. 12
( 13)


weakest and most worthless of mankind are much delighted with false
glory, yet, by a strange inconsistency, false ignominy is often capable
of mortifying those who appear the most resolute and determined.

The Theory of Moral Sentiments

±± Dr Mandeville is not satis¬ed with representing the frivolous motive of
vanity, as the source of all those actions which are commonly accounted
virtuous. He endeavours to point out the imperfection of human virtue
in many other respects. In every case, he pretends, it falls short of that
complete self-denial which it pretends to, and, instead of a conquest,
is commonly no more than a concealed indulgence of our passions.
Wherever our reserve with regard to pleasure falls short of the most
ascetic abstinence, he treats it as gross luxury and sensuality. Every
thing, according to him, is luxury which exceeds what is absolutely
necessary for the support of human nature, so that there is vice even in
the use of a clean shirt, or of a convenient habitation. The indulgence
of the inclination to sex, in the most lawful union, he considers as the
same sensuality with the most hurtful grati¬cation of that passion, and
derides that temperance and that chastity which can be practiced at so
cheap a rate. The ingenious sophistry of his reasoning, is here, as upon
many other occasions, covered by the ambiguity of language. There are
some of our passions which have no other names except those which
mark the disagreeable and offensive degree. The spectator is more apt
to take notice of them in this degree than in any other. When they
shock his own sentiments, when they give him some sort of antipathy
and uneasiness, he is necessarily obliged to attend to them, and is
from thence naturally led to give them a name. When they fall in with
the natural state of his own mind, he is very apt to overlook them
altogether, and either gives them no name at all, or, if he give them
any, it is one which marks rather the subjection and restraint of the
passion, than the degree which it still is allowed to subsist in, after it is
so subjected and restrained. Thus the common namesl of the love of
pleasure, and of the love of sex, denote a vicious and offensive degree
of those passions. The words temperance and chastity, on the other
hand, seem to mark rather the restraint and subjection which they are
kept under, than the degree which they are still allowed to subsist in.
When he can show, therefore, that they still subsist in some degree,
he imagines, he has entirely demolished the reality of the virtues of
temperance and chastity, and shown them to be mere impositions upon
the inattention and simplicity of mankind. Those virtues, however, do
not require an entire insensibility to the objects of the passions which

l Luxury and lust.

Of systems of moral philosophy

they mean to govern. They only aim at restraining the violence of
those passions so far as not to hurt the individual, and neither disturb
nor offend the society.

± It is the great fallacy of Dr Mandeville™s bookm to represent every
passion as wholly vicious, which is so in any degree and in any di-
rection. It is thus that he treats every thing as vanity which has any
reference, either to what are, or to what ought to be the sentiments
of others: and it is by means of this sophistry, that he establishes his
favourite conclusion, that private vices are public bene¬ts. If the love
of magni¬cence, a taste for the elegant arts and improvements of hu-
man life, for whatever is agreeable in dress, furniture, or equipage, for
architecture, statuary, painting, and music, is to be regarded as lux-
ury, sensuality, and ostentation, even in those whose situation allows,
without any inconveniency, the indulgence of those passions, it is cer-
tain that luxury, sensuality, and ostentation are public bene¬ts: since
without the qualities upon which he thinks proper to bestow such
opprobrious names, the arts of re¬nement could never ¬nd encour-
agement, and must languish for want of employment. Some popular
ascetic doctrines which had been current before his time, and which
placed virtue in the entire extirpation and annihilation of all our pas-
sions, were the real foundation of this licentious system. It was easy
for Dr Mandeville to prove, ¬rst, that this entire conquest never actu-
ally took place among men; and secondly, that, if it was to take place
universally, it would be pernicious to society, by putting an end to
all industry and commerce, and in a manner to the whole business
of human life. By the ¬rst of these propositions he seemed to prove
that there was no real virtue, and that what pretended to be such, was
a mere cheat and imposition upon mankind; and by the second, that
private vices were public bene¬ts, since without them no society could
prosper or ¬‚ourish.

± Such is the system of Dr Mandeville, which once made so much
noise in the world, and which, though, perhaps, it never gave oc-
casion to more vice than what would have been without it, at least
taught that vice, which arose from other causes, to appear with more

m Fable of the Bees.

The Theory of Moral Sentiments

effrontery, and to avow the corruption of its motives with a pro¬‚igate
audaciousness which had never been heard of before.

± But how destructive soever this system may appear, it could never
have imposed upon so great a number of persons, nor have occasioned
so general an alarm among those who are the friends of better princi-
ples, had it not in some respects bordered upon the truth. A system
of natural philosophy may appear very plausible, and be for a long
time very generally received in the world, and yet have no foundation
in nature, nor any sort of resemblance to the truth. The vortices of
Des Cartes were regarded by a very ingenious nation, for near a cen-
tury together, as a most satisfactory account of the revolutions of the
heavenly bodies. Yet it has been demonstrated, to the conviction of all
mankind, that these pretended causes of those wonderful effects, not
only do not actually exist, but are utterly impossible, and if they did
exist, could produce no such effects as are ascribed to them.µ But it is
otherwise with systems of moral philosophy, and an author who pre-
tends to account for the origin of our moral sentiments, cannot deceive
us so grossly, nor depart so very far from all resemblance to the truth.
When a traveller gives an account of some distant country, he may
impose upon our credulity the most groundless and absurd ¬ctions as
the most certain matters of fact. But when a person pretends to inform
us of what passes in our neighbourhood, and of the affairs of the very
parish which we live in, though here too, if we are so careless as not to
examine things with our own eyes, he may deceive us in many respects,
yet the greatest falsehoods which he imposes upon us must bear some
resemblance to the truth, and must even have a considerable mixture
of truth in them. An author who treats of natural philosophy, and
pretends to assign the causes of the great ph¦nomena of the universe,
pretends to give an account of the affairs of a very distant country,
concerning which he may tell us what he pleases, and as long as his
narration keeps within the bounds of seeming possibility, he need not
despair of gaining our belief. But when he proposes to explain the
origin of our desires and affections, of our sentiments of approbation
and disapprobation, he pretends to give an account, not only of the

µ Cf. ˜History of Astronomy™, IV.±“ (in EPS). Descartes developed his vortex theory of planetary
motion in the Principia philosophiae (±), part .

Of systems of moral philosophy

affairs of the very parish that we live in, but of our own domestic con-
cerns. Though here too, like indolent masters who put their trust in
a steward who deceives them, we are very liable to be imposed upon,
yet we are incapable of passing any account which does not preserve
some little regard to the truth. Some of the articles, at least, must
be just, and even those which are most overcharged must have had
some foundation, otherwise the fraud would be detected even by that
careless inspection which we are disposed to give. The author who
should assign, as the cause of any natural sentiment, some principle
which neither had any connexion with it, nor resembled any other
principle which had some such connexion, would appear absurd and
ridiculous to the most injudicious and unexperienced reader.

Section III Of the different systems which have been
formed concerning the principle of approbation
± After the inquiry concerning the nature of virtue, the next question
of importance in Moral Philosophy, is concerning the principle of ap-
probation, concerning the power or faculty of the mind which renders
certain characters agreeable or disagreeable to us, makes us prefer one
tenour of conduct to another, denominate the one right and the other
wrong, and consider the one as the object of approbation, honour, and
reward; the other as that of blame, censure, and punishment.

 Three different accounts have been given of this principle of approba-
tion. According to some, we approve and disapprove both of our own
actions and of those of others, from self-love only, or from some view
of their tendency to our own happiness or disadvantage: according to
others, reason, the same faculty by which we distinguish between truth
and falsehood, enables us to distinguish between what is ¬t and un¬t
both in actions and affections: according to others this distinction is al-
together the effect of immediate sentiment and feeling, and arises from
the satisfaction or disgust with which the view of certain actions or
affections inspires us. Self-love, reason, and sentiment, therefore, are
the three different sources which have been assigned for the principle
of approbation.

The Theory of Moral Sentiments

 Before I proceed to give an account of those different systems, I must
observe, that the determination of this second question, though of
the greatest importance in speculation, is of none in practice. The
question concerning the nature of virtue necessarily has some in¬‚uence
upon our notions of right and wrong in many particular cases. That
concerning the principle of approbation can possibly have no such
effect. To examine from what contrivance or mechanism within, those
different notions or sentiments arise, is a mere matter of philosophical

Chapter I Of those systems which deduce the principle
of approbation from self-love
± Those who account for the principle of approbation from self-love, do
not all account for it in the same manner, and there is a good deal of
confusion and inaccuracy in all their different systems. According to
Mr Hobbes, and many of his followers,n man is driven to take refuge in
society, not by any natural love which he bears to his own kind, but be-
cause without the assistance of others he is incapable of subsisting with
ease or safety.° Society, upon this account, becomes necessary to him,
and whatever tends to its support and welfare, he considers as having
a remote tendency to his own interest; and, on the contrary, whatever
is likely to disturb or destroy it, he regards as in some measure hurt-
ful or pernicious to himself. Virtue is the great support, and vice the
great disturber of human society. The former, therefore, is agreeable,
and the latter offensive to every man; as from the one he foresees
the prosperity, and from the other the ruin and disorder of what is
so necessary for the comfort and security of his existence.

 That the tendency of virtue to promote, and of vice to disturb the or-
der of society, when we consider it coolly and philosophically, re¬‚ects
a very great beauty upon the one, and a very great deformity upon
the other, cannot, as I have observed upon a former occasion,± be
called in question. Human society, when we contemplate it in a certain

n Puffendorff, Mandeville.
° Thomas Hobbes (±µ“±·) and Samuel von Pufendorf (±“).
± IV..±“ above.

Of systems of moral philosophy

abstract and philosophical light, appears like a great, an immense ma-
chine, whose regular and harmonious movements produce a thousand
agreeable effects. As in any other beautiful and noble machine that was
the production of human art, whatever tended to render its movements
more smooth and easy, would derive a beauty from this effect, and, on
the contrary, whatever tended to obstruct them would displease upon
that account: so virtue, which is, as it were, the ¬ne polish to the wheels
of society, necessarily pleases; while vice, like the vile rust, which makes
them jar and grate upon one another, is as necessarily offensive. This
account, therefore, of the origin of approbation and disapprobation, so
far as it derives them from a regard to the order of society, runs into that
principle which gives beauty to utility, and which I have explained upon
a former occasion; and it is from thence that this system derives all
that appearance of probability which it possesses. When those authors
describe the innumerable advantages of a cultivated and social, above
a savage and solitary life; when they expatiate upon the necessity of
virtue and good order for the maintenance of the one, and demonstrate
how infallibly the prevalence of vice and disobedience to the laws tend
to bring back the other, the reader is charmed with the novelty and
grandeur of those views which they open to him: he sees plainly a new
beauty in virtue, and a new deformity in vice, which he had never taken
notice of before, and is commonly so delighted with the discovery, that
he seldom takes time to re¬‚ect, that this political view, having never
occurred to him in his life before, cannot possibly be the ground of
that approbation and disapprobation with which he has always been
accustomed to consider those different qualities.

 When those authors, on the other hand, deduce from self-love the inter-
est which we take in the welfare of society, and the esteem which upon
that account we bestow upon virtue, they do not mean, that when we
in this age applaud the virtue of Cato, and detest the villany of Catiline,
our sentiments are in¬‚uenced by the notion of any bene¬t we receive
from the one, or of any detriment we suffer from the other. It was not be-
cause the prosperity or subversion of society, in those remote ages and
nations, was apprehended to have any in¬‚uence upon our happiness
or misery in the present times; that according to those philosophers,

 IV.±..

The Theory of Moral Sentiments

we esteemed the virtuous, and blamed the disorderly character. They
never imagined that our sentiments were in¬‚uenced by any bene¬t or
damage which we supposed actually to redound to us, from either; but
by that which might have redounded to us, had we lived in those distant
ages and countries; or by that which might still redound to us, if in our
own times we should meet with characters of the same kind. The idea,
in short, which those authors were groping about, but which they were
never able to unfold distinctly, was that indirect sympathy which we
feel with the gratitude or resentment of those who received the bene¬t
or suffered the damage resulting from such opposite characters: and it
was this which they were indistinctly pointing at, when they said, that it
was not the thought of what we had gained or suffered which prompted
our applause or indignation, but the conception or imagination of what
we might gain or suffer if we were to act in society with such associates.

 Sympathy, however, cannot, in any sense, be regarded as a sel¬sh prin-
ciple. When I sympathize with your sorrow or your indignation, it may
be pretended, indeed, that my emotion is founded in self-love, because
it arises from bringing your case home to myself, from putting myself in
your situation, and thence conceiving what I should feel in the like cir-
cumstances. But though sympathy is very properly said to arise from an
imaginary change of situations with the person principally concerned,
yet this imaginary change is not supposed to happen to me in my own
person and character, but in that of the person with whom I sympathize.
When I condole with you for the loss of your only son, in order to enter
into your grief I do not consider what I, a person of such a character
and profession, should suffer, if I had a son, and if that son was unfor-
tunately to die: but I consider what I should suffer if I was really you,
and I not only change circumstances with you, but I change persons
and characters. My grief, therefore, is entirely upon your account, and
not in the least upon my own. It is not, therefore, in the least sel¬sh.
How can that be regarded as a sel¬sh passion, which does not arise even
from the imagination of any thing that has befallen, or that relates to
myself, in my own proper person and character, but which is entirely
occupied about what relates to you? A man may sympathize with a
woman in child-bed; though it is impossible that he should conceive
himself as suffering her pains in his own proper person and charac-
ter. That whole account of human nature, however, which deduces all

Of systems of moral philosophy

sentiments and affections from self-love, which has made so much noise
in the world, but which, so far as I know, has never yet been fully and
distinctly explained, seems to me to have arisen from some confused
misapprehension of the system of sympathy.

Chapter II Of those systems which make reason
the principle of approbation
± It is well known to have been the doctrine of Mr Hobbes, that a state
of nature is a state of war; and that antecedent to the institution of
civil government there could be no safe or peaceable society among
men. To preserve society, therefore, according to him, was to sup-
port civil government, and to destroy civil government was the same
thing as to put an end to society. But the existence of civil government
depends upon the obedience that is paid to the supreme magistrate.
The moment he loses his authority, all government is at an end. As
self-preservation, therefore, teaches men to applaud whatever tends to
promote the welfare of society, and to blame whatever is likely to hurt
it; so the same principle, if they would think and speak consistently,
ought to teach them to applaud upon all occasions obedience to the civil
magistrate, and to blame all disobedience and rebellion. The very ideas
of laudable and blamable, ought to be the same with those of obedience
and disobedience. The laws of the civil magistrate, therefore, ought to
be regarded as the sole ultimate standards of what was just and unjust,
of what was right and wrong.

 It was the avowed intention of Mr Hobbes, by propagating these no-
tions, to subject the consciences of men immediately to the civil, and
not to the ecclesiastical powers, whose turbulence and ambition, he had
been taught, by the example of his own times, to regard as the principal
source of the disorders of society. His doctrine, upon this account, was
peculiarly offensive to theologians, who accordingly did not fail to vent
their indignation against him with great asperity and bitterness. It was
likewise offensive to all sound moralists, as it supposed that there was
no natural distinction between right and wrong, that these were muta-
ble and changeable, and depended upon the mere arbitrary will of the

 Hobbes, Leviathan, chs. ±“±·.

The Theory of Moral Sentiments

civil magistrate. This account of things, therefore, was attacked from
all quarters, and by all sorts of weapons, by sober reason as well as by
furious declamation.

 In order to confute so odious a doctrine, it was necessary to prove,
that antecedent to all law or positive institution, the mind was naturally
endowed with a faculty, by which it distinguished in certain actions and
affections, the qualities of right, laudable, and virtuous, and in others
those of wrong, blamable, and vicious.

 Law, it was justly observed by Dr Cudworth,o could not be the original
source of those distinctions; since upon the supposition of such a law,
it must either be right to obey it, and wrong to disobey it, or indifferent
whether we obeyed it, or disobeyed it. That law which it was indifferent
whether we obeyed or disobeyed, could not, it was evident, be the
source of those distinctions; neither could that which it was right to
obey and wrong to disobey, since even this still supposed the antecedent
notions or ideas of right and wrong, and that obedience to the law was
conformable to the idea of right, and disobedience to that of wrong.

µ Since the mind, therefore, had a notion of those distinctions antecedent
to all law, it seemed necessarily to follow, that it derived this notion from
reason, which pointed out the difference between right and wrong, in
the same manner in which it did that between truth and falsehood: and
this conclusion, which, though true in some respects, is rather hasty in
others, was more easily received at a time when the abstract science of
human nature was but in its infancy, and before the distinct of¬ces and
powers of the different faculties of the human mind had been carefully
examined and distinguished from one another. When this controversy
with Mr Hobbes was carried on with the greatest warmth and keen-
ness, no other faculty had been thought of from which any such ideas
could possibly be supposed to arise. It became at this time, therefore,
the popular doctrine, that the essence of virtue and vice did not consist
in the conformity or disagreement of human actions with the law of a
superior, but in their conformity or disagreement with reason, which

o Immutable Morality, I.i.
 See Cudworth, Treatise concerning Eternal and Immutable Morality, ±.ii.“.

Of systems of moral philosophy

was thus considered as the original source and principle of approbation
and disapprobation.

 That virtue consists in conformity to reason, is true in some respects,
and this faculty may very justly be considered as, in some sense, the
source and principle of approbation and disapprobation, and of all
solid judgments concerning right and wrong. It is by reason that we
discover those general rules of justice by which we ought to regulate
our actions: and it is by the same faculty that we form those more
vague and indeterminate ideas of what is prudent, of what is decent,
of what is generous or noble, which we carry constantly about with us,
and according to which we endeavour, as well as we can, to model the
tenor of our conduct. The general maxims of morality are formed, like
all other general maxims, from experience and induction. We observe
in a great variety of particular cases what pleases or displeases our
moral faculties, what these approve or disapprove of, and, by induction
from this experience, we establish those general rules. But induction
is always regarded as one of the operations of reason. From reason,
therefore, we are very properly said to derive all those general maxims
and ideas. It is by these, however, that we regulate the greater part of our
moral judgments, which would be extremely uncertain and precarious
if they depended altogether upon what is liable to so many variations as
immediate sentiment and feeling, which the different states of health
and humour are capable of altering so essentially. As our most solid
judgments, therefore, with regard to right and wrong, are regulated by
maxims and ideas derived from an induction of reason, virtue may very
properly be said to consist in a conformity to reason, and so far this
faculty may be considered as the source and principle of approbation
and disapprobation.

· But though reason is undoubtedly the source of the general rules of
morality, and of all the moral judgments which we form by means of
them; it is altogether absurd and unintelligible to suppose that the ¬rst
perceptions of right and wrong can be derived from reason, even in
those particular cases upon the experience of which the general rules
are formed. These ¬rst perceptions, as well as all other experiments
upon which any general rules are founded, cannot be the object of
reason, but of immediate sense and feeling. It is by ¬nding in a vast

The Theory of Moral Sentiments

variety of instances that one tenor of conduct constantly pleases in a
certain manner,µ and that another as constantly displeases the mind,
that we form the general rules of morality. But reason cannot render
any particular object either agreeable or disagreeable to the mind for its
own sake. Reason may show that this object is the means of obtaining
some other which is naturally either pleasing or displeasing, and in this
manner may render it either agreeable or disagreeable for the sake of
something else. But nothing can be agreeable or disagreeable for its
own sake, which is not rendered such by immediate sense and feeling.
If virtue, therefore, in every particular instance, necessarily pleases for
its own sake, and if vice as certainly displeases the mind, it cannot
be reason, but immediate sense and feeling, which, in this manner,
reconciles us to the one, and alienates us from the other.

 Pleasure and pain are the great objects of desire and aversion: but these
are distinguished not by reason, but by immediate sense and feeling.
If virtue, therefore, be desirable for its own sake, and if vice be, in the
same manner, the object of aversion, it cannot be reason which originally
distinguishes those different qualities, but immediate sense and feeling.

 As reason, however, in a certain sense, may justly be considered as the
principle of approbation and disapprobation, these sentiments were,
through inattention, long regarded as originally ¬‚owing from the oper-
ations of this faculty. Dr Hutcheson had the merit of being the ¬rst who
distinguished with any degree of precision in what respect all moral dis-
tinctions may be said to arise from reason, and in what respect they are
founded upon immediate sense and feeling. In his illustrations upon
the moral sense he has explained this so fully, and, in my opinion, so
unanswerably, that, if any controversy is still kept up about this subject,
I can impute it to nothing, but either to inattention to what that gen-
tleman has written, or to a superstitious attachment to certain forms of
expression, a weakness not very uncommon among the learned, espe-
cially in subjects so deeply interesting as the present, in which a man of
virtue is often loath to abandon, even the propriety of a single phrase
which he has been accustomed to.
µ Cf. Hume, Treatise of Human Nature, III.ii.µ.
 Hutcheson, An Essay on the Nature and Conduct of the Passions and Affections. With Illustrations on
the Moral Sense (±·), I“IV.

Of systems of moral philosophy

Chapter III Of those systems which make sentiment
the principle of approbation
± Those systems which make sentiment the principle of approbation
may be divided into two different classes.

 I According to some, the principle of approbation is founded upon a
sentiment of a peculiar nature, upon a particular power of perception
exerted by the mind at the view of certain actions or affections; some of
which affecting this faculty in an agreeable and others in a disagreeable
manner, the former are stamped with the characters of right, laudable,
and virtuous; the latter with those of wrong, blamable, and vicious.
This sentiment being of a peculiar nature distinct from every other, and
the effect of a particular power of perception, they give it a particular
name, and call it a moral sense.

 II According to others, in order to account for the principle of approba-
tion, there is no occasion for supposing any new power of perception
which had never been heard of before: Nature, they imagine, acts here,
as in all other cases, with the strictest oeconomy, and produces a mul-
titude of effects from one and the same cause; and sympathy, a power
which has always been taken notice of, and with which the mind is
manifestly endowed, is, they think, suf¬cient to account for all the
effects ascribed to this peculiar faculty.

 I Dr Hutcheson p had been at great pains to prove that the principle of
approbation was not founded on self-love. He had demonstrated too
that it could not arise from any operation of reason. Nothing remained,
he thought, but to suppose it a faculty of a peculiar kind, with which
Nature had endowed the human mind, in order to produce this one
particular and important effect. When self-love and reason were both
excluded, it did not occur to him that there was any other known
faculty of the mind which could in any respect answer this purpose.

µ This new power of perception he called a moral sense, and supposed
it to be somewhat analogous to the external senses. As the bodies
around us, by affecting these in a certain manner, appear to possess
p Inquiry concerning Virtue.

The Theory of Moral Sentiments

the different qualities of sound, taste, odour, colour; so the various
affections of the human mind, by touching this particular faculty in
a certain manner, appear to possess the different qualities of amiable
and odious, of virtuous and vicious, of right and wrong.

 The various senses or powers of perception,q from which the human
mind derives all its simple ideas, were, according to this system, of two
different kinds, of which the one were called the direct or antecedent,
the other, the re¬‚ex or consequent senses. · The direct senses were
those faculties from which the mind derived the perception of such
species of things as did not presuppose the antecedent perception of
any other. Thus sounds and colours were objects of the direct senses.
To hear a sound or to see a colour does not presuppose the antecedent
perception of any other quality or object. The re¬‚ex or consequent
senses, on the other hand, were those faculties from which the mind
derived the perception of such species of things as presupposed the
antecedent perception of some other. Thus harmony and beauty were
objects of the re¬‚ex senses. In order to perceive the harmony of a
sound, or the beauty of a colour, we must ¬rst perceive the sound or the
colour. The moral sense was considered as a faculty of this kind. That
faculty, which Mr. Locke calls re¬‚ection, and from which he derived
the simple ideas of the different passions and emotions of the human
mind, was, according to Dr Hutcheson, a direct internal sense. That
faculty again by which we perceived the beauty or deformity, the virtue
or vice of those different passions and emotions, was a re¬‚ex, internal

· Dr Hutcheson endeavoured still further to support this doctrine, by
shewing that it was agreeable to the analogy of nature, and that the
mind was endowed with a variety of other re¬‚ex senses exactly similar
to the moral sense; such as a sense of beauty and deformity in external

q Treatise of the Passions.
· While Smith is right that Hutcheson presents these ideas in the Essay (e.g. I, i), the terminology
(˜direct™, ˜antecedent™, ˜re¬‚ex™ and ˜subsequent™ perceptions) is only introduced in Philosophiae
Moralis Institutio Compendiaria (±·; translated as Short Introduction to Moral Philosophy (±··),
 See Hutcheson, Essay, Preface to the third edition (±·), where Locke is referred to (cf. Locke,
Essay Concerning Human Understanding (±°) II.i..).

Of systems of moral philosophy

objects; a public sense, by which we sympathize with the happiness
or misery of our fellow-creatures; a sense of shame and honour, and a
sense of ridicule.

 But notwithstanding all the pains which this ingenious philosopher
has taken to prove that the principle of approbation is founded in
a peculiar power of perception, somewhat analogous to the external
senses, there are some consequences, which he acknowledges to fol-
low from this doctrine, that will, perhaps, be regarded by many as a
suf¬cient confutation of it. The qualities he allows,r which belong
to the objects of any sense, cannot, without the greatest absurdity, be
ascribed to the sense itself. Who ever thought of calling the sense of
seeing black or white, the sense of hearing loud or low, or the sense
of tasting sweet or bitter? And, according to him, it is equally absurd
to call our moral faculties virtuous or vicious, morally good or evil.
These qualities belong to the objects of those faculties, not to the fac-
ulties themselves. If any man, therefore, was so absurdly constituted
as to approve of cruelty and injustice as the highest virtues, and to
disapprove of equity and humanity as the most pitiful vices, such a
constitution of mind might indeed be regarded as inconvenient both
to the individual and to the society, and likewise as strange, surprising,
and unnatural in itself; but it could not, without the greatest absurdity,
be denominated vicious or morally evil.

 Yet surely if we saw any man shouting with admiration and applause
at a barbarous and unmerited execution, which some insolent tyrant
had ordered, we should not think we were guilty of any great absurdity
in denominating this behaviour vicious and morally evil in the highest
degree, though it expressed nothing but depraved moral faculties, or
an absurd approbation of this horrid action, as of what was noble,
magnanimous, and great. Our heart, I imagine, at the sight of such
a spectator, would forget for a while its sympathy with the sufferer,
and feel nothing but horror and detestation, at the thought of so
execrable a wretch. We should abominate him even more than the
tyrant who might be goaded on by the strong passions of jealousy,
fear, and resentment, and upon that account be more excusable. But

Illustrations upon the moral sense, sect. I. p. ·, et seq.; third edition.

The Theory of Moral Sentiments

the sentiments of the spectator would appear altogether without cause
or motive, and therefore most perfectly and completely detestable.
There is no perversion of sentiment or affection which our heart
would be more averse to enter into, or which it would reject with
greater hatred and indignation than one of this kind; and so far from
regarding such a constitution of mind as being merely something
strange or inconvenient, and not in any respect vicious or morally
evil, we should rather consider it as the very last and most dreadful
stage of moral depravity.

±° Correct moral sentiments, on the contrary, naturally appear in some
degree laudable and morally good. The man, whose censure and ap-
plause are upon all occasions suited with the greatest accuracy to the
value or unworthiness of the object, seems to deserve a degree even
of moral approbation. We admire the delicate precision of his moral
sentiments: they lead our own judgments, and, upon account of their
uncommon and surprising justness, they even excite our wonder and
applause. We cannot indeed be always sure that the conduct of such
a person would be in any respect correspondent to the precision and
accuracy of his judgments concerning the conduct of others. Virtue
requires habit and resolution of mind, as well as delicacy of senti-
ment; and unfortunately the former qualities are sometimes want-
ing, where the latter is in the greatest perfection. This disposition
of mind, however, though it may sometimes be attended with im-
perfections, is incompatible with any thing that is grossly criminal,
and is the happiest foundation upon which the superstructure of per-
fect virtue can be built. There are many men who mean very well,
and seriously purpose to do what they think their duty, who notwith-
standing are disagreeable on account of the coarseness of their moral

±± It may be said, perhaps, that though the principle of approbation
is not founded upon any power of perception that is in any respect
analogous to the external senses, it may still be founded upon a peculiar
sentiment which answers this one particular purpose and no other.
Approbation and disapprobation, it may be pretended, are certain
feelings or emotions which arise in the mind upon the view of different
characters and actions; and as resentment might be called a sense of

Of systems of moral philosophy

injuries, or gratitude a sense of bene¬ts, so these may very properly
receive the name of a sense of right and wrong, or of a moral sense.

± But this account of things, though it may not be liable to the same
objections with the foregoing, is exposed to others which are equally

± First of all, whatever variations any particular emotion may undergo,
it still preserves the general features which distinguish it to be an
emotion of such a kind, and these general features are always more
striking and remarkable than any variation which it may undergo in
particular cases. Thus anger is an emotion of a particular kind: and
accordingly its general features are always more distinguishable than
all the variations it undergoes in particular cases. Anger against a man
is, no doubt, somewhat different from anger against a woman, and
that again from anger against a child. In each of those three cases,
the general passion of anger receives a different modi¬cation from
the particular character of its object, as may easily be observed by the
attentive. But still the general features of the passion predominate in
all these cases. To distinguish these, requires no nice observation: a
very delicate attention, on the contrary, is necessary to discover their
variations: every body takes notice of the former; scarce any body
observes the latter. If approbation and disapprobation, therefore, were,
like gratitude and resentment, emotions of a particular kind, distinct
from every other, we should expect that in all the variations which
either of them might undergo, it would still retain the general features
which mark it to be an emotion of such a particular kind, clear, plain,
and easily distinguishable. But in fact it happens quite otherwise.
If we attend to what we really feel when upon different occasions
we either approve or disapprove, we shall ¬nd that our emotion in
one case is often totally different from that in another, and that no
common features can possibly be discovered between them. Thus
the approbation with which we view a tender, delicate, and humane
sentiment, is quite different from that with which we are struck by
one that appears great, daring, and magnanimous. Our approbation
of both may, upon different occasions, be perfect and entire; but we
are softened by the one, and we are elevated by the other, and there
is no sort of resemblance between the emotions which they excite in

The Theory of Moral Sentiments

us. But according to that system which I have been endeavouring to
establish, this must necessarily be the case. As the emotions of the
person whom we approve of, are, in those two cases, quite opposite to
one another, and as our approbation arises from sympathy with those
opposite emotions, what we feel upon the one occasion, can have no
sort of resemblance to what we feel upon the other. But this could
not happen if approbation consisted in a peculiar emotion which had
nothing in common with the sentiments we approved of, but which
arose at the view of those sentiments, like any other passion at the
view of its proper object. The same thing holds true with regard to
disapprobation. Our horror for cruelty has no sort of resemblance
to our contempt for mean-spiritedness. It is quite a different species
of discord which we feel at the view of those two different vices,
between our own minds and those of the person whose sentiments
and behaviour we consider.

± Secondly, I have already observed, that not only the different pas-
sions or affections of the human mind which are approved or disap-
proved of, appear morally good or evil, but that proper and improper
approbation appear, to our natural sentiments, to be stamped with the
same characters. I would ask, therefore, how it is, that, according to
this system, we approve or disapprove of proper or improper approba-
tion? To this question there is, I imagine, but one reasonable answer,
which can possibly be given. It must be said, that when the approba-
tion with which our neighbour regards the conduct of a third person
coincides with our own, we approve of his approbation, and consider
it as, in some measure, morally good; and that, on the contrary, when
it does not coincide with our own sentiments, we disapprove of it,
and consider it as, in some measure, morally evil. It must be allowed,
therefore, that, at least in this one case, the coincidence or opposi-
tion of sentiments, between the observer and the person observed,
constitutes moral approbation or disapprobation. And if it does so in
this one case, I would ask, why not in every other? Or to what pur-
pose imagine a new power of perception in order to account for those

 Paragraphs “±° above.

Of systems of moral philosophy

±µ Against every account of the principle of approbation, which makes it
depend upon a peculiar sentiment, distinct from every other, I would
object; that it is strange that this sentiment, which Providence un-
doubtedly intended to be the governing principle of human nature,
should hitherto have been so little taken notice of, as not to have got
a name in any language. The word moral sense is of very late for-
mation, and cannot yet be considered as making part of the English
tongue. The word approbation has but within these few years been
appropriated to denote peculiarly any thing of this kind. In propriety
of language we approve of whatever is entirely to our satisfaction, of
the form of a building, of the contrivance of a machine, of the ¬‚avour
of a dish of meat. The word conscience does not immediately denote
any moral faculty by which we approve or disapprove. Conscience
supposes, indeed, the existence of some such faculty, and properly
signi¬es our consciousness of having acted agreeably or contrary to
its directions. When love, hatred, joy, sorrow, gratitude, resentment,
with so many other passions which are all supposed to be the subjects
of this principle, have made themselves considerable enough to get
titles to know them by, is it not surprising that the sovereign of them
all should hitherto have been so little heeded, that, a few philosophers
excepted, nobody has yet thought it worth while to bestow a name
upon it?

± When we approve of any character or action, the sentiments which
we feel, are, according to the foregoing system, derived from four
sources, which are in some respects different from one another. First,
we sympathize with the motives of the agent; secondly, we enter into
the gratitude of those who receive the bene¬t of his actions; thirdly,
we observe that his conduct has been agreeable to the general rules
by which those two sympathies generally act; and, last of all, when
we consider such actions as making a part of a system of behaviour
which tends to promote the happiness either of the individual or of the
society, they appear to derive a beauty from this utility, not unlike that
which we ascribe to any well-contrived machine. After deducting, in
any one particular case, all that must be acknowledged to proceed from
some one or other of these four principles, I should be glad to know
what remains, and I shall freely allow this overplus to be ascribed to a

The Theory of Moral Sentiments

moral sense, or to any other peculiar faculty, provided any body will
ascertain precisely what this overplus is. It might be expected, perhaps,
that if there was any such peculiar principle, such as this moral sense is
supposed to be, we should feel it, in some particular cases, separated
and detached from every other, as we often feel joy, sorrow, hope,
and fear, pure and unmixed with any other emotion. This however, I
imagine, cannot even be pretended. I have never heard any instance
alleged in which this principle could be said to exert itself alone and
unmixed with sympathy or antipathy, with gratitude or resentment,
with the perception of the agreement or disagreement of any action to
an established rule, or last of all with that general taste for beauty and
order which is excited by inanimated as well as by animated objects.

±· There is another system which attempts to account for the origin
of our moral sentiments from sympathy, distinct from that which I
have been endeavouring to establish. It is that which places virtue in
utility, and accounts for the pleasure with which the spectator surveys
the utility of any quality from sympathy with the happiness of those
who are affected by it. This sympathy is different both from that by
which we enter into the motives of the agent, and from that by which
we go along with the gratitude of the persons who are bene¬ted by
his actions. It is the same principle with that by which we approve of
a well-contrived machine. But no machine can be the object of either
of those two last mentioned sympathies. I have already, in the fourth
part of this discourse,·° given some account of this system.

Section IV Of the manner in which different authors
have treated of the practical rules of morality
± It was observed in the third part of this discourse,·± that the rules of
justice are the only rules of morality which are precise and accurate;
that those of all the other virtues are loose, vague, and indeterminate;
that the ¬rst may be compared to the rules of grammar; the others to
those which critics lay down for the attainment of what is sublime and
elegant in composition, and which present us rather with a general

·° IV.. ff. where Smith discussed Hume; and cf. VII.ii..±.
·± III..“±±.

Of systems of moral philosophy

idea of the perfection we ought to aim at, than afford us any certain
and infallible directions for acquiring it.

 As the different rules of morality admit such different degrees of
accuracy, those authors who have endeavoured to collect and digest
them into systems have done it in two different manners; and one set
has followed through the whole that loose method to which they were
naturally directed by the consideration of one species of virtues; while
another has as universally endeavoured to introduce into their precepts
that sort of accuracy of which only some of them are susceptible. The
¬rst have wrote like critics, the second like grammarians.

 The ¬rst, among whom we may count all the ancient moralists,
have contented themselves with describing in a general manner the
different vices and virtues, and with pointing out the deformity and
misery of the one disposition as well as the propriety and happiness
of the other, but have not affected to lay down many precise rules
that are to hold good unexceptionably in all particular cases. They
have only endeavoured to ascertain, as far as language is capable of
ascertaining, ¬rst, wherein consists the sentiment of the heart, upon
which each particular virtue is founded, what sort of internal feeling or
emotion it is which constitutes the essence of friendship, of humanity,
of generosity, of justice, of magnanimity, and of all the other virtues,
as well as of the vices which are opposed to them: and, secondly, what
is the general way of acting, the ordinary tone and tenor of conduct
to which each of those sentiments would direct us, or how it is that a
friendly, a generous, a brave, a just, and a humane man, would, upon
ordinary occasions, chuse to act.

 To characterize the sentiment of the heart, upon which each particular
virtue is founded, though it requires both a delicate and an accurate
pencil, is a task, however, which may be executed with some degree
of exactness. It is impossible, indeed, to express all the variations
which each sentiment either does or ought to undergo, according
to every possible variation of circumstances. They are endless, and
language wants names to mark them by. The sentiment of friendship,
for example, which we feel for an old man is different from that which
we feel for a young: that which we entertain for an austere man different

The Theory of Moral Sentiments

from that which we feel for one of softer and gentler manners: and
that again from what we feel for one of gay vivacity and spirit. The
friendship which we conceive for a man is different from that with
which a woman affects us, even where there is no mixture of any
grosser passion. What author could enumerate and ascertain these
and all the other in¬nite varieties which this sentiment is capable of
undergoing? But still the general sentiment of friendship and familiar
attachment which is common to them all, may be ascertained with a
suf¬cient degree of accuracy. The picture which is drawn of it, though
it will always be in many respects incomplete, may, however, have such a
resemblance as to make us know the original when we meet with it, and
even distinguish it from other sentiments to which it has a considerable
resemblance, such as good-will, respect, esteem, admiration.

µ To describe, in a general manner, what is the ordinary way of acting
to which each virtue would prompt us, is still more easy. It is, indeed,
scarce possible to describe the internal sentiment or emotion upon
which it is founded, without doing something of this kind. It is im-
possible by language to express, if I may say so, the invisible features
of all the different modi¬cations of passion as they show themselves
within. There is no other way of marking and distinguishing them
from one another, but by describing the effects which they produce
without, the alterations which they occasion in the countenance, in the
air and external behaviour, the resolutions they suggest, the actions
they prompt to. It is thus that Cicero, in the ¬rst book of his Of¬ces,
endeavours to direct us to the practice of the four cardinal virtues, and
that Aristotle in the practical parts of his Ethics, points out to us the
different habits by which he would have us regulate our behaviour,
such as liberality, magni¬cence, magnanimity, and even jocularity and
good-humour, qualities which that indulgent philosopher has thought
worthy of a place in the catalogue of the virtues,· though the lightness
of that approbation which we naturally bestow upon them, should not
seem to entitle them to so venerable a name.

 Such works present us with agreeable and lively pictures of manners.
By the vivacity of their descriptions they in¬‚ame our natural love of

· Cf. Cicero, De of¬ciis, I.v.±µ, and Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, IV.±“, µ, .

Of systems of moral philosophy

virtue, and increase our abhorrence of vice: by the justness as well as
delicacy of their observations they may often help both to correct and
to ascertain our natural sentiments with regard to the propriety of con-
duct, and suggesting many nice and delicate attentions, form us to a
more exact justness of behaviour, than what, without such instruction,
we should have been apt to think of. In treating of the rules of morality,
in this manner, consists the science which is properly called Ethics, a
science which, though like criticism it does not admit of the most accu-
rate precision, is, however, both highly useful and agreeable. It is of all
others the most susceptible of the embellishments of eloquence, and
by means of them of bestowing, if that be possible, a new importance
upon the smallest rules of duty. Its precepts, when thus dressed and
adorned, are capable of producing upon the ¬‚exibility of youth, the no-
blest and most lasting impressions, and as they fall in with the natural
magnanimity of that generous age, they are able to inspire, for a time
at least, the most heroic resolutions, and thus tend both to establish
and con¬rm the best and most useful habits of which the mind of man
is susceptible. Whatever precept and exhortation can do to animate
us to the practice of virtue, is done by this science delivered in this

· The second set of moralists, among whom we may count all the
casuists of the middle and latter ages of the christian church, as well
as all those who in this and in the preceding century have treated of
what is called natural jurisprudence, do not content themselves with
characterizing in this general manner that tenor of conduct which
they would recommend to us, but endeavour to lay down exact and
precise rules for the direction of every circumstance of our behaviour.
As justice is the only virtue with regard to which such exact rules can
properly be given; it is this virtue, that has chie¬‚y fallen under the
consideration of those two different sets of writers. They treat of it,
however, in a very different manner.·

· While Smith uses ˜casuistry™ in a general sense (cf. paragraph ±± below) to mean any moral
theory based upon the study of individual cases, it was an approach to moral theology developed
from the high middle ages to the Counter-Reformation, especially by Jesuit thinkers. Smith is
likely to have appreciated the ¬erce attack on the casuists in Pascal™s Lettres provinciales (±µ“·),
Letters µ“±°. For early-modern, Protestant natural jurisprudence, see Smith™s brief overview in
LJ (B) ±“.

The Theory of Moral Sentiments

 Those who write upon the principles of jurisprudence, consider only
what the person to whom the obligation is due, ought to think himself
entitled to exact by force; what every impartial spectator would ap-
prove of him for exacting, or what a judge or arbiter, to whom he had
submitted his case, and who had undertaken to do him justice, ought
to oblige the other person to suffer or to perform. The casuists, on the
other hand, do not so much examine what it is, that might properly be
exacted by force, as what it is, that the person who owes the obligation
ought to think himself bound to perform from the most sacred and
scrupulous regard to the general rules of justice, and from the most
conscientious dread, either of wronging his neighbour, or of violating
the integrity of his own character. It is the end of jurisprudence to
prescribe rules for the decisions of judges and arbiters. It is the end
of casuistry to prescribe rules for the conduct of a good man. By ob-
serving all the rules of jurisprudence, supposing them ever so perfect,
we should deserve nothing but to be free from external punishment.
By observing those of casuistry, supposing them such as they ought
to be, we should be entitled to considerable praise by the exact and
scrupulous delicacy of our behaviour.

 It may frequently happen that a good man ought to think himself
bound, from a sacred and conscientious regard to the general rules of
justice, to perform many things which it would be the highest injustice
to extort from him, or for any judge or arbiter to impose upon him
by force. To give a trite example; a highwayman, by the fear of death,
obliges a traveller to promise him a certain sum of money. Whether
such a promise, extorted in this manner by unjust force, ought to be
regarded as obligatory, is a question that has been very much debated.

±° If we consider it merely as a question of jurisprudence, the decision can
admit of no doubt. It would be absurd to suppose that the highwayman
can be entitled to use force to constrain the other to perform. To extort
the promise was a crime which deserved the highest punishment, and
to extort the performance would only be adding a new crime to the for-
mer. He can complain of no injury who has been only deceived by the
person by whom he might justly have been killed. To suppose that a
judge ought to enforce the obligation of such promises, or that the mag-
istrate ought to allow them to sustain action at law, would be the most

Of systems of moral philosophy

ridiculous of all absurdities. If we consider this question, therefore, as
a question of jurisprudence, we can be at no loss about the decision.·

±± But if we consider it as a question of casuistry, it will not be so easily
determined. Whether a good man, from a conscientious regard to that
most sacred rule of justice, which commands the observance of all se-
rious promises, would not think himself bound to perform, is at least
much more doubtful. That no regard is due to the disappointment of
the wretch who brings him into this situation, that no injury is done
to the robber, and consequently that nothing can be extorted by force,
will admit of no sort of dispute. But whether some regard is not, in this
case, due to his own dignity and honour, to the inviolable sacredness of
that part of his character which makes him reverence the law of truth
and abhor every thing that approaches to treachery and falsehood,
may, perhaps, more reasonably be made a question. The casuists ac-
cordingly are greatly divided about it. One party, with whom we may
count Cicero among the ancients, among the moderns, Puffendorf,
Barbeyrac his commentator, and above all the late Dr Hutcheson, one
who in most cases was by no means a loose casuist, determine, without
any hesitation, that no sort of regard is due to any such promise, and
that to think otherwise is mere weakness and superstition.·µ Another
party, among whom we may reckons· some of the ancient fathers of
the church, as well as some very eminent modern casuists, have been
of another opinion, and have judged all such promises obligatory.

± If we consider the matter according to the common sentiments of
mankind, we shall ¬nd that some regard would be thought due even
to a promise of this kind; but that it is impossible to determine how

s St Augustine, La Placette.
· Concerning promises and, hence, contracts, see above II.ii.., and LJ (A) ii.ff., (B) ±·µff.
·µ Cicero, De of¬ciis, I.x.±“, III.xxiii“xxiv.“µ, III.xxix.±°·, et al. Samuel Pufendorf, De Jure
Naturae et Gentium (±·) III.vi.±°“±; IV.ii.: De Of¬cio Hominis et Civis (±·) I.ix.±“±µ. Jean
Barbeyrac™s (±·“±·) material is in the notes to his French translations of Pufendorf (±·° and
±·°·, respectively), esp. De jure III.vi.±°, note , and IV.ii., note . In these and many other notes
Barbeyrac conducts an extensive debate on lying, oaths, promising, etc. with the Huguenot theolo-
gian and moralist, Jean de la Placette™s (±“±·±) Trait´ du serment (±·°±), for the present context
esp. II.±. Francis Hutcheson, Philosophiae Moralis Institutio Compendiaria/Short Introduction to
Moral Philosophy, II.ix.: System of Moral Philosophy (±·µµ) II ix.µ.
· See Augustine, Letters, ±µ.. For la Placette, see preceding note.

The Theory of Moral Sentiments

much, by any general rule that will apply to all cases without excep-
tion. The man who was quite frank and easy in making promises of
this kind, and who violated them with as little ceremony, we should not
chuse for our friend and companion. A gentleman who should promise
a highwayman ¬ve pounds and not perform, would incur some blame.
If the sum promised, however, was very great, it might be more doubt-
ful, what was proper to be done. If it was such, for example, that the
payment of it would entirely ruin the family of the promiser, if it was
so great as to be suf¬cient for promoting the most useful purposes, it
would appear in some measure criminal, at least extremely improper,
to throw it, for the sake of a punctilio, into such worthless hands. The
man who should beggar himself, or who should throw away an hundred
thousand pounds, though he could afford that vast sum, for the sake
of observing such a parole with a thief, would appear to the common
sense of mankind, absurd and extravagant in the highest degree. Such
profusion would seem inconsistent with his duty, with what he owed
both to himself and others, and what, therefore, regard to a promise
extorted in this manner, could by no means authorise. To ¬x, however,
by any precise rule, what degree of regard ought to be paid to it, or what
might be the greatest sum which could be due from it, is evidently im-
possible. This would vary according to the characters of the persons,
according to their circumstances, according to the solemnity of the
promise, and even according to the incidents of the rencounter: and if
the promiser had been treated with a great deal of that sort of gallantry,
which is sometimes to be met with in persons of the most abandoned
characters, more would seem due than upon other occasions. It may be
said in general, that exact propriety requires the observance of all such
promises, wherever it is not inconsistent with some other duties that
are more sacred; such as regard to the public interest, to those whom
gratitude, whom natural affection, or whom the laws of proper benef-
icence should prompt us to provide for. But, as was formerly taken
notice of, we have no precise rules to determine what external actions
are due from a regard to such motives, nor, consequently, when it is that
those virtues are inconsistent with the observance of such promises.

± It is to be observed, however, that whenever such promises are vio-
lated, though for the most necessary reasons, it is always with some
degree of dishonour to the person who made them. After they are

Of systems of moral philosophy

made, we may be convinced of the impropriety of observing them.
But still there is some fault in having made them. It is at least a depar-
ture from the highest and noblest maxims of magnanimity and honour.
A brave man ought to die, rather than make a promise which he can
neither keep without folly, nor violate without ignominy. For some
degree of ignominy always attends a situation of this kind. Treachery
and falsehood are vices so dangerous, so dreadful, and, at the same
time, such as may so easily, and, upon many occasions, so safely be in-
dulged, that we are more jealous of them than of almost any other. Our
imagination therefore attaches the idea of shame to all violations of
faith, in every circumstance and in every situation. They resemble, in
this respect, the violations of chastity in the fair sex, a virtue of which,
for the like reasons, we are excessively jealous; and our sentiments are
not more delicate with regard to the one, than with regard to the other.
Breach of chastity dishonours irretrievably. No circumstances, no so-
licitation can excuse it; no sorrow, no repentance atone for it. We are
so nice in this respect that even a rape dishonours, and the innocence
of the mind cannot, in our imagination, wash out the pollution of the
body. It is the same case with the violation of faith, when it has been
solemnly pledged, even to the most worthless of mankind. Fidelity is
so necessary a virtue, that we apprehend it in general to be due even
to those to whom nothing else is due, and whom we think it lawful
to kill and destroy. It is to no purpose that the person who has been
guilty of the breach of it, urges that he promised in order to save his
life, and that he broke his promise because it was inconsistent with
some other respectable duty to keep it. These circumstances may alle-
viate, but cannot entirely wipe out his dishonour. He appears to have
been guilty of an action with which, in the imaginations of men, some
degree of shame is inseparably connected. He has broke a promise
which he had solemnly averred he would maintain; and his character,
if not irretrievably stained and polluted, has at least a ridicule af¬xed
to it, which it will be very dif¬cult entirely to efface; and no man, I
imagine, who had gone through an adventure of this kind would be
fond of telling the story.

± This instance may serve to show wherein consists the difference be-
tween casuistry and jurisprudence, even when both of them consider
the obligations of the general rules of justice.

The Theory of Moral Sentiments

±µ But though this difference be real and essential, though those two
sciences propose quite different ends, the sameness of the subject has
made such a similarity between them, that the greater part of authors
whose professed design was to treat of jurisprudence, have determined
the different questions they examine, sometimes according to the prin-
ciples of that science, and sometimes according to those of casuistry,
without distinguishing, and, perhaps, without being themselves aware
when they did the one, and when the other.

± The doctrine of the casuists, however, is by no means con¬ned to the
consideration of what a conscientious regard to the general rules of
justice would demand of us. It embraces many other parts of Christian
and moral duty. What seems principally to have given occasion to the
cultivation of this species of science was the custom of auricular con-
fession, introduced by the Roman Catholic superstition, in times of
barbarism and ignorance. By that institution, the most secret actions,
and even the thoughts of every person, which could be suspected of
receding in the smallest degree from the rules of Christian purity, were
to be revealed to the confessor. The confessor informed his penitents
whether, and in what respect they had violated their duty, and what
penance it behoved them to undergo, before he could absolve them in
the name of the offended Deity.

±· The consciousness, or even the suspicion of having done wrong, is a
load upon every mind, and is accompanied with anxiety and terror in
all those who are not hardened by long habits of iniquity. Men, in this,
as in all other distresses, are naturally eager to disburthen themselves
of the oppression which they feel upon their thoughts, by unbosoming
the agony of their mind to some person whose secrecy and discretion
they can con¬de in. The shame, which they suffer from this acknowl-
edgment, is fully compensated by that alleviation of their uneasiness
which the sympathy of their con¬dent seldom fails to occasion. It re-
lieves them to ¬nd that they are not altogether unworthy of regard,
and that however their past conduct may be censured, their present
disposition is at least approved of, and is perhaps suf¬cient to com-
pensate the other, at least to maintain them in some degree of esteem
with their friend. A numerous and artful clergy had, in those times
of superstition, insinuated themselves into the con¬dence of almost

Of systems of moral philosophy

every private family. They possessed all the little learning which the
times could afford, and their manners, though in many respects rude
and disorderly, were polished and regular compared with those of the
age they lived in. They were regarded, therefore, not only as the great
directors of all religious, but of all moral duties. Their familiarity gave
reputation to whoever was so happy as to possess it, and every mark of
their disapprobation stamped the deepest ignominy upon all who had
the misfortune to fall under it. Being considered as the great judges
of right and wrong, they were naturally consulted about all scruples
that occurred, and it was reputable for any person to have it known
that he made those holy men the con¬dents of all such secrets, and
took no important or delicate step in his conduct without their advice
and approbation. It was not dif¬cult for the clergy, therefore, to get
it established as a general rule, that they should be entrusted with
what it had already become fashionable to entrust them, and with
what they generally would have been entrusted, though no such rule
had been established. To qualify themselves for confessors became
thus a necessary part of the study of churchmen and divines, and they
were thence led to collect what are called cases of conscience, nice and
delicate situations in which it is hard to determine whereabouts the
propriety of conduct may lie. Such works, they imagined, might be of
use both to the directors of consciences and to those who were to be
directed; and hence the origin of books of casuistry.

± The moral duties which fell under the consideration of the casuists
were chie¬‚y those which can, in some measure at least, be circum-
scribed within general rules, and of which the violation is naturally
attended with some degree of remorse and some dread of suffering
punishment. The design of that institution which gave occasion to
their works, was to appease those terrors of conscience which attend
upon the infringement of such duties. But it is not every virtue of
which the defect is accompanied with any very severe compunctions
of this kind, and no man applies to his confessor for absolution, be-
cause he did not perform the most generous, the most friendly, or the
most magnanimous action which, in his circumstances, it was possible
to perform. In failures of this kind, the rule that is violated is com-
monly not very determinate, and is generally of such a nature too, that
though the observance of it might entitle to honour and reward, the

The Theory of Moral Sentiments

violation seems to expose to no positive blame, censure, or punish-
ment. The exercise of such virtues the casuists seem to have regarded
as a sort of works of supererogation, which could not be very strictly
exacted, and which it was therefore unnecessary for them to treat of.

± The breaches of moral duty, therefore, which came before the tribunal
of the confessor, and upon that account fell under the cognizance of
the casuists, were chie¬‚y of three different kinds.

° First and principally, breaches of the rules of justice. The rules here
are all express and positive, and the violation of them is naturally at-
tended with the consciousness of deserving, and the dread of suffering
punishment both from God and man.

± Secondly, breaches of the rules of chastity. These in all grosser in-
stances are real breaches of the rules of justice, and no person can be
guilty of them without doing the most unpardonable injury to some
other. In smaller instances, when they amount only to a violation of
those exact decorums which ought to be observed in the conversation
of the two sexes, they cannot indeed justly be considered as viola-
tions of the rules of justice. They are generally, however, violations
of a pretty plain rule, and, at least in one of the sexes, tend to bring
ignominy upon the person who has been guilty of them, and conse-
quently to be attended in the scrupulous with some degree of shame
and contrition of mind.

 Thirdly, breaches of the rules of veracity. The violation of truth, it is
to be observed, is not always a breach of justice, though it is so upon
many occasions, and consequently cannot always expose to any exter-
nal punishment. The vice of common lying, though a most miserable
meanness, may frequently do hurt to nobody, and in this case no claim
of vengeance or satisfaction can be due either to the persons imposed
upon, or to others. But though the violation of truth is not always a
breach of justice, it is always a breach of a very plain rule, and what
naturally tends to cover with shame the person who has been guilty
of it.··

·· The next ¬ve paragraphs were added in edition .

Of systems of moral philosophy

 There seems to be in young children an instinctive disposition to
believe whatever they are told. Nature seems to have judged it nec-
essary for their preservation that they should, for some time at least,
put implicit con¬dence in those to whom the care of their childhood,
and of the earliest and most necessary parts of their education, is in-
trusted. Their credulity, accordingly, is excessive, and it requires long
and much experience of the falsehood of mankind to reduce them
to a reasonable degree of dif¬dence and distrust. In grown-up peo-
ple the degrees of credulity are, no doubt, very different. The wisest
and most experienced are generally the least credulous. But the man
scarce lives who is not more credulous than he ought to be, and who
does not, upon many occasions, give credit to tales, which not only
turn out to be perfectly false, but which a very moderate degree of
re¬‚ection and attention might have taught him could not well be true.
The natural disposition is always to believe. It is acquired wisdom and
experience only that teach incredulity, and they very seldom teach it
enough. The wisest and most cautious of us all frequently gives credit
to stories which he himself is afterwards both ashamed and astonished
that he could possibly think of believing.

 The man whom we believe is necessarily, in the things concerning
which we believe him, our leader and director, and we look up to him
with a certain degree of esteem and respect. But as from admiring
other people we come to wish to be admired ourselves; so from being
led and directed by other people we learn to wish to become ourselves
leaders and directors. And as we cannot always be satis¬ed merely
with being admired, unless we can at the same time persuade our-
selves that we are in some degree really worthy of admiration; so we
cannot always be satis¬ed merely with being believed, unless we are at
the same time conscious that we are really worthy of belief. As the de-
sire of praise and that of praise-worthiness, though very much a-kin,
are yet distinct and separate desires; so the desire of being believed
and that of being worthy of belief, though very much a-kin too, are
equally distinct and separate desires.

µ The desire of being believed, the desire of persuading, of leading and
directing other people, seems to be one of the strongest of all our
natural desires. It is, perhaps, the instinct upon which is founded the

The Theory of Moral Sentiments

faculty of speech, the characteristical faculty of human nature. No
other animal possesses this faculty, and we cannot discover in any
other animal any desire to lead and direct the judgment and conduct of
its fellows. Great ambition, the desire of real superiority, of leading
and directing, seems to be altogether peculiar to man, and speech is
the great instrument of ambition, of real superiority, of leading and
directing the judgments and conduct of other people.

 It is always mortifying not to be believed, and it is doubly so when
we suspect that it is because we are supposed to be unworthy of belief
and capable of seriously and wilfully deceiving. To tell a man that
he lies, is of all affronts the most mortal. But whoever seriously and
wilfully deceives is necessarily conscious to himself that he merits this
affront, that he does not deserve to be believed, and that he forfeits
all title to that sort of credit from which alone he can derive any sort
of ease, comfort, or satisfaction in the society of his equals. The man
who had the misfortune to imagine that nobody believed a single word
he said, would feel himself the outcast of human society, would dread
the very thought of going into it, or of presenting himself before it,
and could scarce fail, I think, to die of despair. It is probable, how-
ever, that no man ever had just reason to entertain this humiliating
opinion of himself. The most notorious liar, I am disposed to believe,
tells the fair truth at least twenty times for once that he seriously and
deliberately lies; and, as in the most cautious the disposition to believe
is apt to prevail over that to doubt and distrust; so in those who are
the most regardless of truth, the natural disposition to tell it prevails
upon most occasions over that to deceive, or in any respect to alter or
disguise it.

· We are morti¬ed when we happen to deceive other people, though
unintentionally, and from having been ourselves deceived. Though
this involuntary falsehood may frequently be no mark of any want of
veracity, of any want of the most perfect love of truth, it is always
in some degree a mark of want of judgment, of want of memory, of
improper credulity, of some degree of precipitancy and rashness. It
always diminishes our authority to persuade, and always brings some
degree of suspicion upon our ¬tness to lead and direct. The man who
sometimes misleads from mistake, however, is widely different from

Of systems of moral philosophy

him who is capable of wilfully deceiving. The former may safely be
trusted upon many occasions; the latter very seldom upon any.

 Frankness and openness conciliate con¬dence. We trust the man who
seems willing to trust us. We see clearly, we think, the road by which
he means to conduct us, and we abandon ourselves with pleasure to his
guidance and direction. Reserve and concealment, on the contrary, call
forth dif¬dence. We are afraid to follow the man who is going we do not
know where. The great pleasure of conversation and society, besides,
arises from a certain correspondence of sentiments and opinions, from
a certain harmony of minds, which like so many musical instruments
coincide and keep time with one another. But this most delightful har-
mony cannot be obtained unless there is a free communication of senti-
ments and opinions. We all desire, upon this account, to feel how each
other is affected, to penetrate into each other™s bosoms, and to observe
the sentiments and affections which really subsist there. The man who
indulges us in this natural passion, who invites us into his heart, who, as
it were, sets open the gates of his breast to us, seems to exercise a species
of hospitality more delightful than any other. No man, who is in ordi-
nary good temper, can fail of pleasing, if he has the courage to utter his
real sentiments as he feels them, and because he feels them. It is this un-
reserved sincerity which renders even the prattle of a child agreeable.
How weak and imperfect soever the views of the open-hearted, we take
pleasure to enter into them, and endeavour, as much as we can, to bring
down our own understanding to the level of their capacities, and to re-
gard every subject in the particular light in which they appear to have
considered it. This passion to discover the real sentiments of others is
naturally so strong, that it often degenerates into a troublesome and
impertinent curiosity to pry into those secrets of our neighbours which
they have very justi¬able reasons for concealing; and, upon many oc-
casions, it requires prudence and a strong sense of propriety to govern
this, as well as all the other passions of human nature, and to reduce it
to that pitch which any impartial spectator can approve of. To disap-
point this curiosity, however, when it is kept within proper bounds,
and aims at nothing which there can be any just reason for conceal-
ing, is equally disagreeable in its turn. The man who eludes our most
innocent questions, who gives no satisfaction to our most inoffensive
inquiries, who plainly wraps himself up in impenetrable obscurity,

The Theory of Moral Sentiments

seems, as it were, to build a wall about his breast. We run forward
to get within it, with all the eagerness of harmless curiosity; and feel
ourselves all at once pushed back with the rudest and most offensive

 The man of reserve and concealment, though seldom a very amiable
character, is not disrespected or despised. He seems to feel coldly to-
wards us, and we feel as coldly towards him. He is not much praised or
beloved, but he is as little hated or blamed. He very seldom, however,
has occasion to repent of his caution, and is generally disposed rather to
value himself upon the prudence of his reserve. Though his conduct,
therefore, may have been very faulty, and sometimes even hurtful, he
can very seldom be disposed to lay his case before the casuists, or to
fancy that he has any occasion for their acquittal or approbation.

° It is not always so with the man, who, from false information, from
inadvertency, from precipitancy and rashness, has involuntarily de-
ceived. Though it should be in a matter of little consequence, in telling
a piece of common news, for example, if he is a real lover of truth,
he is ashamed of his own carelessness, and never fails to embrace the
¬rst opportunity of making the fullest acknowledgments. If it is in a
matter of some consequence, his contrition is still greater; and if any
unlucky or fatal consequence has followed from his misinformation,
he can scarce ever forgive himself. Though not guilty, he feels himself
to be in the highest degree, what the ancients called, piacular,· and
is anxious and eager to make every sort of atonement in his power.
Such a person might frequently be disposed to lay his case before the
casuists, who have in general been very favourable to him, and though
they have sometimes justly condemned him for rashness, they have
universally acquitted him of the ignominy of falsehood.

± But the man who had the most frequent occasion to consult them, was
the man of equivocation and mental reservation, the man who seriously
and deliberately meant to deceive, but who, at the same time, wished
to ¬‚atter himself that he had really told the truth. With him they have

· The next three paragraphs were added in edition .
· See note  to II.iii..“µ.

Of systems of moral philosophy

dealt variously. When they approved very much of the motives of his
deceit, they have sometimes acquitted him, though, to do them justice,
they have in general and much more frequently condemned him.

 The chief subjects of the works of the casuists, therefore, were the con-
scientious regard that is due to the rules of justice; how far we ought to
respect the life and property of our neighbour; the duty of restitution;
the laws of chastity and modesty, and wherein consisted what, in their
language, are called the sins of concupiscence; the rules of veracity,
and the obligation of oaths, promises, and contracts of all kinds.

 It may be said in general of the works of the casuists that they at-
tempted, to no purpose, to direct by precise rules what it belongs to
feeling and sentiment only to judge of. How is it possible to ascertain
by rules the exact point at which, in every case, a delicate sense of jus-
tice begins to run into a frivolous and weak scrupulosity of conscience?
When it is that secrecy and reserve begin to grow into dissimulation?
How far an agreeable irony may be carried, and at what precise point
it begins to degenerate into a detestable lie? What is the highest pitch
of freedom and ease of behaviour which can be regarded as graceful
and becoming, and when it is that it ¬rst begins to run into a negligent
and thoughtless licentiousness? With regard to all such matters, what
would hold good in any one case would scarce do so exactly in any
other, and what constitutes the propriety and happiness of behaviour
varies in every case with the smallest variety of situation. Books of
casuistry, therefore, are generally as useless as they are commonly
tiresome. They could be of little use to one who should consult them
upon occasion, even supposing their decisions to be just; because,
notwithstanding the multitude of cases collected in them, yet upon
account of the still greater variety of possible circumstances, it is a
chance, if among all those cases there be found one exactly parallel to
that under consideration. One, who is really anxious to do his duty,
must be very weak, if he can imagine that he has much occasion for
them; and with regard to one who is negligent of it, the style of those
writings is not such as is likely to awaken him to more attention. None
of them tend to animate us to what is generous and noble. None of them
tend to soften us to what is gentle and humane. Many of them, on the
contrary, tend rather to teach us to chicane with our own consciences,

The Theory of Moral Sentiments

and by their vain subtilties serve to authorise innumerable evasive re-
¬nements with regard to the most essential articles of our duty. That
frivolous accuracy which they attempted to introduce into subjects
which do not admit of it, almost necessarily betrayed them into those
dangerous errors, and at the same time rendered their works dry and
disagreeable, abounding in abstruse and metaphysical distinctions, but
incapable of exciting in the heart any of those emotions which it is the
principal use of books of morality to excite.

 The two useful parts of moral philosophy, therefore, are Ethics and
Jurisprudence: casuistry ought to be rejected altogether; and the an-
cient moralists appear to have judged much better, who, in treating of
the same subjects, did not affect any such nice exactness, but contented
themselves with describing, in a general manner, what is the sentiment
upon which justice, modesty, and veracity are founded, and what is
the ordinary way of acting to which those virtues would commonly
prompt us.

µ Something, indeed, not unlike the doctrine of the casuists, seems to
have been attempted by several philosophers. There is something of
this kind in the third book of Cicero™s Of¬ces, where he endeavours
like a casuist to give rules for our conduct in many nice cases, in which
it is dif¬cult to determine whereabouts the point of propriety may
lie.° It appears too, from many passages in the same book, that sev-
eral other philosophers had attempted something of the same kind
before him. Neither he nor they, however, appear to have aimed at
giving a complete system of this sort, but only meant to show how
situations may occur, in which it is doubtful, whether the highest pro-
priety of conduct consists in observing or in receding from what, in
ordinary cases, are the rules of duty.

 Every system of positive law may be regarded as a more or less im-
perfect attempt towards a system of natural jurisprudence, or towards
an enumeration of the particular rules of justice. As the violation
of justice is what men will never submit to from one another, the

° Cicero, De of¬ciis III.xiii.ff.

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