
of acquiring this reputation is to become sober, temperate, just, and
equitable. If you can really render yourself amiable, respectable, and
the proper object of esteem, there is no fear of your not soon acquiring
the love, the respect, and esteem of those you live with.™µ° Since the
practice of virtue, therefore, is in general so advantageous, and that of
vice so contrary to our interest, the consideration of those opposite
tendencies undoubtedly stamps an additional beauty and propriety
upon the one, and a new deformity and impropriety upon the other.
Temperance, magnanimity, justice, and bene¬cence, come thus to be
approved of, not only under their proper characters, but under the
additional character of the highest wisdom and most real prudence.
And in the same manner, the contrary vices of intemperance, pusilla-
nimity, injustice, and either malevolence or sordid sel¬shness, come to
be disapproved of, not only under their proper characters, but under
the additional character of the most short-sighted folly and weakness.

µ° This is not a quotation but a paraphrase based on Xenophon, Memorabilia, I.vii.“µ.

Of systems of moral philosophy

Epicurus appears in every virtue to have attended to this species of
propriety only. It is that which is most apt to occur to those who are
endeavouring to persuade others to regularity of conduct. When men
by their practice, and perhaps too by their maxims, manifestly show
that the natural beauty of virtue is not like to have much effect upon
them, how is it possible to move them but by representing the folly of
their conduct, and how much they themselves are in the end likely to
suffer by it?

± By running up all the different virtues too to this one species of pro-
priety, Epicurus indulged a propensity, which is natural to all men,
but which philosophers in particular are apt to cultivate with a pe-
culiar fondness, as the great means of displaying their ingenuity, the
propensity to account for all appearances from as few principles as pos-
sible. And he, no doubt, indulged this propensity still further, when
he referred all the primary objects of natural desire and aversion to
the pleasures and pains of the body. The great patron of the atomical
philosophy, who took so much pleasure in deducing all the powers
and qualities of bodies from the most obvious and familiar, the ¬gure,
motion, and arrangement of the small parts of matter, felt no doubt
a similar satisfaction, when he accounted, in the same manner, for all
the sentiments and passions of the mind from those which are most
obvious and familiar.

±µ The system of Epicurus agreed with those of Plato, Aristotle, and
Zeno, in making virtue consist in acting in the most suitable manner
to obtain the primaryi objects of natural desire. It differed from all of
them in two other respects; ¬rst, in the account which it gave of those
primary objects of natural desire; and secondly, in the account which
it gave of the excellence of virtue, or of the reason why that quality
ought to be esteemed.

± The primary objects of natural desire consisted, according to
Epicurus, in bodily pleasure and pain, and in nothing else: whereas,
according to the other three philosophers, there were many other ob-
jects, such as knowledge, such as the happiness of our relations, of our

i Prima natur¦.

The Theory of Moral Sentiments

friends, of our country, which were ultimately desirable for their own

±· Virtue too, according to Epicurus, did not deserve to be pursued for its
own sake, nor was itself one of the ultimate objects of natural appetite,
but was eligible only upon account of its tendency to prevent pain and
to procure ease and pleasure. In the opinion of the other three, on the
contrary, it was desirable, not merely as the means of procuring the
other primary objects of natural desire, but as something which was in
itself more valuable than them all. Man, they thought, being born for
action, his happiness must consist, not merely in the agreeableness of
his passive sensations, but also in the propriety of his active exertions.

Chapter III Of those systems which make virtue consist in benevolence
± The system which makes virtue consist in benevolence, though I think
not so ancient as all of those which I have already given an account of,
is, however, of very great antiquity. It seems to have been the doctrine
of the greater part of those philosophers who, about and after the age of
Augustus, called themselves Eclectics, who pretended to follow chie¬‚y
the opinions of Plato and Pythagoras, and who upon that account are
commonly known by the name of the later Platonists. µ±

 In the divine nature, according to these authors, benevolence or love
was the sole principle of action, and directed the exertion of all the
other attributes. The wisdom of the Deity was employed in ¬nding
out the means for bringing about those ends which his goodness sug-
gested, as his in¬nite power was exerted to execute them. Benevolence,
however, was still the supreme and governing attribute, to which
the others were subservient, and from which the whole excellency, or
the whole morality, if I may be allowed such an expression, of the divine
operations, was ultimately derived. The whole perfection and virtue of
the human mind consisted in some resemblance or participation of the

µ± Cf. ˜History of Ancient Logics and Metaphysics™, , the note (in EPS). Smith is most likely to
refer to middle Platonism which took its beginning in the ¬fth Academy when its head Antiochus
of Ascalon (c. ±°“ BC) broke with the sceptical tradition in the Academy. Smith would have
been familiar with the representation of Antiochus™ eclectic Platonic“Stoic ideas by the latter™s
one-time student Cicero in Academica and De ¬nibus, V.

Of systems of moral philosophy

divine perfections, and, consequently, in being ¬lled with the same
principle of benevolence and love which in¬‚uenced all the actions of
the Deity. The actions of men which ¬‚owed from this motive were
alone truly praise-worthy, or could claim any merit in the sight of the
Deity. It was by actions of charity and love only that we could imitate,
as became us, the conduct of God, that we could express our humble
and devout admiration of his in¬nite perfections, that by fostering in
our own minds the same divine principle, we could bring our own af-
fections to a greater resemblance with his holy attributes, and thereby
become more proper objects of his love and esteem; till at last we ar-
rived at that immediate converse and communication with the Deity
to which it was the great object of this philosophy to raise us.

 This system, as it was much esteemed by many ancient fathers of the
Christian church, so after the Reformation it was adopted by several
divines of the most eminent piety and learning and of the most amiable
manners; particularly, by Dr Ralph Cudworth, by Dr Henry More,
and by Mr John Smith of Cambridge.µ But of all the patrons of
this system, ancient or modern, the late Dr Hutcheson was undoubt-
edly, beyond all comparison, the most acute, the most distinct, the
most philosophical, and what is of the greatest consequence of all, the
soberest and most judicious.µ

 That virtue consists in benevolence is a notion supported by many ap-
pearances in human nature. It has been observed already, that proper
benevolence is the most graceful and agreeable of all the affections,
that it is recommended to us by a double sympathy, that as its ten-
dency is necessarily bene¬cent, it is the proper object of gratitude and
reward, and that upon all these accounts it appears to our natural sen-
timents to possess a merit superior to any other. It has been observed
too, that even the weaknesses of benevolence are not very disagree-
able to us, whereas those of every other passion are always extremely
µ See Ralph Cudworth (±±·“), True Intellectual System of the Universe (±·) and Treatise
Concerning Eternal and Immutable Morality (±·±); Henry More (±±“·), Enchiridion Ethicum
(±·); and John Smith (±±“µ), Selected Discourses (±°). Since the nineteenth century this
group, which also included Benjamin Whichcote (±°“), has been known as ˜the Cambridge
µ Concerning Hutcheson, see note  above. Cf. Corr. ° and ˜Letter to the Edinburgh Review™ ±°
(in EPS).

The Theory of Moral Sentiments

disgusting. Who does not abhor excessive malice, excessive sel¬shness,
or excessive resentment? But the most excessive indulgence even of
partial friendship is not so offensive. It is the benevolent passions only
which can exert themselves without any regard or attention to propri-
ety, and yet retain something about them which is engaging. There is
something pleasing even in mere instinctive good-will which goes on
to do good of¬ces without once re¬‚ecting whether by this conduct it is
the proper object either of blame or approbation. It is not so with the
other passions. The moment they are deserted, the moment they are
unaccompanied by the sense of propriety, they cease to be agreeable.

µ As benevolence bestows upon those actions which proceed from it, a
beauty superior to all others, so the want of it, and much more the
contrary inclination, communicates a peculiar deformity to whatever
evidences such a disposition. Pernicious actions are often punish-
able for no other reason than because they shew a want of suf¬cient
attention to the happiness of our neighbour.

 Besides all this, Dr Hutcheson j observed, that whenever in any action,
supposed to proceed from benevolent affections, some other motive
had been discovered, our sense of the merit of this action was just so
far diminished as this motive was believed to have in¬‚uenced it. If an
action, supposed to proceed from gratitude, should be discovered to
have arisen from an expectation of some new favour, or if what was
apprehended to proceed from public spirit, should be found out to have
taken its origin from the hope of a pecuniary reward, such a discovery
would entirely destroy all notion of merit or praise-worthiness in
either of these actions. Since, therefore, the mixture of any sel¬sh
motive, like that of a baser alloy, diminished or took away altogether
the merit which would otherwise have belonged to any action, it was
evident, he imagined, that virtue must consist in pure and disinterested
benevolence alone.

· When those actions, on the contrary, which are commonly supposed
to proceed from a sel¬sh motive, are discovered to have arisen from
a benevolent one, it greatly enhances our sense of their merit. If we

See Inquiry concerning Virtue, sect. ± and .

Of systems of moral philosophy

believed of any person that he endeavoured to advance his fortune
from no other view but that of doing friendly of¬ces, and of making
proper returns to his benefactors, we should only love and esteem
him the more. And this observation seemed still more to con¬rm the
conclusion, that it was benevolence only which could stamp upon any
action the character of virtue.

 Last of all, what, he imagined, was an evident proof of the justness
of this account of virtue, in all the disputes of casuists concerning the
rectitude of conduct, the public good, he observed, was the standard
to which they constantly referred; thereby universally acknowledging
that whatever tended to promote the happiness of mankind was right
and laudable and virtuous, and the contrary, wrong, blamable, and
vicious. In the late debates about passive obedience and the right
of resistance, the sole point in controversy among men of sense was,
whether universal submission would probably be attended with
greater evils than temporary insurrections when privileges were in-
vaded. Whether what, upon the whole, tended most to the happiness
of mankind, was not also morally good, was never once, he said, made
a question.µ

 Since benevolence, therefore, was the only motive which could bestow
upon any action the character of virtue, the greater the benevolence
which was evidenced by any action, the greater the praise which must
belong to it.

±° Those actions which aimed at the happiness of a great community,
as they demonstrated a more enlarged benevolence than those which
aimed only at that of a smaller system, so were they, likewise, pro-
portionally the more virtuous. The most virtuous of all affections,
therefore, was that which embraced as its object the happiness of all
intelligent beings. The least virtuous, on the contrary, of those to
which the character of virtue could in any respect belong, was that
which aimed no further than at the happiness of an individual, such
as a son, a brother, a friend.
µ Hutcheson, Inquiry, Book II, sect. III.iii. Hutcheson™s reference is probably the controversy which
George Berkeley™s Passive Obedience (±·±) had stirred up, not least in the circle of Whigs around
Robert Molesworth (±µ“±·µ) with which Hutcheson associated in Dublin in the ±·°s.

The Theory of Moral Sentiments

±± In directing all our actions to promote the greatest possible good, in
submitting all inferior affections to the desire of the general happiness
of mankind, in regarding one™s self but as one of the many, whose
prosperity was to be pursued no further than it was consistent with,
or conducive to that of the whole, consisted the perfection of virtue.

± Self-love was a principle which could never be virtuous in any degree
or in any direction. It was vicious whenever it obstructed the general
good. When it had no other effect than to make the individual take
care of his own happiness, it was merely innocent, and though it de-
served no praise, neither ought it to incur any blame. Those benevolent
actions which were performed, notwithstanding some strong motive
from self-interest, were the more virtuous upon that account. They
demonstrated the strength and vigour of the benevolent principle.

± Dr Hutchesonk was so far from allowing self-love to be in any case
a motive of virtuous actions, that even a regard to the pleasure of
self-approbation, to the comfortable applause of our own consciences,
according to him, diminished the merit of a benevolent action. This
was a sel¬sh motive, he thought, which, so far as it contributed to
any action, demonstrated the weakness of that pure and disinterested
benevolence which could alone stamp upon the conduct of man the
character of virtue. In the common judgments of mankind, however,
this regard to the approbation of our own minds is so far from being
considered as what can in any respect diminish the virtue of any action,
that it is rather looked upon as the sole motive which deserves the
appellation of virtuous.

± Such is the account given of the nature of virtue in this amiable system,
a system which has a peculiar tendency to nourish and support in the
human heart the noblest and the most agreeable of all affections, and
not only to check the injustice of self-love, but in some measure to
discourage that principle altogether, by representing it as what could
never re¬‚ect any honour upon those who were in¬‚uenced by it.

±µ As some of the other systems which I have already given an account of,
do not suf¬ciently explain from whence arises the peculiar excellency
Inquiry concerning virtue, sect.  art. ; also Illustrations on the moral sense, sect. µ last paragraph.

Of systems of moral philosophy

of the supreme virtue of bene¬cence, so this system seems to have
the contrary defect, of not suf¬ciently explaining from whence arises
our approbation of the inferior virtues of prudence, vigilance, cir-
cumspection, temperance, constancy, ¬rmness. The view and aim of
our affections, the bene¬cent and hurtful effects which they tend to
produce, are the only qualities at all attended to in this system. Their
propriety and impropriety, their suitableness and unsuitableness, to
the cause which excites them, are disregarded altogether.

± Regard to our own private happiness and interest, too, appear upon
many occasions very laudable principles of action. The habits of oe-
conomy, industry, discretion, attention, and application of thought,
are generally supposed to be cultivated from self-interested motives,
and at the same time are apprehended to be very praise-worthy qual-
ities, which deserve the esteem and approbation of every body. The
mixture of a sel¬sh motive, it is true, seems often to sully the beauty
of those actions which ought to arise from a benevolent affection. The
cause of this, however, is not that self-love can never be the motive
of a virtuous action, but that the benevolent principle appears in this
particular case to want its due degree of strength, and to be altogether
unsuitable to its object. The character, therefore, seems evidently im-
perfect, and upon the whole to deserve blame rather than praise. The
mixture of a benevolent motive in an action to which self-love alone
ought to be suf¬cient to prompt us, is not so apt indeed to diminish
our sense of its propriety, or of the virtue of the person who performs
it. We are not ready to suspect any person of being defective in self-
ishness. This is by no means the weak side of human nature, or the
failing of which we are apt to be suspicious. If we could really believe,
however, of any man, that, was it not from a regard to his family and
friends, he would not take that proper care of his health, his life, or
his fortune, to which self-preservation alone ought to be suf¬cient to
prompt him, it would undoubtedly be a failing, though one of those
amiable failings, which render a person rather the object of pity than
of contempt or hatred. It would still, however, somewhat diminish the
dignity and respectableness of his character. Carelessness and want of
oeconomy are universally disapproved of, not, however, as proceeding
from a want of benevolence, but from a want of the proper attention
to the objects of self-interest.

The Theory of Moral Sentiments

±· Though the standard by which casuists frequently determine what
is right or wrong in human conduct, be its tendency to the welfare
or disorder of society, it does not follow that a regard to the wel-
fare of society should be the sole virtuous motive of action, but only
that, in any competition, it ought to cast the balance against all other

± Benevolence may, perhaps, be the sole principle of action in the Deity,
and there are several, not improbable, arguments which tend to per-
suade us that it is so. It is not easy to conceive what other motive
an independent and all-perfect Being, who stands in need of nothing
external, and whose happiness is complete in himself, can act from.
But whatever may be the case with the Deity, so imperfect a creature
as man, the support of whose existence requires so many things exter-
nal to him, must often act from many other motives. The condition
of human nature were peculiarly hard, if those affections, which, by
the very nature of our being, ought frequently to in¬‚uence our con-
duct, could upon no occasion appear virtuous, or deserve esteem and
commendation from any body.

± Those three systems, that which places virtue in propriety, that which
places it in prudence, and that which makes it consist in benevolence,
are the principal accounts which have been given of the nature of
virtue. To one or other of them, all the other descriptions of virtue,
how different soever they may appear, are easily reducible.

° That system which places virtue in obedience to the will of the Deity,
may be counted either among those which make it consist in prudence,
or among those which make it consist in propriety. When it is asked,
why we ought to obey the will of the Deity, this question, which would
be impious and absurd in the highest degree, if asked from any doubt
that we ought to obey him, can admit but of two different answers. It
must either be said that we ought to obey the will of the Deity because
he is a Being of in¬nite power, who will reward us eternally if we do
so, and punish us eternally if we do otherwise: or it must be said,
that independent of any regard to our own happiness, or to rewards
and punishments of any kind, there is a congruity and ¬tness that a

Of systems of moral philosophy

creature should obey its creator, that a limited and imperfect being
should submit to one of in¬nite and incomprehensible perfections.
Besides one or other of these two, it is impossible to conceive that
any other answer can be given to this question. If the ¬rst answer be
the proper one, virtue consists in prudence, or in the proper pursuit
of our own ¬nal interest and happiness; since it is upon this account
that we are obliged to obey the will of the Deity. If the second answer
be the proper one, virtue must consist in propriety, since the ground
of our obligation to obedience is the suitableness or congruity of the
sentiments of humility and submission to the superiority of the object
which excites them.

± That system which places virtue in utility, coincides too with that
which makes it consist in propriety.µµ According to this system, all
those qualities of the mind which are agreeable or advantageous, ei-
ther to the person himself or to others, are approved of as virtuous,
and the contrary disapproved of as vicious. But the agreeableness or
utility of any affection depends upon the degree which it is allowed
to subsist in. Every affection is useful when it is con¬ned to a certain
degree of moderation; and every affection is disadvantageous when it
exceeds the proper bounds. According to this system therefore, virtue
consists not in any one affection, but in the proper degree of all the
affections. The only difference between it and that which I have been
endeavouring to establish, is, that it makes utility, and not sympathy, or
the correspondent affection of the spectator, the natural and original
measure of this proper degree.

Chapter IV Of licentious systems
± All those systems, which I have hitherto given an account of, suppose
that there is a real and essential distinction between vice and virtue,
whatever these qualities may consist in. There is a real and essential
difference between the propriety and impropriety of any affection,
between benevolence and any other principle of action, between real
prudence and shortsighted folly or precipitate rashness. In the main

µµ Cf. above, IV..“µ.

The Theory of Moral Sentiments

too all of them contribute to encourage the praise-worthy, and to
discourage the blamable disposition.

 It may be true, perhaps, of some of them, that they tend, in some
measure, to break the balance of the affections, and to give the mind a
particular bias to some principles of action, beyond the proportion that
is due to them. The ancient systems, which place virtue in propriety,
seem chie¬‚y to recommend the great, the awful, and the respectable
virtues, the virtues of self-government and self-command; fortitude,
magnanimity, independency upon fortune, the contempt of all out-
ward accidents, of pain, poverty, exile, and death. It is in these great
exertions that the noblest propriety of conduct is displayed. The soft,
the amiable, the gentle virtues, all the virtues of indulgent humanity
are, in comparison, but little insisted upon, and seem, on the con-
trary, by the Stoics in particular, to have been often regarded as mere
weaknesses which it behoved a wise man not to harbour in his breast.

 The benevolent system, on the other hand, while it fosters and en-
courages all those milder virtues in the highest degree, seems entirely
to neglect the more awful and respectable qualities of the mind. It even
denies them the appellation of virtues. It calls them moral abilities, and
treats them as qualities which do not deserve the same sort of esteem
and approbation, that is due to what is properly denominated virtue.
All those principles of action which aim only at our own interest, it
treats, if that be possible, still worse. So far from having any merit
of their own, they diminish, it pretends, the merit of benevolence,
when they co-operate with it: and prudence, it is asserted, when em-
ployed only in promoting private interest, can never even be imagined
a virtue.

 That system, again, which makes virtue consist in prudence only,
while it gives the highest encouragement to the habits of caution, vig-
ilance, sobriety, and judicious moderation, seems to degrade equally
both the amiable and respectable virtues, and to strip the former of all
their beauty, and the latter of all their grandeur.

µ But notwithstanding these defects, the general tendency of each of
those three systems is to encourage the best and most laudable habits

Of systems of moral philosophy

of the human mind: and it were well for society, if, either mankind
in general, or even those few who pretend to live according to any
philosophical rule, were to regulate their conduct by the precepts of
any one of them. We may learn from each of them something that
is both valuable and peculiar. If it was possible, by precept and ex-
hortation, to inspire the mind with fortitude and magnanimity, the
ancient systems of propriety would seem suf¬cient to do this. Or if
it was possible, by the same means, to soften it into humanity, and
to awaken the affections of kindness and general love towards those
we live with, some of the pictures with which the benevolent system
presents us, might seem capable of producing this effect. We may
learn from the system of Epicurus, though undoubtedly the most im-
perfect of all the three, how much the practice of both the amiable
and respectable virtues is conducive to our own interest, to our own
ease and safety and quiet even in this life. As Epicurus placed hap-
piness in the attainment of ease and security, he exerted himself in a
particular manner to show that virtue was, not merely the best and
the surest, but the only means of acquiring those invaluable posses-
sions. The good effects of virtue, upon our inward tranquillity and
peace of mind, are what other philosophers have chie¬‚y celebrated.
Epicurus, without neglecting this topic, has chie¬‚y insisted upon the
in¬‚uence of that amiable quality on our outward prosperity and safety.
It was upon this account that his writings were so much studied in
the ancient world by men of all different philosophical parties. It
is from him that Cicero, the great enemy of the Epicurean system,
borrows his most agreeable proofs that virtue alone is suf¬cient to
secure happiness. Seneca, though a Stoic, the sect most opposite to
that of Epicurus, yet quotes this philosopher more frequently than any

 There is, however, another system which seems to take away alto-
gether the distinction between vice and virtue, and of which the ten-
dency is, upon that account, wholly pernicious: I mean the system of
Dr Mandeville. Though the notions of this author are in almost every
respect erroneous, there are, however, some appearances in human
nature, which, when viewed in a certain manner, seem at ¬rst sight to
favour them. These, described and exaggerated by the lively and hu-
morous, though coarse and rustic eloquence of Dr Mandeville, have

The Theory of Moral Sentiments

thrown upon his doctrines an air of truth and probability which is
very apt to impose upon the unskilful.µ

· Dr Mandevilleµ· considers whatever is done from a sense of propriety,
from a regard to what is commendable and praise-worthy, as being
done from a love of praise and commendation, or as he calls it from
vanity. Man, he observes, is naturally much more interested in his own
happiness than in that of others, and it is impossible that in his heart
he can ever really prefer their prosperity to his own. Whenever he
appears to do so, we may be assured that he imposes upon us, and that
he is then acting from the same sel¬sh motives as at all other times.
Among his other sel¬sh passions, vanity is one of the strongest, and
he is always easily ¬‚attered and greatly delighted with the applauses of
those about him. When he appears to sacri¬ce his own interest to that
of his companions, he knows that this conduct will be highly agreeable
to their self-love, and that they will not fail to express their satisfaction
by bestowing upon him the most extravagant praises. The pleasure
which he expects from this, over-balances, in his opinion, the interest
which he abandons in order to procure it. His conduct, therefore, upon
this occasion, is in reality just as sel¬sh, and arises from just as mean
a motive as upon any other. He is ¬‚attered, however, and he ¬‚atters
himself, with the belief that it is entirely disinterested; since, unless
this was supposed, it would not seem to merit any commendation
either in his own eyes or in those of others. All public spirit, therefore,
all preference of public to private interest, is, according to him, a mere
cheat and imposition upon mankind; and that human virtue which is
so much boasted of, and which is the occasion of so much emulation
among men, is the mere offspring of ¬‚attery begot upon pride.µ

 Whether the most generous and public-spirited actions may not, in
some sense, be regarded as proceeding from self-love, I shall not at
µ In the ¬rst ¬ve editions of the work Smith invoked Francois, duc de La Rochefoucauld (±±“
°), author of R´¬‚exions ou Sentences et maximes morales (±µ), as a precursor of Mandeville.
He apparently dropped his criticism after becoming acquainted with the great-grandson, Louis-
Alexandre, duc de La Rochefoucauld (±·“). See Corr. “, “, “·.
µ· Bernard de Mandeville (±·°“±·), The Fable of the Bees, or Private Vices, Public Bene¬ts (±·±,
±·), ed. F. B. Kaye,  vols. Oxford ±. See also Smith™s discussion in ˜Letter to the Edinburgh
Review™, ±°“± (in EPS).
µ Mandeville, Enquiry into the Origin of Moral Virtue; in Fable of the Bees, ed. Kaye, i.µ±.

Of systems of moral philosophy

present examine. The decision of this question is not, I apprehend,
of any importance towards establishing the reality of virtue, since
self-love may frequently be a virtuous motive of action. I shall only
endeavour to show that the desire of doing what is honourable and
noble, of rendering ourselves the proper objects of esteem and appro-
bation, cannot with any propriety be called vanity. Even the love of
well-grounded fame and reputation, the desire of acquiring esteem
by what is really estimable, does not deserve that name. The ¬rst is
the love of virtue, the noblest and the best passion in human nature.
The second is the love of true glory, a passion inferior no doubt to
the former, but which in dignity appears to come immediately after it.
He is guilty of vanity who desires praise for qualities which are either
not praise-worthy in any degree, or not in that degree in which he ex-
pects to be praised for them; who sets his character upon the frivolous
ornaments of dress and equipage, or upon the equally frivolous accom-
plishments of ordinary behaviour. He is guilty of vanity who desires
praise for what indeed very well deserves it, but what he perfectly
knows does not belong to him. The empty coxcomb who gives himself
airs of importance which he has no title to, the silly liar who assumes
the merit of adventures which never happened, the foolish plagiary
who gives himself out for the author of what he has no pretensions
to, are properly accused of this passion. He too is said to be guilty of
vanity who is not contented with the silent sentiments of esteem and
approbation, who seems to be fonder of their noisy expressions and
acclamations than of the sentiments themselves, who is never satis¬ed
but when his own praises are ringing in his ears, and who solicits with
the most anxious importunity all external marks of respect, is fond
of titles, of compliments, of being visited, of being attended, of being
taken notice of in public places with the appearance of deference and
attendance. This frivolous passion is altogether different from either
of the two former, and is the passion of the lowest and the least of
mankind, as they are of the noblest and the greatest.

 But though these three passions, the desire of rendering ourselves the
proper objects of honour and esteem; or of becoming what is hon-
ourable and estimable; the desire of acquiring honour and esteem by
really deserving those sentiments; and the frivolous desire of praise
at any rate, are widely different; though the two former are always

The Theory of Moral Sentiments

approved of, while the latter never fails to be despised; there is, how-
ever, a certain remote af¬nity among them, which, exaggerated by the
humorous and diverting eloquence of this lively author, has enabled
him to impose upon his readers. There is an af¬nity between vanity
and the love of true glory, as both these passions aim at acquiring
esteem and approbation. But they are different in this, that the one
is a just, reasonable, and equitable passion, while the other is unjust,
absurd, and ridiculous. The man who desires esteem for what is re-
ally estimable, desires nothing but what he is justly entitled to, and
what cannot be refused him without some sort of injury. He, on the
contrary, who desires it upon any other terms, demands what he has
no just claim to. The ¬rst is easily satis¬ed, is not apt to be jealous or
suspicious that we do not esteem him enough, and is seldom solicitous
about receiving many external marks of our regard. The other, on the
contrary, is never to be satis¬ed, is full of jealousy and suspicion that
we do not esteem him so much as he desires, because he has some secret
consciousness that he desires more than he deserves. The least neglect
of ceremony, he considers as a mortal affront, and as an expression
of the most determined contempt. He is restless and impatient, and
perpetually afraid that we have lost all respect for him, and is upon
this account always anxious to obtain new expressions of esteem, and
cannot be kept in temper but by continual attendance and adulation.

±° There is an af¬nity too between the desire of becoming what is hon-
ourable and estimable, and the desire of honour and esteem, between
the love of virtue and the love of true glory. They resemble one an-
other not only in this respect, that both aim at really being what is
honourable and noble, but even in that respect in which the love of
true glory resembles what is properly called vanity, some reference
to the sentiments of others. The man of the greatest magnanimity,
who desires virtue for its own sake, and is most indifferent about
what actually are the opinions of mankind with regard to him, is still,
however, delighted with the thoughts of what they should be, with
the consciousness that though he may neither be honoured nor ap-
plauded, he is still the proper object of honour and applause, and that
if mankind were cool and candid and consistent with themselves, and
properly informed of the motives and circumstances of his conduct,
they would not fail to honour and applaud him. Though he despises

Of systems of moral philosophy

the opinions which are actually entertained of him, he has the highest
value for those which ought to be entertained of him. That he might
think himself worthy of those honourable sentiments, and, whatever
was the idea which other men might conceive of his character, that
when he should put himself in their situation, and consider, not what
was, but what ought to be their opinion, he should always have the
highest idea of it himself, was the great and exalted motive of his
conduct. As even in the love of virtue, therefore, there is still some
reference, though not to what is, yet to what in reason and propriety
ought to be, the opinion of others, there is even in this respect some
af¬nity between it, and the love of true glory. There is, however, at
the same time, a very great difference between them. The man who
acts solely from a regard to what is right and ¬t to be done, from a
regard to what is the proper object of esteem and approbation, though
these sentiments should never be bestowed upon him, acts from the
most sublime and godlike motive which human nature is even capable
of conceiving. The man, on the other hand, who while he desires to
merit approbation is at the same time anxious to obtain it, though he
too is laudable in the main, yet his motives have a greater mixture of
human in¬rmity. He is in danger of being morti¬ed by the ignorance
and injustice of mankind, and his happiness is exposed to the envy of
his rivals and the folly of the public. The happiness of the other, on
the contrary, is altogether secure and independent of fortune, and of
the caprice of those he lives with. The contempt and hatred which
may be thrown upon him by the ignorance of mankind, he considers
as not belonging to him, and is not at all morti¬ed by it. Mankind
despise and hate him from a false notion of his character and conduct.
If they knew him better, they would esteem and love him. It is not him
whom, properly speaking, they hate and despise, but another person
whom they mistake him to be. Our friend, whom we should meet
at a masquerade in the garb of our enemy, would be more diverted
than morti¬ed, if under that disguise we should vent our indignation
against him. Such are the sentiments of a man of real magnanimity,
when exposed to unjust censure. It seldom happens, however, that
human nature arrives at this degree of ¬rmness. Though none but the


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