. 4
( 13)


seems then to be the proper object of reward, when we thus entirely
sympathize with, and approve of, that sentiment which prompts to re-
ward him. When we approve of, and go along with, the affection from
which the action proceeds, we must necessarily approve of the action,
and regard the person towards whom it is directed, as its proper and
suitable object.

 In the same manner, we cannot at all sympathize with the resentment
of one man against another, merely because this other has been the
cause of his misfortune, unless he has been the cause of it from motives
which we cannot enter into. Before we can adopt the resentment of the
sufferer, we must disapprove of the motives of the agent, and feel that
our heart renounces all sympathy with the affections which in¬‚uenced
his conduct. If there appears to have been no impropriety in these,
how fatal soever the tendency of the action which proceeds from them
to those against whom it is directed, it does not seem to deserve any
punishment, or to be the proper object of any resentment.

 But when to the hurtfulness of the action is joined the impropriety
of the affection from whence it proceeds, when our heart rejects with
abhorrence all fellow-feeling with the motives of the agent, we then
heartily and entirely sympathize with the resentment of the sufferer.
Such actions seem then to deserve, and, if I may say so, to call aloud for,
a proportionable punishment; and we entirely enter into, and thereby
approve of, that resentment which prompts to in¬‚ict it. The offender
necessarily seems then to be the proper object of punishment, when we
thus entirely sympathize with, and thereby approve of, that sentiment
which prompts to punish. In this case too, when we approve, and go
along with, the affection from which the action proceeds, we must
necessarily approve of the action, and regard the person against whom
it is directed, as its proper and suitable object.

Chapter V The analysis of the sense of merit and demerit
± As our sense, therefore, of the propriety of conduct arises from what
I shall call a direct sympathy with the affections and motives of the

Of merit and demerit; reward and punishment

person who acts, so our sense of its merit arises from what I shall call
an indirect sympathy with the gratitude of the person who is, if I may
say so, acted upon.

 As we cannot indeed enter thoroughly into the gratitude of the person
who receives the bene¬t, unless we beforehand approve of the motives
of the benefactor, so, upon this account, the sense of merit seems to be
a compounded sentiment, and to be made up of two distinct emotions;
a direct sympathy with the sentiments of the agent, and an indirect
sympathy with the gratitude of those who receive the bene¬t of his

 We may, upon many different occasions, plainly distinguish those two
different emotions combining and uniting together in our sense of
the good desert of a particular character or action. When we read
in history concerning actions of proper and bene¬cent greatness of
mind, how eagerly do we enter into such designs? How much are we
animated by that high-spirited generosity which directs them? How
keen are we for their success? How grieved at their disappointment? In
imagination we become the very person whose actions are represented
to us: we transport ourselves in fancy to the scenes of those distant and
forgotten adventures, and imagine ourselves acting the part of a Scipio
or a Camillus, a Timoleon or an Aristides. So far our sentiments are
founded upon the direct sympathy with the person who acts. Nor is the
indirect sympathy with those who receive the bene¬t of such actions
less sensibly felt. Whenever we place ourselves in the situation of
these last, with what warm and affectionate fellow-feeling do we enter
into their gratitude towards those who served them so essentially? We

 All four were men who suffered public disparagement despite their achievements. Publius Cornelius
Scipio Africanus (“± BC) defeated Hannibal in the Second Punic War and conquered Spain
for Rome, but Cato the Censor™s criticism of him and his brother for impropriety in public matters
led him to retire. Marcus Furius Camillus, Roman general and statesman in the early fourth century
BC, was sent into exile for keeping booty but was recalled and defeated the Gauls when they had
occupied Rome (c. ° BC). Timoleon of Corinth helped save his city from tyranny by conspiring
against his brother (c. µ BC) but nevertheless was of ill repute because of the latter™s death
until the Corinthians twenty years later sent him to Sicily to liberate their colony-city, Syracuse,
from the tyrant Dionysius II. Aristides ˜the Just™ (d. c.  BC), Athenian statesman and one of
the commanders against the Persians at Marathon (° BC), was ostracized “° BC for his
opposition to Themistocles but was recalled and played a leading role in the defeats of the Persians
at Salamis and Platea.

The Theory of Moral Sentiments

embrace, as it were, their benefactor along with them. Our heart readily
sympathizes with the highest transports of their grateful affection. No
honours, no rewards, we think, can be too great for them to bestow
upon him. When they make this proper return for his services, we
heartily applaud and go along with them; but are shocked beyond all
measure, if by their conduct they appear to have little sense of the
obligations conferred upon them. Our whole sense, in short, of the
merit and good desert of such actions, of the propriety and ¬tness
of recompensing them, and making the person who performed them
rejoice in his turn, arises from the sympathetic emotions of gratitude
and love, with which, when we bring home to our own breast the
situation of those principally concerned, we feel ourselves naturally
transported towards the man who could act with such proper and
noble bene¬cence.

 In the same manner as our sense of the impropriety of conduct arises
from a want of sympathy, or from a direct antipathy to the affections
and motives of the agent, so our sense of its demerit arises from what
I shall here too call an indirect sympathy with the resentment of the

µ As we cannot indeed enter into the resentment of the sufferer, unless
our heart beforehand disapproves the motives of the agent, and re-
nounces all fellow-feeling with them; so upon this account the sense of
demerit, as well as that of merit, seems to be a compounded sentiment,
and to be made up of two distinct emotions; a direct antipathy to the
sentiments of the agent, and an indirect sympathy with the resentment
of the sufferer.

 We may here too, upon many different occasions, plainly distinguish
those two different emotions combining and uniting together in our
sense of the ill desert of a particular character or action. When we read
in history concerning the per¬dy and cruelty of a Borgia or a Nero, our
heart rises up against the detestable sentiments which in¬‚uenced their
conduct, and renounces with horror and abomination all fellow-feeling

 Cesare Borgia (±·“±µ°·), Italian prince who has often been taken to be the inspiration for
Machiavelli™s The Prince. Nero (·“), Roman emperor µ“.

Of merit and demerit; reward and punishment

with such execrable motives. So far our sentiments are founded upon
the direct antipathy to the affections of the agent: and the indirect
sympathy with the resentment of the sufferers is still more sensibly
felt. When we bring home to ourselves the situation of the persons
whom those scourges of mankind insulted, murdered, or betrayed,
what indignation do we not feel against such insolent and inhuman
oppressors of the earth? Our sympathy with the unavoidable distress of
the innocent sufferers is not more real nor more lively, than our fellow-
feeling with their just and natural resentment. The former sentiment
only heightens the latter, and the idea of their distress serves only
to in¬‚ame and blow up our animosity against those who occasioned
it. When we think of the anguish of the sufferers, we take part with
them more earnestly against their oppressors; we enter with more
eagerness into all their schemes of vengeance, and feel ourselves every
moment wreaking, in imagination, upon such violators of the laws of
society, that punishment which our sympathetic indignation tells us
is due to their crimes. Our sense of the horror and dreadful atrocity
of such conduct, the delight which we take in hearing that it was
properly punished, the indignation which we feel when it escapes this
due retaliation, our whole sense and feeling, in short, of its ill desert,
of the propriety and ¬tness of in¬‚icting evil upon the person who
is guilty of it, and of making him grieve in his turn, arises from the
sympathetic indignation which naturally boils up in the breast of the
spectator, whenever he thoroughly brings home to himself the case of
the sufferer.a

· To ascribe in this manner our natural sense of the ill desert of human actions to a sympathy
with the resentment of the sufferer, may seem, to the greater part of people, to be a degradation
of that sentiment. Resentment is commonly regarded as so odious a passion, that they will be
apt to think it impossible that so laudable a principle, as the sense of the ill desert of vice, should
in any respect be founded upon it. They will be more willing, perhaps, to admit that our sense
of the merit of good actions is founded upon a sympathy with the gratitude of the persons who
receive the bene¬t of them; because gratitude, as well as all the other benevolent passions, is
regarded as an amiable principle, which can take nothing from the worth of whatever is founded
upon it. Gratitude and resentment, however, are in every respect, it is evident, counterparts to
one another; and if our sense of merit arises from a sympathy with the one, our sense of demerit
can scarce miss to proceed from a fellow-feeling with the other.
 Let it be considered too that resentment, though, in the degrees in which we too often see it,
the most odious, perhaps, of all the passions, is not disapproved of when properly humbled
and entirely brought down to the level of the sympathetic indignation of the spectator. When
we, who are the bystanders, feel that our own animosity entirely corresponds with that of the
sufferer, when the resentment of this last does not in any respect go beyond our own, when
no word, no gesture, escapes him that denotes an emotion more violent than what we can

The Theory of Moral Sentiments

keep time to, and when he never aims at in¬‚icting any punishment beyond what we should
rejoice to see in¬‚icted, or what we ourselves would upon this account even desire to be the
instruments of in¬‚icting, it is impossible that we should not entirely approve of his sentiments.
Our own emotion in this case must, in our eyes, undoubtedly justify his. And as experience
teaches us how much the greater part of mankind are incapable of this moderation, and how
great an effort must be made in order to bring down the rude and undisciplined impulse of
resentment to this suitable temper, we cannot avoid conceiving a considerable degree of esteem
and admiration for one who appears capable of exerting so much self-command over one of the
most ungovernable passions of his nature. When indeed the animosity of the sufferer exceeds,
as it almost always does, what we can go along with, as we cannot enter into it, we necessarily
disapprove of it. We even disapprove of it more than we should of an equal excess of almost
any other passion derived from the imagination. And this too violent resentment, instead of
carrying us along with it, becomes itself the object of our resentment and indignation. We enter
into the opposite resentment of the person who is the object of this unjust emotion, and who
is in danger of suffering from it. Revenge, therefore, the excess of resentment, appears to be
the most detestable of all the passions, and is the object of the horror and indignation of every
body. And as in the way in which this passion commonly discovers itself among mankind, it is
excessive a hundred times for once that it is moderate, we are very apt to consider it as altogether
odious and detestable, because in its most ordinary appearances it is so. Nature, however, even
in the present depraved state of mankind, does not seem to have dealt so unkindly with us, as
to have endowed us with any principle which is wholly and in every respect evil, or which, in
no degree and in no direction, can be the proper object of praise and approbation. Upon some
occasions we are sensible that this passion, which is generally too strong, may likewise be too
weak. We sometimes complain that a particular person shows too little spirit, and has too little
sense of the injuries that have been done to him; and we are as ready to despise him for the
defect, as to hate him for the excess of this passion.
 The inspired writers would not surely have talked so frequently or so strongly of the wrath and
anger of God, if they had regarded every degree of those passions as vicious and evil, even in
so weak and imperfect a creature as man.
±° Let it be considered too, that the present inquiry is not concerning a matter of right, if I may
say so, but concerning a matter of fact. We are not at present examining upon what principles
a perfect being would approve of the punishment of bad actions; but upon what principles so
weak and imperfect a creature as man actually and in fact approves of it. The principles which I
have just now mentioned, it is evident, have a very great effect upon his sentiments; and it seems
wisely ordered that it should be so. The very existence of society requires that unmerited and
unprovoked malice should be restrained by proper punishments; and consequently, that to in¬‚ict
those punishments should be regarded as a proper and laudable action. Though man, therefore,
be naturally endowed with a desire of the welfare and preservation of society, yet the Author of
nature has not entrusted it to his reason to ¬nd out that a certain application of punishments is
the proper means of attaining this end; but has endowed him with an immediate and instinctive
approbation of that very application which is most proper to attain it. The oeconomy of nature
is in this respect exactly of a piece with what it is upon many other occasions. With regard to
all those ends which, upon account of their peculiar importance, may be regarded, if such an
expression is allowable, as the favourite ends of nature, she has constantly in this manner not
only endowed mankind with an appetite for the end which she proposes, but likewise with an
appetite for the means by which alone this end can be brought about, for their own sakes, and
independent of their tendency to produce it. Thus self-preservation, and the propagation of
the species, are the great ends which Nature seems to have proposed in the formation of all
animals. Mankind are endowed with a desire of those ends, and an aversion to the contrary;
with a love of life, and a dread of dissolution; with a desire of the continuance and perpetuity
of the species, and with an aversion to the thoughts of its intire extinction. But though we are
in this manner endowed with a very strong desire of those ends, it has not been intrusted to the
slow and uncertain determinations of our reason, to ¬nd out the proper means of bringing them
about. Nature has directed us to the greater part of these by original and immediate instincts.
Hunger, thirst, the passion which unites the two sexes, the love of pleasure, and the dread of

Of merit and demerit; reward and punishment

Section II Of justice and bene¬cence
Comparison of those two virtuesµ
Chapter I
± Actions of a bene¬cent tendency, which proceed from proper motives,
seem alone to require reward; because such alone are the approved ob-
jects of gratitude, or excite the sympathetic gratitude of the spectator.

 Actions of a hurtful tendency, which proceed from improper motives,
seem alone to deserve punishment; because such alone are the ap-
proved objects of resentment, or excite the sympathetic resentment
of the spectator.

 Bene¬cence is always free, it cannot be extorted by force, the mere want
of it exposes to no punishment; because the mere want of bene¬cence
tends to do no real positive evil. It may disappoint of the good which
might reasonably have been expected, and upon that account it may
justly excite dislike and disapprobation: it cannot, however, provoke
any resentment which mankind will go along with. The man who does
not recompense his benefactor, when he has it in his power, and when

pain, prompt us to apply those means for their own sakes, and without any consideration of
their tendency to those bene¬cent ends which the great Director of nature intended to produce
by them.
±± Before I conclude this note, I must take notice of a difference between the approbation of
propriety and that of merit or bene¬cence. Before we approve of the sentiments of any person
as proper and suitable to their objects, we must not only be affected in the same manner as
he is, but we must perceive this harmony and correspondence of sentiments between him and
ourselves. Thus, though upon hearing of a misfortune that had befallen my friend, I should
conceive precisely that degree of concern which he gives way to; yet till I am informed of the
manner in which he behaves, till I perceive the harmony between his emotions and mine, I
cannot be said to approve of the sentiments which in¬‚uence his behaviour. The approbation of
propriety therefore requires, not only that we should entirely sympathize with the person who
acts, but that we should perceive this perfect concord between his sentiments and our own. On
the contrary, when I hear of a bene¬t that has been bestowed upon another person, let him who
has received it be affected in what manner he pleases, if, by bringing his case home to myself, I
feel gratitude arise in my own breast, I necessarily approve of the conduct of his benefactor, and
regard it as meritorious, and the proper object of reward. Whether the person who has received
the bene¬t conceives gratitude or not, cannot, it is evident, in any degree alter our sentiments
with regard to the merit of him who has bestowed it. No actual correspondence of sentiments,
therefore, is here required. It is suf¬cient that if he was grateful, they would correspond; and
our sense of merit is often founded upon one of those illusive sympathies, by which, when
we bring home to ourselves the case of another, we are often affected in a manner in which
the person principally concerned is incapable of being affected. There is a similar difference
between our disapprobation of demerit, and that of impropriety.
µ For a similar distinction in juridical language, see VII.ii.±.“±° and LJ (A) i.±“±µ, (B) ·.

The Theory of Moral Sentiments

his benefactor needs his assistance, is, no doubt, guilty of the blackest
ingratitude. The heart of every impartial spectator rejects all fellow-
feeling with the sel¬shness of his motives, and he is the proper object
of the highest disapprobation. But still he does no positive hurt to
any body. He only does not do that good which in propriety he ought
to have done. He is the object of hatred, a passion which is naturally
excited by impropriety of sentiment and behaviour; not of resentment,
a passion which is never properly called forth but by actions which
tend to do real and positive hurt to some particular persons. His want
of gratitude, therefore, cannot be punished. To oblige him by force
to perform what in gratitude he ought to perform, and what every
impartial spectator would approve of him for performing, would, if
possible, be still more improper than his neglecting to perform it. His
benefactor would dishonour himself if he attempted by violence to
constrain him to gratitude, and it would be impertinent for any third
person, who was not the superior of either, to intermeddle. But of all
the duties of bene¬cence, those which gratitude recommends to us
approach nearest to what is called a perfect and complete obligation.
What friendship, what generosity, what charity, would prompt us to
do with universal approbation, is still more free, and can still less be
extorted by force than the duties of gratitude. We talk of the debt of
gratitude, not of charity, or generosity, nor even of friendship, when
friendship is mere esteem, and has not been enhanced and complicated
with gratitude for good of¬ces.

 Resentment seems to have been given us by nature for defence, and for
defence only. It is the safeguard of justice and the security of innocence.
It prompts us to beat off the mischief which is attempted to be done
to us, and to retaliate that which is already done; that the offender
may be made to repent of his injustice, and that others, through fear
of the like punishment, may be terri¬ed from being guilty of the like
offence. It must be reserved therefore for these purposes, nor can the
spectator ever go along with it when it is exerted for any other. But
the mere want of the bene¬cent virtues, though it may disappoint
us of the good which might reasonably be expected, neither does, nor

 Cf. III.. and VI.ii.±.±.

Of merit and demerit; reward and punishment

attempts to do, any mischief from which we can have occasion to defend

µ There is, however, another virtue, of which the observance is not left
to the freedom of our own wills, which may be extorted by force, and
of which the violation exposes to resentment, and consequently to
punishment. This virtue is justice: the violation of justice is injury: it
does real and positive hurt to some particular persons, from motives
which are naturally disapproved of.· It is, therefore, the proper object
of resentment, and of punishment, which is the natural consequence
of resentment. As mankind go along with, and approve of the violence
employed to avenge the hurt which is done by injustice, so they much
more go along with, and approve of, that which is employed to prevent
and beat off the injury, and to restrain the offender from hurting
his neighbours. The person himself who meditates an injustice is
sensible of this, and feels that force may, with the utmost propriety, be
made use of, both by the person whom he is about to injure, and by
others, either to obstruct the execution of his crime, or to punish him
when he has executed it. And upon this is founded that remarkable
distinction between justice and all the other social virtues, which has
of late been particularly insisted upon by an author of very great and
original genius, that we feel ourselves to be under a stricter obligation
to act according to justice, than agreeably to friendship, charity, or
generosity; that the practice of these last mentioned virtues seems to
be left in some measure to our own choice, but that, somehow or other,
we feel ourselves to be in a peculiar manner tied, bound, and obliged
to the observation of justice. We feel, that is to say, that force may,
with the utmost propriety, and with the approbation of all mankind,
be made use of to constrain us to observe the rules of the one, but not
to follow the precepts of the other.

 We must always, however, carefully distinguish what is only blam-
able, or the proper object of disapprobation, from what force may be
· For Smith™s analysis of justice in terms of injury, see LJ (A) i.“±° and, more generally i.±“µ and
LJ (B) µ“±±.
 Henry Home, Lord Kames (±“±·), Essays on the Principles of Morality and Natural Religion
(±·µ±), I, ii (˜Of the Foundation and Principles of the Law of Nature™), chaps. “.

The Theory of Moral Sentiments

employed either to punish or to prevent. That seems blamable which
falls short of that ordinary degree of proper bene¬cence which expe-
rience teaches us to expect of every body; and on the contrary, that
seems praise-worthy which goes beyond it. The ordinary degree itself
seems neither blamable nor praise-worthy. A father, a son, a brother,
who behaves to the correspondent relation neither better nor worse
than the greater part of men commonly do, seems properly to de-
serve neither praise nor blame. He who surprises us by extraordinary
and unexpected, though still proper and suitable kindness, or on the
contrary by extraordinary and unexpected, as well as unsuitable un-
kindness, seems praise-worthy in the one case, and blamable in the

· Even the most ordinary degree of kindness or bene¬cence, however,
cannot, among equals, be extorted by force. Among equals each indi-
vidual is naturally, and antecedent to the institution of civil govern-
ment, regarded as having a right both to defend himself from injuries,
and to exact a certain degree of punishment for those which have been
done to him. Every generous spectator not only approves of his con-
duct when he does this, but enters so far into his sentiments as often
to be willing to assist him. When one man attacks, or robs, or attempts
to murder another, all the neighbours take the alarm, and think that
they do right when they run, either to revenge the person who has
been injured, or to defend him who is in danger of being so. But when
a father fails in the ordinary degree of parental affection towards a
son; when a son seems to want that ¬lial reverence which might be
expected to his father; when brothers are without the usual degree of
brotherly affection; when a man shuts his breast against compassion,
and refuses to relieve the misery of his fellow-creatures, when he can
with the greatest ease; in all these cases, though every body blames
the conduct, nobody imagines that those who might have reason, per-
haps, to expect more kindness, have any right to extort it by force.
The sufferer can only complain, and the spectator can intermeddle no
other way than by advice and persuasion. Upon all such occasions, for
equals to use force against one another, would be thought the highest
degree of insolence and presumption.

 For the gradual emergence of civil government, see LJ (A) iv.ff, (B) ff., and WN v.i.a“b.

Of merit and demerit; reward and punishment

 A superior may, indeed, sometimes, with universal approbation, oblige
those under his jurisdiction to behave, in this respect, with a certain de-
gree of propriety to one another. The laws of all civilized nations oblige
parents to maintain their children, and children to maintain their
parents,±° and impose upon men many other duties of bene¬cence.
The civil magistrate is entrusted with the power not only of pre-
serving the public peace by restraining injustice, but of promoting
the prosperity of the commonwealth, by establishing good discipline,
and by discouraging every sort of vice and impropriety; he may pre-
scribe rules, therefore, which not only prohibit mutual injuries among
fellow-citizens, but command mutual good of¬ces to a certain degree.
When the sovereign commands what is merely indifferent, and what,
antecedent to his orders, might have been omitted without any blame,
it becomes not only blamable but punishable to disobey him. When
he commands, therefore, what, antecedent to any such order, could
not have been omitted without the greatest blame, it surely becomes
much more punishable to be wanting in obedience. Of all the duties of
a law-giver, however, this, perhaps, is that which it requires the great-
est delicacy and reserve to execute with propriety and judgment. To
neglect it altogether exposes the commonwealth to many gross disor-
ders and shocking enormities, and to push it too far is destructive of
all liberty, security, and justice.

 Though the mere want of bene¬cence seems to merit no punishment
from equals, the greater exertions of that virtue appear to deserve the
highest reward. By being productive of the greatest good, they are
the natural and approved objects of the liveliest gratitude. Though
the breach of justice, on the contrary, exposes to punishment, the
observance of the rules of that virtue seems scarce to deserve any
reward. There is, no doubt, a propriety in the practice of justice,
and it merits, upon that account, all the approbation which is due to
propriety. But as it does no real positive good, it is entitled to very
little gratitude. Mere justice is, upon most occasions, but a negative
virtue, and only hinders us from hurting our neighbour. The man who
barely abstains from violating either the person, or the estate, or the
reputation of his neighbours, has surely very little positive merit. He

±° Cf. LJ (A) iii.·“·, (B) ±“°.

The Theory of Moral Sentiments

ful¬ls, however, all the rules of what is peculiarly called justice, and
does every thing which his equals can with propriety force him to do,
or which they can punish him for not doing. We may often ful¬l all
the rules of justice by sitting still and doing nothing.

±° As every man doth, so shall it be done to him, and retaliation seems
to be the great law which is dictated to us by Nature. Bene¬cence and
generosity we think due to the generous and bene¬cent. Those whose
hearts never open to the feelings of humanity, should, we think, be
shut out, in the same manner, from the affections of all their fellow-
creatures, and be allowed to live in the midst of society, as in a great
desert where there is nobody to care for them, or to inquire after them.
The violator of the laws of justice ought to be made to feel himself that
evil which he has done to another; and since no regard to the sufferings
of his brethren is capable of restraining him, he ought to be over-awed
by the fear of his own. The man who is barely innocent, who only
observes the laws of justice with regard to others, and merely abstains
from hurting his neighbours, can merit only that his neighbours in
their turn should respect his innocence, and that the same laws should
be religiously observed with regard to him.

Chapter II Of the sense of justice, of remorse,
and of the consciousness of merit
± There can be no proper motive for hurting our neighbour, there can
be no incitement to do evil to another, which mankind will go along
with, except just indignation for evil which that other has done to us.
To disturb his happiness merely because it stands in the way of our
own, to take from him what is of real use to him merely because it
may be of equal or of more use to us, or to indulge, in this manner,
at the expence of other people, the natural preference which every
man has for his own happiness above that of other people, is what
no impartial spectator can go along with. Every man is, no doubt,
by nature, ¬rst and principally recommended to his own care; and as
he is ¬tter to take care of himself than of any other person, it is ¬t
and right that it should be so. Every man, therefore, is much more
deeply interested in whatever immediately concerns himself, than in
what concerns any other man: and to hear, perhaps, of the death of

Of merit and demerit; reward and punishment

another person, with whom we have no particular connexion, will give
us less concern, will spoil our stomach, or break our rest much less
than a very insigni¬cant disaster which has befallen ourselves. But
though the ruin of our neighbour may affect us much less than a very
small misfortune of our own, we must not ruin him to prevent that
small misfortune, not even to prevent our own ruin. We must, here,
as in all other cases, view ourselves not so much according to that
light in which we may naturally appear to ourselves, as according to
that in which we naturally appear to others. Though every man may,
according to the proverb, be the whole world to himself, to the rest of
mankind he is a most insigni¬cant part of it. Though his own happiness
may be of more importance to him than that of all the world besides,
to every other person it is of no more consequence than that of any
other man. Though it may be true, therefore, that every individual, in
his own breast, naturally prefers himself to all mankind, yet he dares
not look mankind in the face, and avow that he acts according to this
principle. He feels that in this preference they can never go along with
him, and that how natural soever it may be to him, it must always
appear excessive and extravagant to them. When he views himself in
the light in which he is conscious that others will view him, he sees
that to them he is but one of the multitude in no respect better than
any other in it. If he would act so as that the impartial spectator may
enter into the principles of his conduct, which is what of all things
he has the greatest desire to do, he must, upon this, as upon all other
occasions, humble the arrogance of his self-love, and bring it down to
something which other men can go along with. They will indulge it so
far as to allow him to be more anxious about, and to pursue with more
earnest assiduity, his own happiness than that of any other person.
Thus far, whenever they place themselves in his situation, they will
readily go along with him. In the race for wealth, and honours, and
preferments, he may run as hard as he can, and strain every nerve and
every muscle, in order to outstrip all his competitors. But if he should
justle, or throw down any of them, the indulgence of the spectators
is entirely at an end. It is a violation of fair play, which they cannot
admit of.±± This man is to them, in every respect, as good as he: they
do not enter into that self-love by which he prefers himself so much

±± The thought clearly echoes Cicero, De of¬ciis, III., who quotes Chrysippus for the image.

The Theory of Moral Sentiments

to this other, and cannot go along with the motive from which he hurt
him. They readily, therefore, sympathize with the natural resentment
of the injured, and the offender becomes the object of their hatred and
indignation. He is sensible that he becomes so, and feels that those
sentiments are ready to burst out from all sides against him.

 As the greater and more irreparable the evil that is done, the resent-
ment of the sufferer runs naturally the higher; so does likewise the
sympathetic indignation of the spectator, as well as the sense of guilt
in the agent. Death is the greatest evil which one man can in¬‚ict upon
another, and excites the highest degree of resentment in those who are
immediately connected with the slain. Murder, therefore, is the most
atrocious of all crimes which affect individuals only, in the sight both
of mankind, and of the person who has committed it. To be deprived of
that which we are possessed of, is a greater evil than to be disappointed
of what we have only the expectation. Breach of property, therefore,
theft and robbery, which take from us what we are possessed of, are
greater crimes than breach of contract, which only disappoints us of
what we expected. The most sacred laws of justice, therefore, those
whose violation seems to call loudest for vengeance and punishment,
are the laws which guard the life and person of our neighbour; the
next are those which guard his property and possessions; and last of
all come those which guard what are called his personal rights, or what
is due to him from the promises of others.±

 The violator of the more sacred laws of justice can never re¬‚ect on the
sentiments which mankind must entertain with regard to him, with-
out feeling all the agonies of shame, and horror, and consternation.
When his passion is grati¬ed, and he begins coolly to re¬‚ect on his
past conduct, he can enter into none of the motives which in¬‚uenced
it. They appear now as detestable to him as they did always to other
people. By sympathizing with the hatred and abhorrence which other
± For Smith™s system of rights, see LJ (A) i.±°“±±, (B) “·. Following early modern natural law
theory, Smith distinguished law into private law (the rights of the individual person), domestic
law (rights of members of families), and public law (rights of members of civil society). Private
law was again divided into the natural rights of the individual (physical and moral integrity) and
adventitious or acquired rights of property, the latter again divided into real rights (rights in things)
and personal rights (rights of contract and of delict against other persons). For the distinction
between natural and adventitious rights, see LJ (A) i.± and , ii., (B) “±± passim, ±, ±.

Of merit and demerit; reward and punishment

men must entertain for him, he becomes in some measure the object
of his own hatred and abhorrence. The situation of the person, who
suffered by his injustice, now calls upon his pity. He is grieved at the
thought of it; regrets the unhappy effects of his own conduct, and feels
at the same time that they have rendered him the proper object of the
resentment and indignation of mankind, and of what is the natural
consequence of resentment, vengeance and punishment. The thought
of this perpetually haunts him, and ¬lls him with terror and amaze-
ment. He dares no longer look society in the face, but imagines himself
as it were rejected, and thrown out from the affections of all mankind.
He cannot hope for the consolation of sympathy in this his greatest
and most dreadful distress. The remembrance of his crimes has shut
out all fellow-feeling with him from the hearts of his fellow-creatures.
The sentiments which they entertain with regard to him, are the very
thing which he is most afraid of. Every thing seems hostile, and he
would be glad to ¬‚y to some inhospitable desert, where he might never
more behold the face of a human creature, nor read in the countenance
of mankind the condemnation of his crimes. But solitude is still more
dreadful than society. His own thoughts can present him with nothing
but what is black, unfortunate, and disastrous, the melancholy fore-
bodings of incomprehensible misery and ruin. The horror of solitude
drives him back into society, and he comes again into the presence of
mankind, astonished to appear before them, loaded with shame and
distracted with fear, in order to supplicate some little protection from
the countenance of those very judges, who he knows have already all
unanimously condemned him. Such is the nature of that sentiment,
which is properly called remorse; of all the sentiments which can enter
the human breast the most dreadful. It is made up of shame from the
sense of the impropriety of past conduct; of grief for the effects of it;
of pity for those who suffer by it; and of the dread and terror of pun-
ishment from the consciousness of the justly provoked resentment of
all rational creatures.

 The opposite behaviour naturally inspires the opposite sentiment.
The man who, not from frivolous fancy, but from proper motives,
has performed a generous action, when he looks forward to those
whom he has served, feels himself to be the natural object of their
love and gratitude, and, by sympathy with them, of the esteem and

The Theory of Moral Sentiments

approbation of all mankind. And when he looks backward to the motive
from which he acted, and surveys it in the light in which the indif-
ferent spectator will survey it, he still continues to enter into it, and
applauds himself by sympathy with the approbation of this supposed
impartial judge. In both these points of view his own conduct appears
to him every way agreeable. His mind, at the thought of it, is ¬lled
with cheerfulness, serenity, and composure. He is in friendship and
harmony with all mankind, and looks upon his fellow-creatures with
con¬dence and benevolent satisfaction, secure that he has rendered
himself worthy of their most favourable regards. In the combination of
all these sentiments consists the consciousness of merit, or of deserved

Chapter III Of the utility of this constitution of Nature
± It is thus that man, who can subsist only in society, was ¬tted by
nature to that situation for which he was made. All the members
of human society stand in need of each others assistance, and are
likewise exposed to mutual injuries. Where the necessary assistance is
reciprocally afforded from love, from gratitude, from friendship, and
esteem, the society ¬‚ourishes and is happy. All the different members
of it are bound together by the agreeable bands of love and affection,
and are, as it were, drawn to one common centre of mutual good

 But though the necessary assistance should not be afforded from such
generous and disinterested motives, though among the different mem-
bers of the society there should be no mutual love and affection, the
society, though less happy and agreeable, will not necessarily be dis-
solved. Society may subsist among different men, as among different
merchants, from a sense of its utility, without any mutual love or af-
fection; and though no man in it should owe any obligation, or be
bound in gratitude to any other, it may still be upheld by a mercenary
exchange of good of¬ces according to an agreed valuation.

 Society, however, cannot subsist among those who are at all times
ready to hurt and injure one another. The moment that injury be-
gins, the moment that mutual resentment and animosity take place,

Of merit and demerit; reward and punishment

all the bands of it are broke asunder, and the different members of
which it consisted are, as it were, dissipated and scattered abroad by
the violence and opposition of their discordant affections. If there
is any society among robbers and murderers, they must at least, ac-
cording to the trite observation, abstain from robbing and murdering
one another.± Bene¬cence, therefore, is less essential to the existence
of society than justice. Society may subsist, though not in the most
comfortable state, without bene¬cence; but the prevalence of injustice
must utterly destroy it.

 Though Nature, therefore, exhorts mankind to acts of bene¬cence, by
the pleasing consciousness of deserved reward, she has not thought
it necessary to guard and enforce the practice of it by the terrors of
merited punishment in case it should be neglected. It is the ornament
which embellishes, not the foundation which supports the building,
and which it was, therefore, suf¬cient to recommend, but by no means
necessary to impose. Justice, on the contrary, is the main pillar that
upholds the whole edi¬ce. If it is removed, the great, the immense
fabric of human society, that fabric which to raise and support seems
in this world, if I may say so, to have been the peculiar and darling
care of Nature, must in a moment crumble into atoms.± In order to
enforce the observation of justice, therefore, Nature has implanted
in the human breast that consciousness of ill-desert, those terrors of
merited punishment which attend upon its violation, as the great safe-
guards of the association of mankind, to protect the weak, to curb the
violent, and to chastise the guilty. Men, though naturally sympathetic,
feel so little for another, with whom they have no particular connexion,
in comparison of what they feel for themselves; the misery of one, who
is merely their fellow-creature, is of so little importance to them in
comparison even of a small conveniency of their own; they have it so
much in their power to hurt him, and may have so many temptations to
± Made by Plato in the Republic, µ±c“µc, the observation was considered again and again; see
e.g. Cicero, De of¬ciis, II.°; Heliodorus, Æthiopian History, book v, ch. ±µ; Aquinas, Summa
Theologiae II“I..; Pufendorf, Of the Law of Nature and Nations, III.iv. and VIII.iv.µ; Locke,
An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, I.ii.; J. G. Heineccius, A Methodical System of
Universal Law, translated by George Turnbull,  vols., London, ±·±, I pp. °±“; Francis
Hutcheson, An Inquiry into the Original of Our Ideas of Beauty and Virtue, I.iv.; Hume, Second
Inquiry, IV.±µ; Thomas Reid, Practical Ethics, pp. ± and ±µ.
± Smith seems clearly to be echoing Hume, Inquiry, Appendix III.µ.

The Theory of Moral Sentiments

do so, that if this principle did not stand up within them in his defence,
and overawe them into a respect for his innocence, they would, like
wild beasts, be at all times ready to ¬‚y upon him; and a man would
enter an assembly of men as he enters a den of lions.

µ In every part of the universe we observe means adjusted with the
nicest arti¬ce to the ends which they are intended to produce; and in
the mechanism of a plant, or animal body, admire how every thing is
contrived for advancing the two great purposes of nature, the support
of the individual, and the propagation of the species. But in these, and
in all such objects, we still distinguish the ef¬cient from the ¬nal cause
of their several motions and organizations. The digestion of the food,
the circulation of the blood, and the secretion of the several juices
which are drawn from it, are operations all of them necessary for the
great purposes of animal life. Yet we never endeavour to account for
them from those purposes as from their ef¬cient causes, nor imagine
that the blood circulates, or that the food digests of its own accord, and
with a view or intention to the purposes of circulation or digestion. The
wheels of the watch are all admirably adjusted to the end for which it
was made, the pointing of the hour. All their various motions conspire
in the nicest manner to produce this effect. If they were endowed
with a desire and intention to produce it, they could not do it better.
Yet we never ascribe any such desire or intention to them, but to the
watch-maker, and we know that they are put into motion by a spring,
which intends the effect it produces as little as they do. But though, in
accounting for the operations of bodies, we never fail to distinguish in
this manner the ef¬cient from the ¬nal cause, in accounting for those
of the mind we are very apt to confound these two different things with
one another. When by natural principles we are led to advance those
ends, which a re¬ned and enlightened reason would recommend to
us, we are very apt to impute to that reason, as to their ef¬cient cause,
the sentiments and actions by which we advance those ends, and to
imagine that to be the wisdom of man, which in reality is the wisdom
of God. Upon a super¬cial view, this cause seems suf¬cient to produce
the effects which are ascribed to it; and the system of human nature
seems to be more simple and agreeable when all its different operations
are in this manner deduced from a single principle.

Of merit and demerit; reward and punishment

 As society cannot subsist unless the laws of justice are tolerably ob-
served, as no social intercourse can take place among men who do not
generally abstain from injuring one another; the consideration of this
necessity, it has been thought, was the ground upon which we approved
of the enforcement of the laws of justice by the punishment of those
who violated them. Man, it has been said, has a natural love for society,
and desires that the union of mankind should be preserved for its own
sake, and though he himself was to derive no bene¬t from it.±µ The
orderly and ¬‚ourishing state of society is agreeable to him, and he takes
delight in contemplating it. Its disorder and confusion, on the contrary,
is the object of his aversion, and he is chagrined at whatever tends to
produce it. He is sensible too that his own interest is connected with the
prosperity of society, and that the happiness, perhaps the preservation
of his existence, depends upon its preservation. Upon every account,
therefore, he has an abhorrence at whatever can tend to destroy society,
and is willing to make use of every means, which can hinder so hated
and so dreadful an event. Injustice necessarily tends to destroy it.
Every appearance of injustice, therefore, alarms him, and he runs, if I
may say so, to stop the progress of what, if allowed to go on, would
quickly put an end to every thing that is dear to him. If he cannot
restrain it by gentle and fair means, he must beat it down by force and
violence, and at any rate must put a stop to its further progress. Hence
it is, they say, that he often approves of the enforcement of the laws
of justice even by the capital punishment of those who violate them.
The disturber of the public peace is hereby removed out of the world,
and others are terri¬ed by his fate from imitating his example.

· Such is the account commonly given of our approbation of the pun-
ishment of injustice. And so far this account is undoubtedly true, that
we frequently have occasion to con¬rm our natural sense of the pro-
priety and ¬tness of punishment, by re¬‚ecting how necessary it is for
preserving the order of society. When the guilty is about to suffer that

±µ Smith seems to be gesturing in several directions here. The idea that justice is based upon utility
is most obviously found in Hume, especially the Second Inquiry III, while the general suggestion
about man™s natural sociability is likely to refer, for example, to Hutcheson, and the justi¬ca-
tion of punishment through ˜the publick good™ Smith ascribes to ˜Grotius and other writers™ in
LJ (A) ii.°.

The Theory of Moral Sentiments

just retaliation, which the natural indignation of mankind tells them
is due to his crimes; when the insolence of his injustice is broken and
humbled by the terror of his approaching punishment; when he ceases
to be an object of fear, with the generous and humane he begins to
be an object of pity. The thought of what he is about to suffer ex-
tinguishes their resentment for the sufferings of others to which he
has given occasion. They are disposed to pardon and forgive him, and
to save him from that punishment, which in all their cool hours they
had considered as the retribution due to such crimes. Here, therefore,
they have occasion to call to their assistance the consideration of the
general interest of society. They counterbalance the impulse of this
weak and partial humanity by the dictates of a humanity that is more
generous and comprehensive. They re¬‚ect that mercy to the guilty
is cruelty to the innocent, and oppose to the emotions of compassion
which they feel for a particular person, a more enlarged compassion
which they feel for mankind.

 Sometimes too we have occasion to defend the propriety of observ-
ing the general rules of justice by the consideration of their necessity
to the support of society. We frequently hear the young and the li-
centious ridiculing the most sacred rules of morality, and professing,
sometimes from the corruption, but more frequently from the vanity
of their hearts, the most abominable maxims of conduct. Our indig-
nation rouses, and we are eager to refute and expose such detestable
principles. But though it is their intrinsic hatefulness and detestable-
ness, which originally in¬‚ames us against them, we are unwilling to
assign this as the sole reason why we condemn them, or to pretend that
it is merely because we ourselves hate and detest them. The reason,
we think, would not appear to be conclusive. Yet why should it not; if
we hate and detest them because they are the natural and proper ob-
jects of hatred and detestation? But when we are asked why we should
not act in such or such a manner, the very question seems to suppose
that, to those who ask it, this manner of acting does not appear to be
for its own sake the natural and proper object of those sentiments.
We must show them, therefore, that it ought to be so for the sake of
something else. Upon this account we generally cast about for other
arguments, and the consideration which ¬rst occurs to us, is the dis-
order and confusion of society which would result from the universal

Of merit and demerit; reward and punishment

prevalence of such practices. We seldom fail, therefore, to insist upon
this topic.

 But though it commonly requires no great discernment to see the
destructive tendency of all licentious practices to the welfare of society,
it is seldom this consideration which ¬rst animates us against them.
All men, even the most stupid and unthinking, abhor fraud, per¬dy,
and injustice, and delight to see them punished. But few men have
re¬‚ected upon the necessity of justice to the existence of society, how
obvious soever that necessity may appear to be.±

±° That it is not a regard to the preservation of society, which originally in-
terests us in the punishment of crimes committed against individuals,
may be demonstrated by many obvious considerations. The concern
which we take in the fortune and happiness of individuals does not,
in common cases, arise from that which we take in the fortune and
happiness of society. We are no more concerned for the destruction or
loss of a single man, because this man is a member or part of society,
and because we should be concerned for the destruction of society,
than we are concerned for the loss of a single guinea, because this
guinea is a part of a thousand guineas, and because we should be con-
cerned for the loss of the whole sum. In neither case does our regard
for the individuals arise from our regard for the multitude: but in both
cases our regard for the multitude is compounded and made up of the
particular regards which we feel for the different individuals of which
it is composed. As when a small sum is unjustly taken from us, we do
not so much prosecute the injury from a regard to the preservation of
our whole fortune, as from a regard to that particular sum which we
have lost; so when a single man is injured, or destroyed, we demand
the punishment of the wrong that has been done to him, not so much
from a concern for the general interest of society, as from a concern for
that very individual who has been injured. It is to be observed, how-
ever, that this concern does not necessarily include in it any degree of
those exquisite sentiments which are commonly called love, esteem,
and affection, and by which we distinguish our particular friends and
acquaintance. The concern which is requisite for this, is no more than

± For this and the following paragraphs, cf. IV..

The Theory of Moral Sentiments

the general fellow-feeling which we have with every man merely be-
cause he is our fellow-creature. We enter into the resentment even of
an odious person, when he is injured by those to whom he has given no
provocation. Our disapprobation of his ordinary character and con-
duct does not in this case altogether prevent our fellow-feeling with his
natural indignation; though with those who are not either extremely
candid, or who have not been accustomed to correct and regulate their
natural sentiments by general rules, it is very apt to damp it.

±± Upon some occasions, indeed, we both punish and approve of pun-
ishment, merely from a view to the general interest of society, which,
we imagine, cannot otherwise be secured. Of this kind are all the pun-
ishments in¬‚icted for breaches of what is called either civil police, or
military discipline. Such crimes do not immediately or directly hurt
any particular person; but their remote consequences, it is supposed,
do produce, or might produce, either a considerable inconveniency,
or a great disorder in the society. A centinel, for example, who falls
asleep upon his watch, suffers death by the laws of war, because such
carelessness might endanger the whole army.±· This severity may,
upon many occasions, appear necessary, and, for that reason, just and
proper. When the preservation of an individual is inconsistent with
the safety of a multitude, nothing can be more just than that the many
should be preferred to the one. Yet this punishment, how necessary
soever, always appears to be excessively severe. The natural atroc-
ity of the crime seems to be so little, and the punishment so great,
that it is with great dif¬culty that our heart can reconcile itself to it.
Though such carelessness appears very blamable, yet the thought of
this crime does not naturally excite any such resentment, as would
prompt us to take such dreadful revenge. A man of humanity must
recollect himself, must make an effort, and exert his whole ¬rmness
and resolution, before he can bring himself either to in¬‚ict it, or to
go along with it when it is in¬‚icted by others. It is not, however, in
this manner, that he looks upon the just punishment of an ungrateful
murderer or parricide. His heart, in this case, applauds with ardour,
and even with transport, the just retaliation which seems due to such
detestable crimes, and which, if, by any accident, they should happen

±· Cf. LJ (A) ii., (B) ±.

Of merit and demerit; reward and punishment

to escape, he would be highly enraged and disappointed. The very
different sentiments with which the spectator views those different
punishments, is a proof that his approbation of the one is far from be-
ing founded upon the same principles with that of the other. He looks
upon the centinel as an unfortunate victim, who, indeed, must, and
ought to be, devoted to the safety of numbers, but whom still, in his
heart, he would be glad to save; and he is only sorry, that the interest
of the many should oppose it. But if the murderer should escape from
punishment, it would excite his highest indignation, and he would call
upon God to avenge, in another world, that crime which the injustice
of mankind had neglected to chastise upon earth.

± For it well deserves to be taken notice of, that we are so far from
imagining that injustice ought to be punished in this life, merely on
account of the order of society, which cannot otherwise be maintained,
that Nature teaches us to hope, and religion, we suppose, authorises
us to expect, that it will be punished, even in a life to come. Our sense
of its ill desert pursues it, if I may say so, even beyond the grave,
though the example of its punishment there cannot serve to deter the
rest of mankind, who see it not, who know it not, from being guilty
of the like practices here. The justice of God, however, we think, still
requires, that he should hereafter avenge the injuries of the widow and
the fatherless, who are here so often insulted with impunity. In every
religion, and in every superstition that the world has ever beheld,
accordingly, there has been a Tartarus as well as an Elysium; a place
provided for the punishment of the wicked, as well as one for the
reward of the just.±

± The last sentence of this paragraph was added in the sixth edition. It replaced a much longer
passage which is added below as it appeared in the ¬rst edition. For the manuscript background
to the passage and an interpretation of its role in Smith™s thought, see Appendix II to TMS, edited
by D. D. Raphael and A. L. Mac¬e.
That the Deity loves virtue and hates vice, as a voluptuous man loves riches and hates
poverty, not for their own sakes, but for the effects which they tend to produce; that he
loves the one, only because it promotes the happiness of society, which his benevolence
prompts him to desire; and that he hates the other, only because it occasions the misery
of mankind, which the same divine quality renders the object of his aversion; is not
the doctrine of nature, but of an arti¬cial, though ingenious, re¬nement of philosophy.
All our natural sentiments prompt us to believe, that as perfect virtue is supposed
necessarily to appear to the Deity, as it does to us, for its own sake, and without any
further view, the natural and proper object of love and reward, so must vice, of hatred

The Theory of Moral Sentiments

Section III Of the in¬‚uence of fortune upon the sentiments
of mankind, with regard to the merit or demerit of actions
± Whatever praise or blame can be due to any action, must belong either,
¬rst, to the intention or affection of the heart, from which it proceeds;
or, secondly, to the external action or movement of the body, which this
affection gives occasion to; or, lastly, to the good or bad consequences,
which actually, and in fact, proceed from it. These three different things
constitute the whole nature and circumstances of the action, and must
be the foundation of whatever quality can belong to it.
and punishment. That the gods neither resent nor hurt, was the general maxim of
all the different sects of the ancient philosophy: and if, by resenting, be understood,
that violent and disorderly perturbation, which often distracts and confounds the
human breast; or if, by hurting, be understood, the doing mischief wantonly, and
without regard to propriety or justice, such weakness is undoubtedly unworthy of
the divine perfection. But if it be meant, that vice does not appear to the Deity to
be, for its own sake, the object of abhorrence and aversion, and what, for its own
sake, it is ¬t and right should be punished, the truth of this maxim can, by no means,
be so easily admitted. If we consult our natural sentiments, we are apt to fear, lest
before the holiness of God, vice should appear to be more worthy of punishment
than the weakness and imperfection of human virtue can ever seem to be of reward.
Man, when about to appear before a being of in¬nite perfection, can feel but little
con¬dence in his own merit, or in the imperfect propriety of his own conduct. In the
presence of his fellow-creatures, he may often justly elevate himself, and may often
have reason to think highly of his own character and conduct, compared to the still
greater imperfection of theirs. But the case is quite different when about to appear
before his in¬nite Creator. To such a being, he can scarce imagine, that his littleness
and weakness should ever seem to be the proper object, either of esteem or of reward.
But he can easily conceive, how the numberless violations of duty, of which he has
been guilty, should render him the proper object of aversion and punishment; neither
can he see any reason why the divine indignation should not be let loose without any
restraint, upon so vile an insect, as he is sensible that he himself must appear to be.
If he would still hope for happiness, he is conscious that he cannot demand it from
the justice, but that he must entreat it from the mercy of God. Repentance, sorrow,
humiliation, contrition at the thought of his past conduct, are, upon this account,
the sentiments which become him, and seem to be the only means which he has left
for appeasing that wrath which, he knows, he has justly provoked. He even distrusts
the ef¬cacy of all these, and naturally fears, lest the wisdom of God should not, like
the weakness of man, be prevailed upon to spare the crime, by the most importunate
lamentations of the criminal. Some other intercession, some other sacri¬ce, some
other atonement, he imagines, must be made for him, beyond what he himself is
capable of making, before the purity of the divine justice can be reconciled to his
manifold offences. The doctrines of revelation coincide, in every respect, with those
original anticipations of nature; and, as they teach us how little we can depend upon
the imperfection of our own virtue, so they show us, at the same time, that the most
powerful intercession has been made, and that the most dreadful atonement has been
paid for our manifold transgressions and iniquities.

Of merit and demerit; reward and punishment

 That the two last of these three circumstances cannot be the foundation
of any praise or blame, is abundantly evident; nor has the contrary ever
been asserted by any body. The external action or movement of the
body is often the same in the most innocent and in the most blameable
actions. He who shoots a bird, and he who shoots a man, both of them
perform the same external movement: each of them draws the trigger
of a gun. The consequences which actually, and in fact, happen to
proceed from any action, are, if possible, still more indifferent either
to praise or blame, than even the external movement of the body. As
they depend, not upon the agent, but upon fortune, they cannot be
the proper foundation for any sentiment, of which his character and
conduct are the objects.

 The only consequences for which he can be answerable, or by which he
can deserve either approbation or disapprobation of any kind, are those
which were someway or other intended, or those which, at least, show
some agreeable or disagreeable quality in the intention of the heart, from
which he acted. To the intention or affection of the heart, therefore, to
the propriety or impropriety, to the bene¬cence or hurtfulness of the de-
sign, all praise or blame, all approbation or disapprobation, of any kind,
which can justly be bestowed upon any action, must ultimately belong.

 When this maxim is thus proposed, in abstract and general terms,
there is nobody who does not agree to it. Its self-evident justice is ac-
knowledged by all the world, and there is not a dissenting voice among
all mankind. Every body allows, that how different soever the accidental,
the unintended and unforeseen consequences of different actions, yet,
if the intentions or affections from which they arose were, on the one
hand, equally proper and equally bene¬cent, or, on the other, equally
improper and equally malevolent, the merit or demerit of the actions
is still the same, and the agent is equally the suitable object either of
gratitude or of resentment.

µ But how well soever we may seem to be persuaded of the truth of this
equitable maxim, when we consider it after this manner, in abstract,
yet when we come to particular cases, the actual consequences which
happen to proceed from any action, have a very great effect upon our
sentiments concerning its merit or demerit, and almost always either

The Theory of Moral Sentiments

enhance or diminish our sense of both. Scarce, in any one instance,
perhaps, will our sentiments be found, after examination, to be en-
tirely regulated by this rule, which we all acknowledge ought entirely
to regulate them.

 This irregularity of sentiment, which every body feels, which scarce
any body is suf¬ciently aware of, and which nobody is willing to ac-
knowledge, I proceed now to explain; and I shall consider, ¬rst, the
cause which gives occasion to it, or the mechanism by which nature
produces it; secondly, the extent of its in¬‚uence; and, last of all, the end
which it answers, or the purpose which the Author of nature seems to
have intended by it.

Chapter I Of the causes of this in¬‚uence of fortune
± The causes of pain and pleasure, whatever they are, or however they
operate, seem to be the objects, which, in all animals, immediately ex-
cite those two passions of gratitude and resentment. They are excited
by inanimated, as well as by animated objects. We are angry, for a mo-
ment, even at the stone that hurts us. A child beats it, a dog barks at it,
a choleric man is apt to curse it. The least re¬‚ection, indeed, corrects
this sentiment, and we soon become sensible, that what has no feeling is
a very improper object of revenge. When the mischief, however, is very
great, the object which caused it becomes disagreeable to us ever after,
and we take pleasure to burn or destroy it. We should treat, in this man-
ner, the instrument which had accidentally been the cause of the death
of a friend, and we should often think ourselves guilty of a sort of inhu-
manity, if we neglected to vent this absurd sort of vengeance upon it.±

 We conceive, in the same manner, a sort of gratitude for those inani-
mated objects, which have been the causes of great, or frequent pleasure
to us. The sailor, who, as soon as he got ashore, should mend his ¬re
with the plank upon which he had just escaped from a shipwreck,
would seem to be guilty of an unnatural action. We should expect that
he would rather preserve it with care and affection, as a monument that
was, in some measure, dear to him. A man grows fond of a snuff-box,

± For the juridical effect of such sentiments, see LJ (A) ii.±±“°, (B) ±.

Of merit and demerit; reward and punishment

of a pen-knife, of a staff which he has long made use of, and conceives
something like a real love and affection for them. If he breaks or loses
them, he is vexed out of all proportion to the value of the damage. The
house which we have long lived in, the tree, whose verdure and shade
we have long enjoyed, are both looked upon with a sort of respect that
seems due to such benefactors. The decay of the one, or the ruin of the
other, affects us with a kind of melancholy, though we should sustain
no loss by it. The Dryads and the Lares of the ancients, a sort of genii of
trees and houses, were probably ¬rst suggested by this sort of affection,
which the authors of those superstitions felt for such objects, and which
seemed unreasonable, if there was nothing animated about them.

 But, before any thing can be the proper object of gratitude or resent-
ment, it must not only be the cause of pleasure or pain, it must likewise
be capable of feeling them. Without this other quality, those passions
cannot vent themselves with any sort of satisfaction upon it. As they are
excited by the causes of pleasure and pain, so their grati¬cation consists
in retaliating those sensations upon what gave occasion to them; which
it is to no purpose to attempt upon what has no sensibility. Animals,
therefore, are less improper objects of gratitude and resentment than
inanimated objects. The dog that bites, the ox that gores, are both of
them punished. If they have been the causes of the death of any person,
neither the public, nor the relations of the slain, can be satis¬ed, unless
they are put to death in their turn: nor is this merely for the security
of the living, but, in some measure, to revenge the injury of the dead.°
Those animals, on the contrary, that have been remarkably serviceable
to their masters, become the object of a very lively gratitude. We are
shocked at the brutality of that of¬cer, mentioned in the Turkish Spy,
who stabbed the horse that had carried him across an arm of the sea,
lest that animal should afterwards distinguish some other person by
a similar adventure.±

° Cf. LJ (A) ii.±±: ˜By the Jewish law the ox that gored was to be put to death™, the reference being
Exodus ±:. Smith goes on to explain the corresponding right of deodand in English law which
was still occasionally enforced in the eighteenth century. Cf. LJ (B) ±.
± Letters writ by a Turkish Spy,  vols. ±“·, vol. iv, Book III, letter ±°. The author of
the ¬rst volume, and possibly of more, was Giovanni Paolo Marana (±“c. ). The work
became the prototype for a new genre which included Montesquieu™s Lettres persanes (±·±); it
was published partly in French, partly in English, and there was a continuation by Defoe (?)
in ±·±.

The Theory of Moral Sentiments

 But, though animals are not only the causes of pleasure and pain, but
are also capable of feeling those sensations, they are still far from being
complete and perfect objects, either of gratitude or resentment; and
those passions still feel, that there is something wanting to their entire
grati¬cation. What gratitude chie¬‚y desires, is not only to make the
benefactor feel pleasure in his turn, but to make him conscious that he
meets with this reward on account of his past conduct, to make him
pleased with that conduct, and to satisfy him that the person upon
whom he bestowed his good of¬ces was not unworthy of them. What
most of all charms us in our benefactor, is the concord between his
sentiments and our own, with regard to what interests us so nearly as
the worth of our own character, and the esteem that is due to us. We
are delighted to ¬nd a person who values us as we value ourselves, and
distinguishes us from the rest of mankind, with an attention not unlike
that with which we distinguish ourselves. To maintain in him these
agreeable and ¬‚attering sentiments, is one of the chief ends proposed
by the returns we are disposed to make to him. A generous mind often
disdains the interested thought of extorting new favours from its bene-
factor, by what may be called the importunities of its gratitude. But to
preserve and to increase his esteem, is an interest which the greatest
mind does not think unworthy of its attention. And this is the foun-
dation of what I formerly observed, that when we cannot enter into
the motives of our benefactor, when his conduct and character appear
unworthy of our approbation, let his services have been ever so great,
our gratitude is always sensibly diminished. We are less ¬‚attered by the
distinction; and to preserve the esteem of so weak, or so worthless a
patron, seems to be an object which does not deserve to be pursued for
its own sake.

µ The object, on the contrary, which resentment is chie¬‚y intent upon,
is not so much to make our enemy feel pain in his turn, as to make
him conscious that he feels it upon account of his past conduct, to
make him repent of that conduct, and to make him sensible, that the
person whom he injured did not deserve to be treated in that man-
ner. What chie¬‚y enrages us against the man who injures or insults us,
is the little account which he seems to make of us, the unreasonable pref-
erence which he gives to himself above us, and that absurd self-love,

Of merit and demerit; reward and punishment

by which he seems to imagine, that other people may be sacri¬ced at
any time, to his conveniency or his humour. The glaring impropriety
of this conduct, the gross insolence and injustice which it seems to
involve in it, often shock and exasperate us more than all the mischief
which we have suffered. To bring him back to a more just sense of
what is due to other people, to make him sensible of what he owes us,
and of the wrong that he has done to us, is frequently the principal
end proposed in our revenge, which is always imperfect when it cannot
accomplish this. When our enemy appears to have done us no injury,
when we are sensible that he acted quite properly, that, in his situation,
we should have done the same thing, and that we deserved from him all
the mischief we met with; in that case, if we have the least spark either
of candour or justice, we can entertain no sort of resentment.

 Before any thing, therefore, can be the complete and proper object,
either of gratitude or resentment, it must possess three different qual-
i¬cations. First, it must be the cause of pleasure in the one case, and of
pain in the other. Secondly, it must be capable of feeling those sen-
sations. And, thirdly, it must not only have produced those sensa-
tions, but it must have produced them from design, and from a design
that is approved of in the one case, and disapproved of in the other.
It is by the ¬rst quali¬cation, that any object is capable of exciting
those passions: it is by the second, that it is in any respect capable
of gratifying them: the third quali¬cation is not only necessary for
their complete satisfaction, but as it gives a pleasure or pain that is both
exquisite and peculiar, it is likewise an additional exciting cause of those

· As what gives pleasure or pain, therefore, either in one way or another,
is the sole exciting cause of gratitude and resentment; though the inten-
tions of any person should be ever so proper and bene¬cent on the one
hand, or ever so improper and malevolent on the other; yet, if he has
failed in producing either the good or the evil which he intended, as one
of the exciting causes is wanting in both cases, less gratitude seems due
to him in the one, and less resentment in the other. And, on the contrary,
though in the intentions of any person, there was either no laudable
degree of benevolence on the one hand, or no blameable degree of

The Theory of Moral Sentiments

malice on the other; yet, if his actions should produce either great good
or great evil, as one of the exciting causes takes place upon both these
occasions, some gratitude is apt to arise towards him in the one, and
some resentment in the other. A shadow of merit seems to fall upon
him in the ¬rst, a shadow of demerit in the second. And, as the conse-
quences of actions are altogether under the empire of Fortune, hence
arises her in¬‚uence upon the sentiments of mankind with regard to
merit and demerit.

Chapter II Of the extent of this in¬‚uence of fortune
± The effect of this in¬‚uence of fortune is, ¬rst, to diminish our sense
of the merit or demerit of those actions which arose from the most
laudable or blamable intentions, when they fail of producing their
proposed effects: and, secondly, to increase our sense of the merit or
demerit of actions, beyond what is due to the motives or affections
from which they proceed, when they accidentally give occasion either
to extraordinary pleasure or pain.

 First, I say, though the intentions of any person should be ever so
proper and bene¬cent, on the one hand, or ever so improper and
malevolent, on the other, yet, if they fail in producing their effects, his
merit seems imperfect in the one case, and his demerit incomplete in
the other. Nor is this irregularity of sentiment felt only by those who
are immediately affected by the consequences of any action. It is felt,
in some measure, even by the impartial spectator. The man who solic-
its an of¬ce for another, without obtaining it, is regarded as his friend,
and seems to deserve his love and affection. But the man who not only
solicits, but procures it, is more peculiarly considered as his patron
and benefactor, and is entitled to his respect and gratitude. The person
obliged, we are apt to think, may, with some justice, imagine himself
on a level with the ¬rst: but we cannot enter into his sentiments, if
he does not feel himself inferior to the second. It is common indeed
to say, that we are equally obliged to the man who has endeavoured
to serve us, as to him who actually did so. It is the speech which we
constantly make upon every unsuccessful attempt of this kind; but
which, like all other ¬ne speeches, must be understood with a grain
of allowance. The sentiments which a man of generosity entertains

Of merit and demerit; reward and punishment

for the friend who fails, may often indeed be nearly the same with
those which he conceives for him who succeeds: and the more gener-
ous he is, the more nearly will those sentiments approach to an exact
level. With the truly generous, to be beloved, to be esteemed by those
whom they themselves think worthy of esteem, gives more pleasure,
and thereby excites more gratitude, than all the advantages which they
can ever expect from those sentiments. When they lose those advan-
tages therefore, they seem to lose but a tri¬‚e, which is scarce worth
regarding. They still however lose something. Their pleasure there-
fore, and consequently their gratitude, is not perfectly complete: and
accordingly if, between the friend who fails and the friend who suc-
ceeds, all other circumstances are equal, there will, even in the noblest
and the best mind, be some little difference of affection in favour of
him who succeeds. Nay, so unjust are mankind in this respect, that
though the intended bene¬t should be procured, yet if it is not pro-
cured by the means of a particular benefactor, they are apt to think that
less gratitude is due to the man, who with the best intentions in the
world could do no more than help it a little forward. As their gratitude
is in this case divided among the different persons who contributed
to their pleasure, a smaller share of it seems due to any one. Such a
person, we hear men commonly say, intended no doubt to serve us;
and we really believe exerted himself to the utmost of his abilities for
that purpose. We are not, however, obliged to him for this bene¬t;
since, had it not been for the concurrence of others, all that he could
have done would never have brought it about. This consideration,
they imagine, should, even in the eyes of the impartial spectator, di-
minish the debt which they owe to him. The person himself who has
unsuccessfully endeavoured to confer a bene¬t, has by no means the
same dependency upon the gratitude of the man whom he meant to
oblige, nor the same sense of his own merit towards him, which he
would have had in the case of success.

 Even the merit of talents and abilities which some accident has hin-
dered from producing their effects, seems in some measure imperfect,
even to those who are fully convinced of their capacity to produce
them. The general who has been hindered by the envy of ministers
from gaining some great advantage over the enemies of his country,
regrets the loss of the opportunity for ever after. Nor is it only upon

The Theory of Moral Sentiments

account of the public that he regrets it. He laments that he was hin-
dered from performing an action which would have added a new lustre
to his character in his own eyes, as well as in those of every other per-
son. It satis¬es neither himself nor others to re¬‚ect that the plan or
design was all that depended on him, that no greater capacity was
required to execute it than what was necessary to concert it: that he
was allowed to be every way capable of executing it, and that had he
been permitted to go on, success was infallible. He still did not execute
it; and though he might deserve all the approbation which is due to
a magnanimous and great design, he still wanted the actual merit of
having performed a great action. To take the management of any affair
of public concern from the man who has almost brought it to a con-
clusion, is regarded as the most invidious injustice. As he had done so
much, he should, we think, have been allowed to acquire the complete
merit of putting an end to it. It was objected to Pompey, that he came
in upon the victories of Lucullus, and gathered those laurels which
were due to the fortune and valour of another. The glory of Lucullus,
it seems, was less complete even in the opinion of his own friends,
when he was not permitted to ¬nish that conquest which his conduct
and courage had put in the power of almost any man to ¬nish. It
morti¬es an architect when his plans are either not executed at all, or
when they are so far altered as to spoil the effect of the building. The
plan, however, is all that depends upon the architect. The whole of
his genius is, to good judges, as completely discovered in that as in
the actual execution. But a plan does not, even to the most intelligent,
give the same pleasure as a noble and magni¬cent building. They may
discover as much both of taste and genius in the one as in the other. But
their effects are still vastly different, and the amusement derived from
the ¬rst, never approaches to the wonder and admiration which are
sometimes excited by the second. We may believe of many men, that
their talents are superior to those of C¦sar and Alexander; and that
in the same situations they would perform still greater actions. In the
mean time, however, we do not behold them with that astonishment

 In Rome™s struggle for control of Asia Minor during the ¬rst half of the ¬rst century BC, its
most formidable foe, Mithridates King of Pontus, was ¬nally broken by Lucius Licinius Lucullus
(c. ±±“µ· BC) between · and  BC. But he could not complete the task as his troops mutinied
and the command was taken over by Pompey. Smith appears to be referring to Plutarch™s Parallel
Lives, ˜Lucullus™, µ“.

Of merit and demerit; reward and punishment

and admiration with which those two heroes have been regarded in
all ages and nations. The calm judgments of the mind may approve
of them more, but they want the splendour of great actions to dazzle
and transport it. The superiority of virtues and talents has not, even
upon those who acknowledge that superiority, the same effect with
the superiority of atchievements.

 As the merit of an unsuccessful attempt to do good seems thus, in
the eyes of ungrateful mankind, to be diminished by the miscarriage,
so does likewise the demerit of an unsuccessful attempt to do evil.
The design to commit a crime, how clearly soever it may be proved,
is scarce ever punished with the same severity as the actual com-
mission of it. The case of treason is perhaps the only exception.
That crime immediately affecting the being of the government itself,
the government is naturally more jealous of it than of any other. In the
punishment of treason, the sovereign resents the injuries which are
immediately done to himself: in the punishment of other crimes, he
resents those which are done to other men. It is his own resentment
which he indulges in the one case: it is that of his subjects which by
sympathy he enters into in the other. In the ¬rst case, therefore, as he
judges in his own cause, he is very apt to be more violent and san-
guinary in his punishments than the impartial spectator can approve
of. His resentment too rises here upon smaller occasions, and does not
always, as in other cases, wait for the perpetration of the crime, or even
for the attempt to commit it. A treasonable concert, though nothing
has been done, or even attempted in consequence of it, nay, a treason-
able conversation, is in many countries punished in the same manner
as the actual commission of treason. With regard to all other crimes,
the mere design, upon which no attempt has followed, is seldom pun-
ished at all, and is never punished severely. A criminal design, and a
criminal action, it may be said indeed, do not necessarily suppose the
same degree of depravity, and ought not therefore to be subjected to
the same punishment. We are capable, it may be said, of resolving, and
even of taking measures to execute, many things which, when it comes
to the point, we feel ourselves altogether incapable of executing. But

 Cf. LJ (A) v.±“, (B) °. The subsequent points about treason should be supplemented by the
extensive discussion of the sovereign™s rights against the subjects in LJ (A) v.µ“, (B) ·“.

The Theory of Moral Sentiments

this reason can have no place when the design has been carried the
length of the last attempt. The man, however, who ¬res a pistol at his
enemy but misses him, is punished with death by the laws of scarce
any country. By the old law of Scotland, though he should wound
him, yet, unless death ensues within a certain time, the assassin is not
liable to the last punishment. The resentment of mankind, however,
runs so high against this crime, their terror for the man who shows
himself capable of committing it, is so great, that the mere attempt to
commit it ought in all countries to be capital. The attempt to commit
smaller crimes is almost always punished very lightly, and sometimes
is not punished at all. The thief, whose hand has been caught in his
neighbour™s pocket before he had taken any thing out of it, is punished
with ignominy only. If he had got time to take away an handkerchief,
he would have been put to death. The house-breaker, who has been
found setting a ladder to his neighbour™s window, but had not got into
it, is not exposed to the capital punishment. The attempt to ravish is
not punished as a rape. The attempt to seduce a married woman is
not punished at all, though seduction is punished severely. Our re-
sentment against the person who only attempted to do a mischief, is
seldom so strong as to bear us out in in¬‚icting the same punishment
upon him, which we should have thought due if he had actually done
it. In the one case, the joy of our deliverance alleviates our sense of
the atrocity of his conduct; in the other, the grief of our misfortune
increases it. His real demerit, however, is undoubtedly the same in
both cases, since his intentions were equally criminal; and there is in
this respect, therefore, an irregularity in the sentiments of all men,
and a consequent relaxation of discipline in the laws of, I believe, all
nations, of the most civilized, as well as of the most barbarous. The
humanity of a civilized people disposes them either to dispense with,
or to mitigate punishments wherever their natural indignation is not
goaded on by the consequences of the crime. Barbarians, on the other
hand, when no actual consequence has happened from any action, are
not apt to be very delicate or inquisitive about the motives.

µ The person himself who either from passion, or from the in¬‚uence
of bad company, has resolved, and perhaps taken measures to per-
petrate some crime, but who has fortunately been prevented by an
accident which put it out of his power, is sure, if he has any remains

Of merit and demerit; reward and punishment

of conscience, to regard this event all his life after as a great and sig-
nal deliverance. He can never think of it without returning thanks to
Heaven for having been thus graciously pleased to save him from the
guilt in which he was just ready to plunge himself, and to hinder him
from rendering all the rest of his life a scene of horror, remorse, and
repentance. But though his hands are innocent, he is conscious that
his heart is equally guilty as if he had actually executed what he was
so fully resolved upon. It gives great ease to his conscience, however,
to consider that the crime was not executed, though he knows that
the failure arose from no virtue in him. He still considers himself as
less deserving of punishment and resentment; and this good fortune
either diminishes, or takes away altogether, all sense of guilt. To re-
member how much he was resolved upon it, has no other effect than
to make him regard his escape as the greater and more miraculous: for
he still fancies that he has escaped, and he looks back upon the danger
to which his peace of mind was exposed, with that terror, with which
one who is in safety may sometimes remember the hazard he was in
of falling over a precipice, and shudder with horror at the thought.

 The second effect of this in¬‚uence of fortune, is to increase our
sense of the merit or demerit of actions beyond what is due to the
motives or affection from which they proceed, when they happen
to give occasion to extraordinary pleasure or pain. The agreeable or
disagreeable effects of the action often throw a shadow of merit or
demerit upon the agent, though in his intention there was nothing
that deserved either praise or blame, or at least that deserved them
in the degree in which we are apt to bestow them. Thus, even the
messenger of bad news is disagreeable to us, and, on the contrary, we
feel a sort of gratitude for the man who brings us good tidings. For
a moment we look upon them both as the authors, the one of our
good, the other of our bad fortune, and regard them in some measure
as if they had really brought about the events which they only give
an account of. The ¬rst author of our joy is naturally the object of a
transitory gratitude: we embrace him with warmth and affection, and
should be glad, during the instant of our prosperity, to reward him as
for some signal service. By the custom of all courts, the of¬cer, who
brings the news of a victory, is entitled to considerable preferments,
and the general always chuses one of his principal favourites to go

The Theory of Moral Sentiments

upon so agreeable an errand. The ¬rst author of our sorrow is, on the
contrary, just as naturally the object of a transitory resentment. We
can scarce avoid looking upon him with chagrin and uneasiness; and
the rude and brutal are apt to vent upon him that spleen which his
intelligence gives occasion to. Tigranes, king of Armenia, struck off
the head of the man who brought him the ¬rst account of the approach


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