. 3
( 13)


He is happiest who advances more gradually to greatness, whom the
public destines to every step of his preferment long before he arrives
at it, in whom, upon that account, when it comes, it can excite no
extravagant joy, and with regard to whom it cannot reasonably create

Of the propriety of action

either any jealousy in those he overtakes, or any envy in those he leaves

 Mankind, however, more readily sympathize with those smaller joys
which ¬‚ow from less important causes. It is decent to be humble amidst
great prosperity; but we can scarce express too much satisfaction in all
the little occurrences of common life, in the company with which we
spent the evening last night, in the entertainment that was set before
us, in what was said and what was done, in all the little incidents of the
present conversation, and in all those frivolous nothings which ¬ll up
the void of human life. Nothing is more graceful than habitual cheer-
fulness, which is always founded upon a peculiar relish for all the little
pleasures which common occurrences afford. We readily sympathize
with it: it inspires us with the same joy, and makes every tri¬‚e turn
up to us in the same agreeable aspect in which it presents itself to the
person endowed with this happy disposition. Hence it is that youth, the
season of gaiety, so easily engages our affections. That propensity to joy
which seems even to animate the bloom, and to sparkle from the eyes
of youth and beauty, though in a person of the same sex, exalts, even
the aged, to a more joyous mood than ordinary. They forget, for a time,
their in¬rmities, and abandon themselves to those agreeable ideas and
emotions to which they have long been strangers, but which, when the
presence of so much happiness recalls them to their breast, take their
place there, like old acquaintance, from whom they are sorry to have
ever been parted, and whom they embrace more heartily upon account
of this long separation.

 It is quite otherwise with grief. Small vexations excite no sympathy, but
deep af¬‚iction calls forth the greatest. The man who is made uneasy
by every little disagreeable incident, who is hurt if either the cook or
the butler have failed in the least article of their duty, who feels every
defect in the highest ceremonial of politeness, whether it be shewn to
himself or to any other person, who takes it amiss that his intimate
friend did not bid him good-morrow when they met in the forenoon,
and that his brother hummed a tune all the time he himself was telling
a story; who is put out of humour by the badness of the weather when
in the country, by the badness of the roads when upon a journey, and

The Theory of Moral Sentiments

by the want of company, and dulness of all public diversions when in
town; such a person, I say, though he should have some reason, will
seldom meet with much sympathy. Joy is a pleasant emotion, and we
gladly abandon ourselves to it upon the slightest occasion. We readily,
therefore, sympathize with it in others, whenever we are not prejudiced
by envy. But grief is painful, and the mind, even when it is our own
misfortune, naturally resists and recoils from it. We would endeavour
either not to conceive it at all, or to shake it off as soon as we have
conceived it. Our aversion to grief will not, indeed, always hinder us
from conceiving it in our own case upon very tri¬‚ing occasions, but it
constantly prevents us from sympathizing with it in others when excited
by the like frivolous causes: for our sympathetic passions are always
less irresistible than our original ones. There is, besides, a malice in
mankind, which not only prevents all sympathy with little uneasinesses,
but renders them in some measure diverting. Hence the delight which
we all take in raillery, and in the small vexation which we observe in our
companion, when he is pushed, and urged, and teased upon all sides.
Men of the most ordinary good-breeding dissemble the pain which
any little incident may give them; and those who are more thoroughly
formed to society, turn, of their own accord, all such incidents into
raillery, as they know their companions will do for them. The habit
which a man, who lives in the world, has acquired of considering how
every thing that concerns himself will appear to others, makes those
frivolous calamities turn up in the same ridiculous light to him, in which
he knows they will certainly be considered by them.

 Our sympathy, on the contrary, with deep distress, is very strong and
very sincere. It is unnecessary to give an instance. We weep even at the
feigned representation of a tragedy. If you labour, therefore, under any
signal calamity, if by some extraordinary misfortune you are fallen into
poverty, into diseases, into disgrace and disappointment; even though
your own fault may have been, in part, the occasion, yet you may gen-
erally depend upon the sincerest sympathy of all your friends, and, as
far as interest and honour will permit, upon their kindest assistance
too. But if your misfortune is not of this dreadful kind, if you have only
been a little baulked in your ambition, if you have only been jilted by
your mistress, or are only hen-pecked by your wife, lay your account
with the raillery of all your acquaintance.

Of the propriety of action

Section III Of the effects of prosperity and adversity upon
the judgment of mankind with regard to the propriety
of action; and why it is more easy to obtain their
approbation in the one state than in the other
Chapter I That though our sympathy with sorrow is generally
a more lively sensation than our sympathy with joy, it commonly
falls much more short of the violence of what is naturally felt
by the person principally concerned
± Our sympathy with sorrow, though not more real, has been more taken
notice of than our sympathy with joy. The word sympathy, in its most
proper and primitive signi¬cation, denotes our fellow-feeling with
the sufferings, not that with the enjoyments, of others. A late inge-
nious and subtile philosopher thought it necessary to prove, by argu-
ments, that we had a real sympathy with joy, and that congratulation
was a principle of human nature. Nobody, I believe, ever thought it
necessary to prove that compassion was such.

 First of all, our sympathy with sorrow is, in some sense, more univer-
sal than that with joy. Though sorrow is excessive, we may still have
some fellow-feeling with it. What we feel does not, indeed, in this
case, amount to that complete sympathy, to that perfect harmony and
correspondence of sentiments which constitutes approbation. We do
not weep, and exclaim, and lament, with the sufferer. We are sensi-
ble, on the contrary, of his weakness and of the extravagance of his
passion, and yet often feel a very sensible concern upon his account.
But if we do not entirely enter into, and go along with, the joy of
another, we have no sort of regard or fellow-feeling for it. The man
who skips and dances about with that intemperate and senseless joy
which we cannot accompany him in, is the object of our contempt and

 Pain besides, whether of mind or body, is a more pungent sensation
than pleasure, and our sympathy with pain, though it falls greatly
short of what is naturally felt by the sufferer, is generally a more lively
and distinct perception than our sympathy with pleasure, though this

 Joseph Butler (±“±·µ), Fifteen Sermons Preached at the Rolls Chapel [±·], v, para. .

The Theory of Moral Sentiments

last often approaches more nearly, as I shall shew immediately, to the
natural vivacity of the original passion.µ

 Over and above all this, we often struggle to keep down our sympathy
with the sorrow of others. Whenever we are not under the observation
of the sufferer, we endeavour, for our own sake, to suppress it as much
as we can, and we are not always successful. The opposition which we
make to it, and the reluctance with which we yield to it, necessarily
oblige us to take more particular notice of it. But we never have occasion
to make this opposition to our sympathy with joy. If there is any envy
in the case, we never feel the least propensity towards it; and if there
is none, we give way to it without any reluctance. On the contrary,
as we are always ashamed of our own envy, we often pretend, and
sometimes really wish to sympathize with the joy of others, when by
that disagreeable sentiment we are disquali¬ed from doing so. We are
glad, we say, on account of our neighbour™s good fortune, when in our
hearts, perhaps, we are really sorry. We often feel a sympathy with
sorrow when we would wish to be rid of it; and we often miss that
with joy when we would be glad to have it. The obvious observation,
therefore, which it naturally falls in our way to make, is, that our
propensity to sympathize with sorrow must be very strong, and our
inclination to sympathize with joy very weak.

µ Notwithstanding this prejudice, however, I will venture to af¬rm, that,
when there is no envy in the case, our propensity to sympathize with joy
is much stronger than our propensity to sympathize with sorrow; and
that our fellow-feeling for the agreeable emotion approaches much
more nearly to the vivacity of what is naturally felt by the persons
principally concerned, than that which we conceive for the painful

 We have some indulgence for that excessive grief which we cannot
entirely go along with. We know what a prodigious effort is req-
uisite before the sufferer can bring down his emotions to complete
harmony and concord with those of the spectator. Though he fails,
therefore, we easily pardon him. But we have no such indulgence for

µ In the immediately following paragraphs. Cf. I.ii.±, III..±µ, VII.ii and Rhetoric, XVI.

Of the propriety of action

the intemperance of joy; because we are not conscious that any such
vast effort is requisite to bring it down to what we can entirely enter
into. The man who, under the greatest calamities, can command his
sorrow, seems worthy of the highest admiration; but he who, in the
fulness of prosperity, can in the same manner master his joy, seems
hardly to deserve any praise. We are sensible that there is a much wider
interval in the one case than in the other, between what is naturally
felt by the person principally concerned, and what the spectator can
entirely go along with.

· What can be added to the happiness of the man who is in health, who
is out of debt, and has a clear conscience? To one in this situation,
all accessions of fortune may properly be said to be super¬‚uous; and
if he is much elevated upon account of them, it must be the effect
of the most frivolous levity. This situation, however, may very well
be called the natural and ordinary state of mankind. Notwithstanding
the present misery and depravity of the world, so justly lamented, this
really is the state of the greater part of men. The greater part of men,
therefore, cannot ¬nd any great dif¬culty in elevating themselves to
all the joy which any accession to this situation can well excite in their

 But though little can be added to this state, much may be taken from it.
Though between this condition and the highest pitch of human pros-
perity, the interval is but a tri¬‚e; between it and the lowest depth of
misery the distance is immense and prodigious. Adversity, on this ac-
count, necessarily depresses the mind of the sufferer much more below
its natural state, than prosperity can elevate him above it. The specta-
tor, therefore, must ¬nd it much more dif¬cult to sympathize entirely,
and keep perfect time, with his sorrow, than thoroughly to enter into his
joy, and must depart much further from his own natural and ordinary
temper of mind in the one case than in the other. It is on this account,
that though our sympathy with sorrow is often a more pungent sensa-
tion than our sympathy with joy, it always falls much more short of the
violence of what is naturally felt by the person principally concerned.

 It is agreeable to sympathize with joy; and wherever envy does not
oppose it, our heart abandons itself with satisfaction to the highest

The Theory of Moral Sentiments

transports of that delightful sentiment. But it is painful to go along
with grief, and we always enter into it with reluctance.a When we
attend to the representation of a tragedy, we struggle against that sym-
pathetic sorrow which the entertainment inspires as long as we can,
and we give way to it at last only when we can no longer avoid it:
we even then endeavour to cover our concern from the company. If
we shed any tears, we carefully conceal them, and are afraid, lest the
spectators, not entering into this excessive tenderness, should regard
it as effeminacy and weakness. The wretch whose misfortunes call
upon our compassion feels with what reluctance we are likely to enter
into his sorrow, and therefore proposes his grief to us with fear and
hesitation: he even smothers the half of it, and is ashamed, upon ac-
count of this hard-heartedness of mankind, to give vent to the fulness
of his af¬‚iction. It is otherwise with the man who riots in joy and suc-
cess. Wherever envy does not interest us against him, he expects our
a It has been objected to me that as I found the sentiment of approbation, which is always agreeable,
upon sympathy, it is inconsistent with my system to admit any disagreeable sympathy. I answer,
that in the sentiment of approbation there are two things to be taken notice of; ¬rst, the sympathetic
passion of the spectator; and, secondly, the emotion which arises from his observing the perfect
coincidence between this sympathetic passion in himself, and the original passion in the person
principally concerned. This last emotion, in which the sentiment of approbation properly consists,
is always agreeable and delightful. The other may either be agreeable or disagreeable, according
to the nature of the original passion, whose features it must always, in some measure, retain.
 In editions  to µ the note continues: ˜Two sounds, I suppose, may, each of them taken singly, be
austere, and yet, if they are perfect concords, the perception of their harmony and coincidence
may be agreeable.™ Hume had raised the objection in question when he heard that Smith was
preparing a second edition of The Theory of Moral Sentiments: ˜I wish you had more particularly
and fully prov™d, that all kinds of Sympathy are necessarily Agreeable. This is the Hinge of your
System, and yet you only mention the Matter cursorily in p. ° I.i.. . Now it woud appear that
there is a disagreeable Sympathy, as well as an agreeable: And indeed, as the Sympathetic Passion
is a re¬‚ex Image of the principal, it must partake of its Qualities, and be painful where that is so.
Indeed, when we converse with a man with whom we can entirely sympathize, that is, where there
is a warm and intimate Friendship, the cordial openness of such a Commerce overpowers the Pain
of a disagreeable Sympathy, and renders the whole Movement agreeable. But in ordinary Cases,
this cannot have place. An ill-humord Fellow; a man tir™d and disgusted with every thing, always
ennui´; sickly, complaining, embarrass™d; such a one throws an evident Damp on Company, which
I suppose wou™d be accounted for by Sympathy; and yet is disagreeable. It is always thought a
dif¬cult Problem to account for the Pleasure, receivd from the Tears and Grief and Sympathy
of Tragedy; which woud not be the Case, if all Sympathy was agreeable. An Hospital woud be
a more entertaining Place than a Ball. I am afraid that in p.  and ±±± I.ii.µ.. and I.iii.±.
this Proposition has escapd you, or rather is interwove with your Reasonings in that place. You
say expressly, it is painful to go along with Grief and we always enter into it with Reluctance. It will
probably be requisite for you to modify or explain this Sentiment, and reconcile it to your System.™
Letter No. ,  July ±·µ, Corr. p. . Smith™s answer was ¬rst sent with a letter to Gilbert
Elliot (Letter No. °, ±° October ±·µ, Corr., p. µ±) and then introduced into the second edition
in ±·±.

Of the propriety of action

completest sympathy. He does not fear, therefore, to announce him-
self with shouts of exultation, in full con¬dence that we are heartily
disposed to go along with him.

±° Why should we be more ashamed to weep than to laugh before com-
pany? We may often have as real occasion to do the one as to do the
other: but we always feel that the spectators are more likely to go
along with us in the agreeable, than in the painful emotion. It is al-
ways miserable to complain, even when we are oppressed by the most
dreadful calamities. But the triumph of victory is not always ungrace-
ful. Prudence, indeed, would often advise us to bear our prosperity
with more moderation; because prudence would teach us to avoid that
envy which this very triumph is, more than any thing, apt to excite.

±± How hearty are the acclamations of the mob, who never bear any envy
to their superiors, at a triumph or a public entry? And how sedate and
moderate is commonly their grief at an execution? Our sorrow at a
funeral generally amounts to no more than an affected gravity; but
our mirth at a christening or a marriage, is always from the heart, and
without any affectation. Upon these, and all such joyous occasions,
our satisfaction, though not so durable, is often as lively as that of the
persons principally concerned. Whenever we cordially congratulate
our friends, which, however, to the disgrace of human nature, we do
but seldom, their joy literally becomes our joy: we are, for the moment,
as happy as they are: our heart swells and over¬‚ows with real pleasure:
joy and complacency sparkle from our eyes, and animate every feature
of our countenance, and every gesture of our body.

± But, on the contrary, when we condole with our friends in their af-
¬‚ictions, how little do we feel, in comparison of what they feel? We
sit down by them, we look at them, and while they relate to us the
circumstances of their misfortune, we listen to them with gravity and
attention. But while their narration is every moment interrupted by
those natural bursts of passion which often seem almost to choak them
in the midst of it; how far are the languid emotions of our hearts from
keeping time to the transports of theirs? We may be sensible, at the
same time, that their passion is natural, and no greater than what we
ourselves might feel upon the like occasion. We may even inwardly

The Theory of Moral Sentiments

reproach ourselves with our own want of sensibility, and perhaps, on
that account, work ourselves up into an arti¬cial sympathy, which,
however, when it is raised, is always the slightest and most transitory
imaginable; and generally, as soon as we have left the room, vanishes,
and is gone for ever. Nature, it seems, when she loaded us with our
own sorrows, thought that they were enough, and therefore did not
command us to take any further share in those of others, than what
was necessary to prompt us to relieve them.

± It is on account of this dull sensibility to the af¬‚ictions of others, that
magnanimity amidst great distress appears always so divinely graceful.
His behaviour is genteel and agreeable who can maintain his cheerful-
ness amidst a number of frivolous disasters. But he appears to be more
than mortal who can support in the same manner the most dreadful
calamities. We feel what an immense effort is requisite to silence those
violent emotions which naturally agitate and distract those in his situ-
ation. We are amazed to ¬nd that he can command himself so entirely.
His ¬rmness, at the same time, perfectly coincides with our insensi-
bility. He makes no demand upon us for that more exquisite degree of
sensibility which we ¬nd, and which we are morti¬ed to ¬nd, that we
do not possess. There is the most perfect correspondence between his
sentiments and ours, and on that account the most perfect propriety
in his behaviour. It is a propriety too, which, from our experience of
the usual weakness of human nature, we could not reasonably have
expected he should be able to maintain. We wonder with surprise and
astonishment at that strength of mind which is capable of so noble and
generous an effort. The sentiment of complete sympathy and appro-
bation, mixed and animated with wonder and surprise, constitutes
what is properly called admiration, as has already been more than
once taken notice of.· Cato, surrounded on all sides by his enemies,
unable to resist them, disdaining to submit to them, and reduced, by
the proud maxims of that age, to the necessity of destroying himself;
yet never shrinking from his misfortunes, never supplicating with the
lamentable voice of wretchedness, those miserable sympathetic tears
which we are always so unwilling to give; but on the contrary, arming
himself with manly fortitude, and the moment before he executes his

· I.i.. and I.ii.±.±.

Of the propriety of action

fatal resolution, giving, with his usual tranquillity, all necessary orders
for the safety of his friends; appears to Seneca, that great preacher of
insensibility, a spectacle which even the gods themselves might behold
with pleasure and admiration.

± Whenever we meet, in common life, with any examples of such heroic
magnanimity, we are always extremely affected. We are more apt to
weep and shed tears for such as, in this manner, seem to feel nothing
for themselves, than for those who give way to all the weakness of
sorrow: and in this particular case, the sympathetic grief of the spec-
tator appears to go beyond the original passion in the person princi-
pally concerned. The friends of Socrates all wept when he drank the
last potion, while he himself expressed the gayest and most cheerful
tranquillity. Upon all such occasions the spectator makes no effort,
and has no occasion to make any, in order to conquer his sympathetic
sorrow. He is under no fear that it will transport him to any thing
that is extravagant and improper; he is rather pleased with the sen-
sibility of his own heart, and gives way to it with complacence and
self-approbation. He gladly indulges, therefore, the most melancholy
views which can naturally occur to him, concerning the calamity of
his friend, for whom, perhaps, he never felt so exquisitely before, the
tender and tearful passion of love. But it is quite otherwise with the per-
son principally concerned. He is obliged, as much as possible, to turn
away his eyes from whatever is either naturally terrible or disagreeable
in his situation. Too serious an attention to those circumstances, he
fears, might make so violent an impression upon him, that he could no
longer keep within the bounds of moderation, or render himself the
object of the complete sympathy and approbation of the spectators.
He ¬xes his thoughts, therefore, upon those only which are agreeable,
the applause and admiration which he is about to deserve by the heroic
magnanimity of his behaviour. To feel that he is capable of so noble
and generous an effort, to feel that in this dreadful situation he can
still act as he would desire to act, animates and transports him with
joy, and enables him to support that triumphant gaiety which seems
to exult in the victory he thus gains over his misfortunes.

 Seneca (˜the Younger™, c.  BC“AD µ), De Providentia, ii..
 Plato, Phaedo, ±±· b“e.

The Theory of Moral Sentiments

±µ On the contrary, he always appears, in some measure, mean and de-
spicable, who is sunk in sorrow and dejection upon account of any
calamity of his own. We cannot bring ourselves to feel for him what
he feels for himself, and what, perhaps, we should feel for ourselves
if in his situation: we, therefore, despise him; unjustly, perhaps, if any
sentiment could be regarded as unjust, to which we are by nature ir-
resistibly determined. The weakness of sorrow never appears in any
respect agreeable, except when it arises from what we feel for others
more than from what we feel for ourselves. A son, upon the death of
an indulgent and respectable father, may give way to it without much
blame. His sorrow is chie¬‚y founded upon a sort of sympathy with
his departed parent; and we readily enter into this humane emotion.
But if he should indulge the same weakness upon account of any mis-
fortune which affected himself only, he would no longer meet with
any such indulgence. If he should be reduced to beggary and ruin, if
he should be exposed to the most dreadful dangers, if he should even
be led out to a public execution, and there shed one single tear upon
the scaffold, he would disgrace himself for ever in the opinion of all
the gallant and generous part of mankind. Their compassion for him,
however, would be very strong, and very sincere; but as it would still
fall short of this excessive weakness, they would have no pardon for
the man who could thus expose himself in the eyes of the world. His
behaviour would affect them with shame rather than with sorrow; and
the dishonour which he had thus brought upon himself would appear
to them the most lamentable circumstance in his misfortune. How did
it disgrace the memory of the intrepid Duke of Biron,° who had so
often braved death in the ¬eld, that he wept upon the scaffold, when he
beheld the state to which he was fallen, and remembered the favour and
the glory from which his own rashness had so unfortunately thrown

Chapter II Of the origin of ambition, and of the distinction of ranks
± It is because mankind are disposed to sympathize more entirely with
our joy than with our sorrow, that we make parade of our riches, and

° Charles de Gontaut (±µ“±°), duc de Biron, Marshal of France and governor of Bourgogne
under Henri IV; executed for treason.

Of the propriety of action

conceal our poverty. Nothing is so mortifying as to be obliged to expose
our distress to the view of the public, and to feel, that though our sit-
uation is open to the eyes of all mankind, no mortal conceives for us
the half of what we suffer. Nay, it is chie¬‚y from this regard to the
sentiments of mankind, that we pursue riches and avoid poverty. For
to what purpose is all the toil and bustle of this world? what is the end
of avarice and ambition, of the pursuit of wealth, of power, and pre-
heminence? Is it to supply the necessities of nature?± The wages of the
meanest labourer can supply them. We see that they afford him food
and clothing, the comfort of a house, and of a family. If we examined
his oeconomy with rigour, we should ¬nd that he spends a great part
of them upon conveniencies, which may be regarded as super¬‚uities,
and that, upon extraordinary occasions, he can give something even
to vanity and distinction. What then is the cause of our aversion to his
situation, and why should those who have been educated in the higher
ranks of life, regard it as worse than death, to be reduced to live, even
without labour, upon the same simple fare with him, to dwell under
the same lowly roof, and to be clothed in the same humble attire? Do
they imagine that their stomach is better, or their sleep sounder in a
palace than in a cottage? The contrary has been so often observed,
and, indeed, is so very obvious, though it had never been observed,
that there is nobody ignorant of it. From whence, then, arises that
emulation which runs through all the different ranks of men, and
what are the advantages which we propose by that great purpose of
human life which we call bettering our condition? To be observed, to
be attended to, to be taken notice of with sympathy, complacency, and
approbation, are all the advantages which we can propose to derive
from it. It is the vanity, not the ease, or the pleasure, which interests us.
But vanity is always founded upon the belief of our being the object
of attention and approbation. The rich man glories in his riches,
because he feels that they naturally draw upon him the attention of
the world, and that mankind are disposed to go along with him in all
those agreeable emotions with which the advantages of his situation
so readily inspire him. At the thought of this, his heart seems to swell
± Smith elaborates his idea of ˜natural wants™ in LJ (A) vi.·ff and (B) °µff. For the developed
distinction between ˜necessaries™ and ˜luxuries™, see WN V.ii.k.“. For further exploration of the
psychological themes in the present chapter, see IV.±.
 Cf. VI.iii.“· and µ±“. Smith had studied Mandeville on vanity closely, cf. VII.ii..“±.

The Theory of Moral Sentiments

and dilate itself within him, and he is fonder of his wealth, upon this
account, than for all the other advantages it procures him. The poor
man, on the contrary, is ashamed of his poverty. He feels that it either
places him out of the sight of mankind, or, that if they take any notice
of him, they have, however, scarce any fellow-feeling with the misery
and distress which he suffers. He is morti¬ed upon both accounts; for
though to be overlooked, and to be disapproved of, are things entirely
different, yet as obscurity covers us from the daylight of honour and
approbation, to feel that we are taken no notice of, necessarily damps
the most agreeable hope, and disappoints the most ardent desire, of
human nature. The poor man goes out and comes in unheeded, and
when in the midst of a crowd is in the same obscurity as if shut up in his
own hovel. Those humble cares and painful attentions which occupy
those in his situation, afford no amusement to the dissipated and the
gay. They turn away their eyes from him, or if the extremity of his
distress forces them to look at him, it is only to spurn so disagreeable
an object from among them. The fortunate and the proud wonder at
the insolence of human wretchedness, that it should dare to present
itself before them, and with the loathsome aspect of its misery pre-
sume to disturb the serenity of their happiness. The man of rank and
distinction, on the contrary, is observed by all the world. Every body is
eager to look at him, and to conceive, at least by sympathy, that joy and
exultation with which his circumstances naturally inspire him. His ac-
tions are the objects of the public care. Scarce a word, scarce a gesture,
can fall from him that is altogether neglected. In a great assembly he
is the person upon whom all direct their eyes; it is upon him that their
passions seem all to wait with expectation, in order to receive that
movement and direction which he shall impress upon them; and if his
behaviour is not altogether absurd, he has, every moment, an oppor-
tunity of interesting mankind, and of rendering himself the object of
the observation and fellow-feeling of every body about him. It is this,
which, notwithstanding the restraint it imposes, notwithstanding the
loss of liberty with which it is attended, renders greatness the object
of envy, and compensates, in the opinion of mankind, all that toil, all
that anxiety, all those morti¬cations which must be undergone in the
pursuit of it; and what is of yet more consequence, all that leisure, all
that ease, all that careless security, which are forfeited for ever by the

Of the propriety of action

 When we consider the condition of the great, in those delusive colours
in which the imagination is apt to paint it, it seems to be almost the
abstract idea of a perfect and happy state. It is the very state which, in all
our waking dreams and idle reveries, we had sketched out to ourselves
as the ¬nal object of all our desires. We feel, therefore, a peculiar
sympathy with the satisfaction of those who are in it. We favour all their
inclinations, and forward all their wishes. What pity, we think, that
any thing should spoil and corrupt so agreeable a situation! We could
even wish them immortal; and it seems hard to us, that death should
at last put an end to such perfect enjoyment. It is cruel, we think, in
Nature to compel them from their exalted stations to that humble, but
hospitable home, which she has provided for all her children. Great
King, live for ever! is the compliment, which, after the manner of
eastern adulation, we should readily make them, if experience did not
teach us its absurdity. Every calamity that befals them, every injury
that is done them, excites in the breast of the spectator ten times
more compassion and resentment than he would have felt, had the
same things happened to other men. It is the misfortunes of Kings
only which afford the proper subjects for tragedy. They resemble, in
this respect, the misfortunes of lovers. Those two situations are the
chief which interest us upon the theatre; because, in spite of all that
reason and experience can tell us to the contrary, the prejudices of
the imagination attach to these two states a happiness superior to any
other. To disturb, or to put an end to such perfect enjoyment, seems
to be the most atrocious of all injuries. The traitor who conspires
against the life of his monarch, is thought a greater monster than any
other murderer. All the innocent blood that was shed in the civil wars,
provoked less indignation than the death of Charles I. A stranger to
human nature, who saw the indifference of men about the misery
of their inferiors, and the regret and indignation which they feel for
the misfortunes and sufferings of those above them, would be apt to
imagine, that pain must be more agonizing, and the convulsions of
death more terrible to persons of higher rank, than to those of meaner

 Upon this disposition of mankind, to go along with all the passions of
the rich and the powerful, is founded the distinction of ranks, and the
order of society. Our obsequiousness to our superiors more frequently

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arises from our admiration for the advantages of their situation, than
from any private expectations of bene¬t from their good-will. Their
bene¬ts can extend but to a few; but their fortunes interest almost
every body. We are eager to assist them in completing a system of hap-
piness that approaches so near to perfection; and we desire to serve
them for their own sake, without any other recompense but the vanity
or the honour of obliging them. Neither is our deference to their incli-
nations founded chie¬‚y, or altogether, upon a regard to the utility of
such submission, and to the order of society, which is best supported
by it. Even when the order of society seems to require that we should
oppose them, we can hardly bring ourselves to do it. That kings are the
servants of the people, to be obeyed, resisted, deposed, or punished,
as the public conveniency may require, is the doctrine of reason and
philosophy; but it is not the doctrine of Nature. Nature would teach
us to submit to them for their own sake, to tremble and bow down
before their exalted station, to regard their smile as a reward suf¬cient
to compensate any services, and to dread their displeasure, though no
other evil were to follow from it, as the severest of all morti¬cations.
To treat them in any respect as men, to reason and dispute with them
upon ordinary occasions, requires such resolution, that there are few
men whose magnanimity can support them in it, unless they are like-
wise assisted by familiarity and acquaintance. The strongest motives,
the most furious passions, fear, hatred, and resentment, are scarce
suf¬cient to balance this natural disposition to respect them: and their
conduct must, either justly or unjustly, have excited the highest degree
of all those passions, before the bulk of the people can be brought to
oppose them with violence, or to desire to see them either punished or
deposed. Even when the people have been brought this length, they
are apt to relent every moment, and easily relapse into their habitual
state of deference to those whom they have been accustomed to look
upon as their natural superiors. They cannot stand the morti¬cation
of their monarch. Compassion soon takes the place of resentment,
 Rejecting contract theory (LJ (A) iv.±; v.±±“±, ±·, ±; (B) ±µ“±) Smith suggests that there
are two basic principles for civil government, that of ˜authority™ and that of ˜utility™ (LJ (A)
v.±±ff, (B) ±). The principle of authority, or subordination, has four ˜causes™: ˜The ¬rst of those
causes . . . is the superiority of personal quali¬cations, of strength, beauty, and agility of body; of
wisdom, and virtue, of prudence, justice, fortitude and moderation of mind . . . The second . . . is
the superiority of age . . . The third . . . the superiority of fortune . . . The fourth . . . the superiority
of birth.™ (WN V.i.b.µ“).

Of the propriety of action

they forget all past provocations, their old principles of loyalty revive,
and they run to re-establish the ruined authority of their old masters,
with the same violence with which they had opposed it. The death
of Charles I. brought about the Restoration of the royal family. Com-
passion for James II. when he was seized by the populace in making
his escape on ship-board, had almost prevented the Revolution, and
made it go on more heavily than before.

 Do the great seem insensible of the easy price at which they may
acquire the public admiration; or do they seem to imagine that to
them, as to other men, it must be the purchase either of sweat or of
blood? By what important accomplishments is the young nobleman
instructed to support the dignity of his rank, and to render himself
worthy of that superiority over his fellow-citizens, to which the virtue
of his ancestors had raised them? Is it by knowledge, by industry, by
patience, by self-denial, or by virtue of any kind? As all his words, as
all his motions are attended to, he learns an habitual regard to every
circumstance of ordinary behaviour, and studies to perform all those
small duties with the most exact propriety. As he is conscious how
much he is observed, and how much mankind are disposed to favour
all his inclinations, he acts, upon the most indifferent occasions, with
that freedom and elevation which the thought of this naturally in-
spires. His air, his manner, his deportment, all mark that elegant and
graceful sense of his own superiority, which those who are born to in-
ferior stations can hardly ever arrive at. These are the arts by which he
proposes to make mankind more easily submit to his authority, and to
govern their inclinations according to his own pleasure: and in this he
is seldom disappointed. These arts, supported by rank and prehem-
inence, are, upon ordinary occasions, suf¬cient to govern the world.
Lewis XIV. during the greater part of his reign, was regarded, not only
in France, but over all Europe, as the most perfect model of a great
prince. But what were the talents and virtues by which he acquired this
great reputation? Was it by the scrupulous and in¬‚exible justice of all
his undertakings, by the immense dangers and dif¬culties with which
they were attended, or by the unwearied and unrelenting application
 When James II (±“±·°±) ¬rst tried to ¬‚ee to France on ±± December ±, as the ˜Glorious
Revolution™ unfolded, his ship sought extra ballast at Faversham where he was roughly treated by
the locals. He eventually ¬‚ed on  December.

The Theory of Moral Sentiments

with which he pursued them? Was it by his extensive knowledge, by
his exquisite judgment, or by his heroic valour? It was by none of these
qualities. But he was, ¬rst of all, the most powerful prince in Europe,
and consequently held the highest rank among kings; and then, says
his historian,µ ˜he surpassed all his courtiers in the gracefulness of his
shape, and the majestic beauty of his features. The sound of his voice,
noble and affecting, gained those hearts which his presence intimi-
dated. He had a step and a deportment which could suit only him and
his rank, and which would have been ridiculous in any other person.
The embarrassment which he occasioned to those who spoke to him,
¬‚attered that secret satisfaction with which he felt his own superiority.
The old of¬cer, who was confounded and faultered in asking him a
favour, and not being able to conclude his discourse, said to him: Sir,
your majesty, I hope, will believe that I do not tremble thus before
your enemies: had no dif¬culty to obtain what he demanded.™ These
frivolous accomplishments, supported by his rank, and, no doubt too,
by a degree of other talents and virtues, which seems, however, not
to have been much above mediocrity, established this prince in the
esteem of his own age, and have drawn, even from posterity, a good
deal of respect for his memory. Compared with these, in his own times,
and in his own presence, no other virtue, it seems, appeared to have
any merit. Knowledge, industry, valour, and bene¬cence, trembled,
were abashed, and lost all dignity before them.

µ But it is not by accomplishments of this kind, that the man of inferior
rank must hope to distinguish himself. Politeness is so much the virtue
of the great, that it will do little honour to any body but themselves.
The coxcomb, who imitates their manner, and affects to be eminent
by the superior propriety of his ordinary behaviour, is rewarded with a
double share of contempt for his folly and presumption. Why should
the man, whom nobody thinks it worth while to look at, be very anx-
ious about the manner in which he holds up his head, or disposes of
his arms while he walks through a room? He is occupied surely with
a very super¬‚uous attention, and with an attention too that marks a
sense of his own importance, which no other mortal can go along with.
The most perfect modesty and plainness, joined to as much negligence

µ Voltaire, Si`cle de Louis XIV (±·µ±) ch. µ. Louis XIV (±“±·±µ), king of France.

Of the propriety of action

as is consistent with the respect due to the company, ought to be the
chief characteristics of the behaviour of a private man. If ever he hopes
to distinguish himself, it must be by more important virtues. He must
acquire dependants to balance the dependants of the great, and he
has no other fund to pay them from, but the labour of his body, and
the activity of his mind. He must cultivate these therefore: he must
acquire superior knowledge in his profession, and superior industry
in the exercise of it. He must be patient in labour, resolute in danger,
and ¬rm in distress. These talents he must bring into public view,
by the dif¬culty, importance, and, at the same time, good judgment
of his undertakings, and by the severe and unrelenting application
with which he pursues them. Probity and prudence, generosity and
frankness, must characterize his behaviour upon all ordinary occa-
sions; and he must, at the same time, be forward to engage in all those
situations, in which it requires the greatest talents and virtues to act
with propriety, but in which the greatest applause is to be acquired by
those who can acquit themselves with honour. With what impatience
does the man of spirit and ambition, who is depressed by his situa-
tion, look round for some great opportunity to distinguish himself ?
No circumstances, which can afford this, appear to him undesirable.
He even looks forward with satisfaction to the prospect of foreign
war, or civil dissension; and, with secret transport and delight, sees
through all the confusion and bloodshed which attend them, the prob-
ability of those wished-for occasions presenting themselves, in which
he may draw upon himself the attention and admiration of mankind.
The man of rank and distinction, on the contrary, whose whole glory
consists in the propriety of his ordinary behaviour, who is contented
with the humble renown which this can afford him, and has no tal-
ents to acquire any other, is unwilling to embarrass himself with what
can be attended either with dif¬culty or distress. To ¬gure at a ball
is his great triumph, and to succeed in an intrigue of gallantry, his
highest exploit. He has an aversion to all public confusions, not from
the love of mankind, for the great never look upon their inferiors as
their fellow-creatures; nor yet from want of courage, for in that he is
seldom defective; but from a consciousness that he possesses none of
the virtues which are required in such situations, and that the pub-
lic attention will certainly be drawn away from him by others. He
may be willing to expose himself to some little danger, and to make

The Theory of Moral Sentiments

a campaign when it happens to be the fashion. But he shudders with
horror at the thought of any situation which demands the continual
and long exertion of patience, industry, fortitude, and application of
thought. These virtues are hardly ever to be met with in men who are
born to those high stations. In all governments accordingly, even in
monarchies, the highest of¬ces are generally possessed, and the whole
detail of the administration conducted, by men who were educated in
the middle and inferior ranks of life, who have been carried forward
by their own industry and abilities, though loaded with the jealousy,
and opposed by the resentment, of all those who were born their su-
periors, and to whom the great, after having regarded them ¬rst with
contempt, and afterwards with envy, are at last contented to truckle
with the same abject meanness with which they desire that the rest of
mankind should behave to themselves.

 It is the loss of this easy empire over the affections of mankind which
renders the fall from greatness so insupportable. When the family of
the king of Macedon was led in triumph by Paulus Æmilius, their
misfortunes, it is said, made them divide with their conqueror the
attention of the Roman people. The sight of the royal children, whose
tender age rendered them insensible of their situation, struck the spec-
tators, amidst the public rejoicings and prosperity, with the tenderest
sorrow and compassion. The king appeared next in the procession;
and seemed like one confounded and astonished, and bereft of all sen-
timent, by the greatness of his calamities. His friends and ministers
followed after him. As they moved along, they often cast their eyes
upon their fallen sovereign, and always burst into tears at the sight;
their whole behaviour demonstrating that they thought not of their
own misfortunes, but were occupied entirely by the superior great-
ness of his. The generous Romans, on the contrary, beheld him with
disdain and indignation, and regarded as unworthy of all compassion
the man who could be so mean-spirited as to bear to live under such
calamities. Yet what did those calamities amount to? According to
the greater part of historians, he was to spend the remainder of his
days, under the protection of a powerful and humane people, in a state
which in itself should seem worthy of envy, a state of plenty, ease,

 Cf. Plutarch (“±°), Parallel Lives, Aemilius Paulus, “.

Of the propriety of action

leisure, and security, from which it was impossible for him even by
his own folly to fall. But he was no longer to be surrounded by that
admiring mob of fools, ¬‚atterers, and dependants, who had formerly
been accustomed to attend upon all his motions. He was no longer to
be gazed upon by multitudes, nor to have it in his power to render
himself the object of their respect, their gratitude, their love, their ad-
miration. The passions of nations were no longer to mould themselves
upon his inclinations. This was that insupportable calamity which be-
reaved the king of all sentiment; which made his friends forget their
own misfortunes; and which the Roman magnanimity could scarce
conceive how any man could be so mean-spirited as to bear to survive.

· ˜Love,™ says my Lord Rochfaucault, ˜is commonly succeeded by am-
bition; but ambition is hardly ever succeeded by love.™· That passion,
when once it has got entire possession of the breast, will admit neither
a rival nor a successor. To those who have been accustomed to the pos-
session, or even to the hope of public admiration, all other pleasures
sicken and decay. Of all the discarded statesmen who for their own
ease have studied to get the better of ambition, and to despise those
honours which they could no longer arrive at, how few have been
able to succeed? The greater part have spent their time in the most
listless and insipid indolence, chagrined at the thoughts of their own
insigni¬cancy, incapable of being interested in the occupations of pri-
vate life, without enjoyment, except when they talked of their former
greatness, and without satisfaction, except when they were employed
in some vain project to recover it. Are you in earnest resolved never to
barter your liberty for the lordly servitude of a court, but to live free,
fearless, and independent? There seems to be one way to continue in
that virtuous resolution; and perhaps but one. Never enter the place
from whence so few have been able to return; never come within the
circle of ambition; nor ever bring yourself into comparison with those
masters of the earth who have already engrossed the attention of half
mankind before you.

 Of such mighty importance does it appear to be, in the imaginations
of men, to stand in that situation which sets them most in the view

· Francois duc de La Rochefoucauld (±±“°), Maximes (±µ), No. °.

The Theory of Moral Sentiments

of general sympathy and attention. And thus, place, that great object
which divides the wives of aldermen, is the end of half the labours of
human life; and is the cause of all the tumult and bustle, all the rapine
and injustice, which avarice and ambition have introduced into this
world. People of sense, it is said, indeed despise place; that is, they
despise sitting at the head of the table, and are indifferent who it is that
is pointed out to the company by that frivolous circumstance, which the
smallest advantage is capable of overbalancing. But rank, distinction
pre-eminence, no man despises, unless he is either raised very much
above, or sunk very much below, the ordinary standard of human
nature; unless he is either so con¬rmed in wisdom and real philosophy,
as to be satis¬ed that, while the propriety of his conduct renders him
the just object of approbation, it is of little consequence though he
be neither attended to, nor approved of; or so habituated to the idea
of his own meanness, so sunk in slothful and sottish indifference,
as entirely to have forgot the desire, and almost the very wish, for

 As to become the natural object of the joyous congratulations and
sympathetic attentions of mankind is, in this manner, the circum-
stance which gives to prosperity all its dazzling splendour; so nothing
darkens so much the gloom of adversity as to feel that our misfor-
tunes are the objects, not of the fellow-feeling, but of the contempt
and aversion of our brethren. It is upon this account that the most
dreadful calamities are not always those which it is most dif¬cult to
support. It is often more mortifying to appear in public under small
disasters, than under great misfortunes. The ¬rst excite no sympa-
thy; but the second, though they may excite none that approaches to
the anguish of the sufferer, call forth, however, a very lively compas-
sion. The sentiments of the spectators are, in this last case, less wide
of those of the sufferer, and their imperfect fellow-feeling lends him
some assistance in supporting his misery. Before a gay assembly, a gen-
tleman would be more morti¬ed to appear covered with ¬lth and rags
than with blood and wounds. This last situation would interest their
pity; the other would provoke their laughter. The judge who orders a
criminal to be set in the pillory, dishonours him more than if he had
condemned him to the scaffold. The great prince, who, some years
ago, caned a general of¬cer at the head of his army, disgraced him

Of the propriety of action

irrecoverably. The punishment would have been much less had he
shot him through the body. By the laws of honour, to strike with a
cane dishonours, to strike with a sword does not, for an obvious rea-
son. Those slighter punishments, when in¬‚icted on a gentleman, to
whom dishonour is the greatest of all evils, come to be regarded among
a humane and generous people, as the most dreadful of any. With re-
gard to persons of that rank, therefore, they are universally laid aside,
and the law, while it takes their life upon many occasions, respects
their honour upon almost all. To scourge a person of quality, or to set
him in the pillory, upon account of any crime whatever, is a brutality
of which no European government, except that of Russia, is capable.

±° A brave man is not rendered contemptible by being brought to the
scaffold; he is, by being set in the pillory. His behaviour in the one sit-
uation may gain him universal esteem and admiration. No behaviour
in the other can render him agreeable. The sympathy of the specta-
tors supports him in the one case, and saves him from that shame,
that consciousness that his misery is felt by himself only, which is of
all sentiments the most unsupportable. There is no sympathy in the
other; or, if there is any, it is not with his pain, which is a tri¬‚e, but
with his consciousness of the want of sympathy with which this pain
is attended. It is with his shame, not with his sorrow. Those who pity
him, blush and hang down their heads for him. He droops in the same
manner, and feels himself irrecoverably degraded by the punishment,
though not by the crime. The man, on the contrary, who dies with res-
olution, as he is naturally regarded with the erect aspect of esteem and
approbation, so he wears himself the same undaunted countenance;
and, if the crime does not deprive him of the respect of others, the
punishment never will. He has no suspicion that his situation is the
object of contempt or derision to any body, and he can, with propri-
ety, assume the air, not only of perfect serenity, but of triumph and

±± ˜Great dangers,™ says the Cardinal de Retz, ˜have their charms,
because there is some glory to be got, even when we miscarry. But
moderate dangers have nothing but what is horrible, because the loss
 The episode has not been identi¬ed.

The Theory of Moral Sentiments

of reputation always attends the want of success.™ His maxim has
the same foundation with what we have been just now observing with
regard to punishments.

± Human virtue is superior to pain, to poverty, to danger, and to death;
nor does it even require its utmost efforts to despise them. But to have
its misery exposed to insult and derision, to be led in triumph, to be
set up for the hand of scorn to point at, is a situation in which its
constancy is much more apt to fail. Compared with the contempt of
mankind, all other external evils are easily supported.

Chapter III Of the corruption of our moral sentiments, which
is occasioned by this disposition to admire the rich and the great,
and to despise or neglect persons of poor and mean condition°
± This disposition to admire, and almost to worship, the rich and the
powerful, and to despise, or, at least, to neglect persons of poor and
mean condition, though necessary both to establish and to maintain
the distinction of ranks and the order of society, is, at the same time,
the great and most universal cause of the corruption of our moral
sentiments. That wealth and greatness are often regarded with the
respect and admiration which are due only to wisdom and virtue; and
that the contempt, of which vice and folly are the only proper objects,
is often most unjustly bestowed upon poverty and weakness, has been
the complaint of moralists in all ages.

 We desire both to be respectable and to be respected. We dread both to
be contemptible and to be contemned. But, upon coming into the world,
we soon ¬nd that wisdom and virtue are by no means the sole objects of
respect; nor vice and folly, of contempt. We frequently see the respectful
attentions of the world more strongly directed towards the rich and the
great, than towards the wise and the virtuous. We see frequently the
vices and follies of the powerful much less despised than the poverty

 Jean Francois Paul de Gondi, Cardinal de Retz (±±“·), M´moires, September ±; also quoted
in part in Rhetoric ii..
° This chapter was added in the sixth edition to replace a discussion of stoicism which, along with
other passages on that topic, was reconstituted as VII.ii.±.±µ“·.

Of the propriety of action

and weakness of the innocent. To deserve, to acquire, and to enjoy the
respect and admiration of mankind, are the great objects of ambition
and emulation. Two different roads are presented to us, equally leading
to the attainment of this so much desired object; the one, by the study
of wisdom and the practice of virtue; the other, by the acquisition of
wealth and greatness. Two different characters are presented to our
emulation; the one, of proud ambition and ostentatious avidity; the
other, of humble modesty and equitable justice. Two different models,
two different pictures, are held out to us, according to which we may
fashion our own character and behaviour; the one more gaudy and
glittering in its colouring; the other more correct and more exquisitely
beautiful in its outline: the one forcing itself upon the notice of every
wandering eye; the other, attracting the attention of scarce any body
but the most studious and careful observer. They are the wise and the
virtuous chie¬‚y, a select, though, I am afraid, but a small party, who
are the real and steady admirers of wisdom and virtue. The great mob
of mankind are the admirers and worshippers, and, what may seem
more extraordinary, most frequently the disinterested admirers and
worshippers, of wealth and greatness.

 The respect which we feel for wisdom and virtue is, no doubt, dif-
ferent from that which we conceive for wealth and greatness; and it
requires no very nice discernment to distinguish the difference. But,
notwithstanding this difference, those sentiments bear a very consider-
able resemblance to one another. In some particular features they are,
no doubt, different, but, in the general air of the countenance, they
seem to be so very nearly the same, that inattentive observers are very
apt to mistake the one for the other.

 In equal degrees of merit there is scarce any man who does not respect
more the rich and the great, than the poor and the humble. With most
men the presumption and vanity of the former are much more admired,
than the real and solid merit of the latter. It is scarce agreeable to good
morals, or even to good language, perhaps, to say, that mere wealth and
greatness, abstracted from merit and virtue, deserve our respect. We
must acknowledge, however, that they almost constantly obtain it; and
that they may, therefore, be considered as, in some respects, the natu-
ral objects of it. Those exalted stations may, no doubt, be completely

The Theory of Moral Sentiments

degraded by vice and folly. But the vice and folly must be very great,
before they can operate this complete degradation. The pro¬‚igacy of a
man of fashion is looked upon with much less contempt and aversion,
than that of a man of meaner condition. In the latter, a single trans-
gression of the rules of temperance and propriety, is commonly more
resented, than the constant and avowed contempt of them ever is in the

µ In the middling and inferior stations of life, the road to virtue and that
to fortune, to such fortune, at least, as men in such stations can rea-
sonably expect to acquire, are, happily in most cases, very nearly the
same. In all the middling and inferior professions, real and solid profes-
sional abilities, joined to prudent, just, ¬rm, and temperate conduct,
can very seldom fail of success. Abilities will even sometimes prevail
where the conduct is by no means correct. Either habitual imprudence,
however, or injustice, or weakness, or pro¬‚igacy, will always cloud, and
sometimes depress altogether, the most splendid professional abilities.
Men in the inferior and middling stations of life, besides, can never be
great enough to be above the law, which must generally overawe them
into some sort of respect for, at least, the more important rules of jus-
tice. The success of such people, too, almost always depends upon the
favour and good opinion of their neighbours and equals; and without a
tolerably regular conduct these can very seldom be obtained. The good
old proverb, therefore, That honesty is the best policy, holds, in such
situations, almost always perfectly true. In such situations, therefore,
we may generally expect a considerable degree of virtue; and, fortu-
nately for the good morals of society, these are the situations of by far
the greater part of mankind.

 In the superior stations of life the case is unhappily not always the same.
In the courts of princes, in the drawing-rooms of the great, where
success and preferment depend, not upon the esteem of intelligent
and well-informed equals, but upon the fanciful and foolish favour of
ignorant, presumptuous, and proud superiors; ¬‚attery and falsehood
too often prevail over merit and abilities. In such societies the abilities
to please, are more regarded than the abilities to serve. In quiet and
peaceable times, when the storm is at a distance, the prince, or great
man, wishes only to be amused, and is even apt to fancy that he has

Of the propriety of action

scarce any occasion for the service of any body, or that those who amuse
him are suf¬ciently able to serve him. The external graces, the frivolous
accomplishments of that impertinent and foolish thing called a man of
fashion, are commonly more admired than the solid and masculine
virtues of a warrior, a statesman, a philosopher, or a legislator. All the
great and awful virtues, all the virtues which can ¬t, either for the
council, the senate, or the ¬eld, are, by the insolent and insigni¬cant
¬‚atterers, who commonly ¬gure the most in such corrupted societies,
held in the utmost contempt and derision. When the duke of Sully
was called upon by Lewis the Thirteenth, to give his advice in some
great emergency, he observed the favourites and courtiers whispering
to one another, and smiling at his unfashionable appearance. ˜Whenever
your majesty™s father,™ said the old warrior and statesman, ˜did me the
honour to consult me, he ordered the buffoons of the court to retire
into the antechamber.™±

· It is from our disposition to admire, and consequently to imitate, the
rich and the great, that they are enabled to set, or to lead what is
called the fashion. Their dress is the fashionable dress; the language
of their conversation, the fashionable style; their air and deportment,
the fashionable behaviour. Even their vices and follies are fashionable;
and the greater part of men are proud to imitate and resemble them
in the very qualities which dishonour and degrade them. Vain men
often give themselves airs of a fashionable pro¬‚igacy, which, in their
hearts, they do not approve of, and of which, perhaps, they are really
not guilty. They desire to be praised for what they themselves do not
think praise-worthy, and are ashamed of unfashionable virtues which
they sometimes practice in secret, and for which they have secretly
some degree of real veneration. There are hypocrites of wealth and
greatness, as well as of religion and virtue; and a vain man is as apt to
pretend to be what he is not, in the one way, as a cunning man is in
the other. He assumes the equipage and splendid way of living of his
superiors, without considering that whatever may be praise-worthy in
any of these, derives its whole merit and propriety from its suitableness
± Maximilien de B´ thune, duc de Sully (±µµ“±±), great minister under Henri IV, was sidelined by
the successor, Louis XIII. The reference is to Sully™s memoirs, Economies royales d™´tat, domestiques,
politiques et militaires,  vols., ±“, vol.  (in M´moires du Duc de Sully,  volumes (Paris, ±·),
VI: ±.

The Theory of Moral Sentiments

to that situation and fortune which both require and can easily support
the expence. Many a poor man places his glory in being thought rich,
without considering that the duties (if one may call such follies by so
very venerable a name) which that reputation imposes upon him, must
soon reduce him to beggary, and render his situation still more unlike
that of those whom he admires and imitates, than it had been originally.

 To attain to this envied situation, the candidates for fortune too fre-
quently abandon the paths of virtue; for unhappily, the road which
leads to the one, and that which leads to the other, lie sometimes in
very opposite directions. But the ambitious man ¬‚atters himself that,
in the splendid situation to which he advances, he will have so many
means of commanding the respect and admiration of mankind, and will
be enabled to act with such superior propriety and grace, that the lustre
of his future conduct will entirely cover, or efface, the foulness of the
steps by which he arrived at that elevation. In many governments the
candidates for the highest stations are above the law; and, if they can
attain the object of their ambition, they have no fear of being called to
account for the means by which they acquired it. They often endeavour,
therefore, not only by fraud and falsehood, the ordinary and vulgar arts
of intrigue and cabal; but sometimes by the perpetration of the most
enormous crimes, by murder and assassination, by rebellion and civil
war, to supplant and destroy those who oppose or stand in the way
of their greatness. They more frequently miscarry than succeed; and
commonly gain nothing but the disgraceful punishment which is due
to their crimes. But, though they should be so lucky as to attain that
wished-for greatness, they are always most miserably disappointed in
the happiness which they expect to enjoy in it. It is not ease or plea-
sure, but always honour, of one kind or another, though frequently an
honour very ill understood, that the ambitious man really pursues. But
the honour of his exalted station appears, both in his own eyes and in
those of other people, polluted and de¬led by the baseness of the means
through which he rose to it. Though by the profusion of every liberal
expence; though by excessive indulgence in every pro¬‚igate pleasure,
the wretched, but usual, resource of ruined characters; though by the
hurry of public business, or by the prouder and more dazzling tumult
of war, he may endeavour to efface, both from his own memory and
from that of other people, the remembrance of what he has done; that

Of the propriety of action

remembrance never fails to pursue him. He invokes in vain the dark
and dismal powers of forgetfulness and oblivion. He remembers himself
what he has done, and that remembrance tells him that other people
must likewise remember it. Amidst all the gaudy pomp of the most
ostentatious greatness; amidst the venal and vile adulation of the great
and of the learned; amidst the more innocent, though more foolish, ac-
clamations of the common people; amidst all the pride of conquest and
the triumph of successful war, he is still secretly pursued by the aveng-
ing furies of shame and remorse; and, while glory seems to surround
him on all sides, he himself, in his own imagination, sees black and foul
infamy fast pursuing him, and every moment ready to overtake him
from behind. Even the great C¦sar, though he had the magnanimity to
dismiss his guards, could not dismiss his suspicions. The remembrance
of Pharsalia still haunted and pursued him. When, at the request of the
senate, he had the generosity to pardon Marcellus, he told that assembly,
that he was not unaware of the designs which were carrying on against
his life; but that, as he had lived long enough both for nature and for
glory, he was contented to die, and therefore despised all conspiracies.
He had, perhaps, lived long enough for nature. But the man who
felt himself the object of such deadly resentment, from those whose
favour he wished to gain, and whom he still wished to consider as his
friends, had certainly lived too long for real glory; or for all the happi-
ness which he could ever hope to enjoy in the love and esteem of his

 Smith refers to episodes during the Roman civil war in the forties BC between Caesar and the
forces of the republican aristocracy led by Pompey over whom the eventual dictator-for-life won a
dif¬cult victory in  BC at the city of Pharsalus in Pharsalia, Thessaly. Marcus Claudius Marcellus,
consul in µ± BC, was an opponent of Caesar who, on Caesar™s ascendancy, retired to Mytilene but
who was recalled by Caesar in  as part of a campaign to shore up Senate support, an act celebrated
by Cicero in his pro Marcello from which Smith transcribes and adapts a passage in which Cicero
quotes Caesar (viii.µ).

Part II
Of merit and demerit; or, of the objects
of reward and punishment
Consisting of three sections

Section I Of the sense of merit and demerit
± There is another set of qualities ascribed to the actions and conduct of
mankind, distinct from their propriety or impropriety, their decency
or ungracefulness, and which are the objects of a distinct species of
approbation and disapprobation. These are Merit and Demerit, the
qualities of deserving reward, and of deserving punishment.

 It has already been observed,± that the sentiment or affection of the
heart, from which any action proceeds, and upon which its whole virtue
or vice depends, may be considered under two different aspects, or in
two different relations: ¬rst, in relation to the cause or object which
excites it; and, secondly, in relation to the end which it proposes, or
to the effect which it tends to produce: that upon the suitableness or
unsuitableness, upon the proportion or disproportion, which the affec-
tion seems to bear to the cause or object which excites it, depends the
propriety or impropriety, the decency or ungracefulness of the conse-
quent action; and that upon the bene¬cial or hurtful effects which the
affection proposes or tends to produce, depends the merit or demerit,
the good or ill desert of the action to which it gives occasion. Wherein
consists our sense of the propriety or impropriety of actions, has been
explained in the former part of this discourse. We come now to consider,
wherein consists that of their good or ill desert.
± I.i..µ“·.

Of merit and demerit; reward and punishment

Chapter I That whatever appears to be the proper object of gratitude,
appears to deserve reward; and that, in the same manner, whatever appears
to be the proper object of resentment, appears to deserve punishment
± To us, therefore, that action must appear to deserve reward, which
appears to be the proper and approved object of that sentiment, which
most immediately and directly prompts us to reward, or to do good to
another. And in the same manner, that action must appear to deserve
punishment, which appears to be the proper and approved object of
that sentiment which most immediately and directly prompts us to
punish, or to in¬‚ict evil upon another.

 The sentiment which most immediately and directly prompts us to
reward, is gratitude; that which most immediately and directly prompts
us to punish, is resentment.

 To us, therefore, that action must appear to deserve reward, which
appears to be the proper and approved object of gratitude; as, on the
other hand, that action must appear to deserve punishment, which
appears to be the proper and approved object of resentment.

 To reward, is to recompense, to remunerate, to return good for good
received. To punish, too, is to recompense, to remunerate, though in a
different manner; it is to return evil for evil that has been done.

µ There are some other passions, besides gratitude and resentment,
which interest us in the happiness or misery of others; but there are
none which so directly excite us to be the instruments of either. The
love and esteem which grow upon acquaintance and habitual appro-
bation, necessarily lead us to be pleased with the good fortune of the
man who is the object of such agreeable emotions, and consequently,
to be willing to lend a hand to promote it. Our love, however, is fully
satis¬ed, though his good fortune should be brought about without our
assistance. All that this passion desires is to see him happy, without
regarding who was the author of his prosperity. But gratitude is not to
be satis¬ed in this manner. If the person to whom we owe many obli-
gations, is made happy without our assistance, though it pleases our
love, it does not content our gratitude. Till we have recompensed him,

The Theory of Moral Sentiments

till we ourselves have been instrumental in promoting his happiness, we
feel ourselves still loaded with that debt which his past services have laid
upon us.

 The hatred and dislike, in the same manner, which grow upon habitual
disapprobation, would often lead us to take a malicious pleasure in the
misfortune of the man whose conduct and character excite so painful a
passion. But though dislike and hatred harden us against all sympathy,
and sometimes dispose us even to rejoice at the distress of another,
yet, if there is no resentment in the case, if neither we nor our friends
have received any great personal provocation, these passions would
not naturally lead us to wish to be instrumental in bringing it about.
Though we could fear no punishment in consequence of our having had
some hand in it, we would rather that it should happen by other means.
To one under the dominion of violent hatred it would be agreeable,
perhaps, to hear, that the person whom he abhorred and detested was
killed by some accident. But if he had the least spark of justice, which,
though this passion is not very favourable to virtue, he might still have,
it would hurt him excessively to have been himself, even without design,
the occasion of this misfortune. Much more would the very thought of
voluntarily contributing to it shock him beyond all measure. He would
reject with horror even the imagination of so execrable a design; and if
he could imagine himself capable of such an enormity, he would begin
to regard himself in the same odious light in which he had considered
the person who was the object of his dislike. But it is quite otherwise
with resentment: if the person who had done us some great injury,
who had murdered our father or our brother, for example, should soon
afterwards die of a fever, or even be brought to the scaffold upon account
of some other crime, though it might sooth our hatred, it would not
fully gratify our resentment. Resentment would prompt us to desire,
not only that he should be punished, but that he should be punished
by our means, and upon account of that particular injury which he had
done to us. Resentment cannot be fully grati¬ed, unless the offender
is not only made to grieve in his turn, but to grieve for that particular
wrong which we have suffered from him. He must be made to repent
and be sorry for this very action, that others, through fear of the like
punishment, may be terri¬ed from being guilty of the like offence. The
natural grati¬cation of this passion tends, of its own accord, to produce

Of merit and demerit; reward and punishment

all the political ends of punishment; the correction of the criminal, and
the example to the public.

· Gratitude and resentment, therefore, are the sentiments which most
immediately and directly prompt to reward and to punish. To us, there-
fore, he must appear to deserve reward, who appears to be the proper
and approved object of gratitude; and he to deserve punishment, who
appears to be that of resentment.

Chapter II Of the proper objects of gratitude and resentment
± To be the proper and approved object either of gratitude or resentment,
can mean nothing but to be the object of that gratitude, and of that
resentment, which naturally seems proper, and is approved of.

 But these, as well as all the other passions of human nature, seem
proper and are approved of, when the heart of every impartial spectator
entirely sympathizes with them, when every indifferent by-stander
entirely enters into, and goes along with them.

 He, therefore, appears to deserve reward, who, to some person or per-
sons, is the natural object of a gratitude which every human heart is
disposed to beat time to, and thereby applaud: and he, on the other
hand, appears to deserve punishment, who in the same manner is to
some person or persons the natural object of a resentment which the
breast of every reasonable man is ready to adopt and sympathize with.
To us, surely, that action must appear to deserve reward, which every
body who knows of it would wish to reward, and therefore delights to
see rewarded: and that action must as surely appear to deserve punish-
ment, which every body who hears of it is angry with, and upon that
account rejoices to see punished.

 As we sympathize with the joy of our companions when in prosperity,
so we join with them in the complacency and satisfaction with which
they naturally regard whatever is the cause of their good fortune. We
enter into the love and affection which they conceive for it, and begin
to love it too. We should be sorry for their sakes if it was destroyed,
or even if it was placed at too great a distance from them, and out of

The Theory of Moral Sentiments

the reach of their care and protection, though they should lose nothing
by its absence except the pleasure of seeing it. If it is man who has
thus been the fortunate instrument of the happiness of his brethren,
this is still more peculiarly the case. When we see one man assisted,
protected, relieved by another, our sympathy with the joy of the person
who receives the bene¬t serves only to animate our fellow-feeling with
his gratitude towards him who bestows it. When we look upon the
person who is the cause of his pleasure with the eyes with which we
imagine he must look upon him, his benefactor seems to stand before us
in the most engaging and amiable light. We readily therefore sympathize
with the grateful affection which he conceives for a person to whom he
has been so much obliged; and consequently applaud the returns which
he is disposed to make for the good of¬ces conferred upon him. As we
entirely enter into the affection from which these returns proceed, they
necessarily seem every way proper and suitable to their object.

µ In the same manner, as we sympathize with the sorrow of our fellow-
creature whenever we see his distress, so we likewise enter into his ab-
horrence and aversion for whatever has given occasion to it. Our heart,
as it adopts and beats time to his grief, so is it likewise animated with
that spirit by which he endeavours to drive away or destroy the cause
of it. The indolent and passive fellow-feeling, by which we accompany
him in his sufferings, readily gives way to that more vigorous and active
sentiment by which we go along with him in the effort he makes, either
to repel them, or to gratify his aversion to what has given occasion to
them. This is still more peculiarly the case, when it is man who has
caused them. When we see one man oppressed or injured by another,
the sympathy which we feel with the distress of the sufferer seems to
serve only to animate our fellow-feeling with his resentment against the
offender. We are rejoiced to see him attack his adversary in his turn, and
are eager and ready to assist him whenever he exerts himself for defence,
or even for vengeance within a certain degree. If the injured should per-
ish in the quarrel, we not only sympathize with the real resentment of
his friends and relations, but with the imaginary resentment which in
fancy we lend to the dead, who is no longer capable of feeling that or
any other human sentiment. But as we put ourselves in his situation,
as we enter, as it were, into his body, and in our imaginations, in some
measure, animate anew the deformed and mangled carcass of the slain,

Of merit and demerit; reward and punishment

when we bring home in this manner his case to our own bosoms, we feel
upon this, as upon many other occasions, an emotion which the person
principally concerned is incapable of feeling, and which yet we feel by
an illusive sympathy with him. The sympathetic tears which we shed
for that immense and irretrievable loss, which in our fancy he appears
to have sustained, seem to be but a small part of the duty which we owe
him. The injury which he has suffered demands, we think, a principal
part of our attention. We feel that resentment which we imagine he
ought to feel, and which he would feel, if in his cold and lifeless body
there remained any consciousness of what passes upon earth. His blood,
we think, calls aloud for vengeance. The very ashes of the dead seem
to be disturbed at the thought that his injuries are to pass unrevenged.
The horrors which are supposed to haunt the bed of the murderer, the
ghosts which, superstition imagines, rise from their graves to demand
vengeance upon those who brought them to an untimely end, all take
their origin from this natural sympathy with the imaginary resentment
of the slain. And with regard, at least, to this most dreadful of all crimes,
Nature, antecedent to all re¬‚ections upon the utility of punishment, has
in this manner stamped upon the human heart, in the strongest and
most indelible characters, an immediate and instinctive approbation of
the sacred and necessary law of retaliation.

Chapter III That where there is no approbation of the conduct of the
person who confers the bene¬t, there is little sympathy with the gratitude
of him who receives it: and that, on the contrary, where there is no
disapprobation of the motives of the person who does the mischief,
there is no sort of sympathy with the resentment of him who suffers it
± It is to be observed, however, that, how bene¬cial soever on the one
hand, or how hurtful soever on the other, the actions or intentions of
the person who acts may have been to the person who is, if I may say so,
acted upon, yet if in the one case there appears to have been no propriety
in the motives of the agent, if we cannot enter into the affections which
in¬‚uenced his conduct, we have little sympathy with the gratitude of the
person who receives the bene¬t: or if, in the other case, there appears
to have been no impropriety in the motives of the agent, if, on the
contrary, the affections which in¬‚uenced his conduct are such as we
must necessarily enter into, we can have no sort of sympathy with the

The Theory of Moral Sentiments

resentment of the person who suffers. Little gratitude seems due in the
one case, and all sort of resentment seems unjust in the other. The one
action seems to merit little reward, the other to deserve no punishment.

 First, I say, that wherever we cannot sympathize with the affections
of the agent, wherever there seems to be no propriety in the motives
which in¬‚uenced his conduct, we are less disposed to enter into the
gratitude of the person who received the bene¬t of his actions. A very
small return seems due to that foolish and profuse generosity which
confers the greatest bene¬ts from the most trivial motives, and gives an
estate to a man merely because his name and sirname happen to be the
same with those of the giver. Such services do not seem to demand any
proportionable recompense. Our contempt for the folly of the agent
hinders us from thoroughly entering into the gratitude of the person to
whom the good of¬ce has been done. His benefactor seems unworthy of
it. As when we place ourselves in the situation of the person obliged, we
feel that we could conceive no great reverence for such a benefactor, we
easily absolve him from a great deal of that submissive veneration and
esteem which we should think due to a more respectable character; and
provided he always treats his weak friend with kindness and humanity,
we are willing to excuse him from many attentions and regards which
we should demand to a worthier patron. Those Princes, who have
heaped, with the greatest profusion, wealth, power, and honours, upon
their favourites, have seldom excited that degree of attachment to their
persons which has often been experienced by those who were more
frugal of their favours. The well-natured, but injudicious prodigality
of James the First of Great Britain seems to have attached nobody to
his person; and that Prince, notwithstanding his social and harmless
disposition, appears to have lived and died without a friend. The whole
gentry and nobility of England exposed their lives and fortunes in the
cause of his more frugal and distinguishing son, notwithstanding the
coldness and distant severity of his ordinary deportment.

 Secondly, I say, That wherever the conduct of the agent appears to
have been entirely directed by motives and affections which we thor-
oughly enter into and approve of, we can have no sort of sympathy with
 James I of England and VI of Scotland (±µ“±µ) was succeeded by his son Charles I (±°°“)
whose con¬‚ict with the House of Commons led to the Civil War.

Of merit and demerit; reward and punishment

the resentment of the sufferer, how great soever the mischief which may
have been done to him. When two people quarrel, if we take part with,
and entirely adopt the resentment of one of them, it is impossible that
we should enter into that of the other. Our sympathy with the person
whose motives we go along with, and whom therefore we look upon
as in the right, cannot but harden us against all fellow-feeling with the
other, whom we necessarily regard as in the wrong. Whatever this last,
therefore, may have suffered, while it is no more than what we ourselves
should have wished him to suffer, while it is no more than what our own
sympathetic indignation would have prompted us to in¬‚ict upon him,
it cannot either displease or provoke us. When an inhuman murderer is
brought to the scaffold, though we have some compassion for his misery,
we can have no sort of fellow-feeling with his resentment, if he should
be so absurd as to express any against either his prosecutor or his judge.
The natural tendency of their just indignation against so vile a criminal
is indeed the most fatal and ruinous to him. But it is impossible that we
should be displeased with the tendency of a sentiment, which, when we
bring the case home to ourselves, we feel that we cannot avoid adopting.

Chapter IV Recapitulation of the foregoing chapters
± We do not, therefore, thoroughly and heartily sympathize with the
gratitude of one man towards another, merely because this other has
been the cause of his good fortune, unless he has been the cause of it
from motives which we entirely go along with. Our heart must adopt
the principles of the agent, and go along with all the affections which
in¬‚uenced his conduct, before it can entirely sympathize with, and
beat time to, the gratitude of the person who has been bene¬ted by
his actions. If in the conduct of the benefactor there appears to have
been no propriety, how bene¬cial soever its effects, it does not seem to
demand, or necessarily to require, any proportionable recompense.

 But when to the bene¬cent tendency of the action is joined the pro-
priety of the affection from which it proceeds, when we entirely sym-
pathize and go along with the motives of the agent, the love which
we conceive for him upon his own account, enhances and enlivens our
fellow-feeling with the gratitude of those who owe their prosperity to
his good conduct. His actions seem then to demand, and, if I may say

The Theory of Moral Sentiments

so, to call aloud for a proportionable recompense. We then entirely
enter into that gratitude which prompts to bestow it. The benefactor


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