. 7
( 13)


to such perfection. There is scarce any man, however, who by disci-
pline, education, and example, may not be so impressed with a regard
to general rules, as to act upon almost every occasion with tolerable
decency, and through the whole of his life to avoid any considerable
degree of blame.

 Without this sacred regard to general rules, there is no man whose
conduct can be much depended upon. It is this which constitutes the
most essential difference between a man of principle and honour and
a worthless fellow. The one adheres, on all occasions, steadily and res-
olutely to his maxims, and preserves through the whole of his life one
even tenour of conduct. The other, acts variously and accidentally, as
humour, inclination, or interest chance to be uppermost. Nay, such
are the inequalities of humour to which all men are subject, that with-
out this principle, the man who, in all his cool hours, had the most
delicate sensibility to the propriety of conduct, might often be led to
act absurdly upon the most frivolous occasions, and when it was scarce
possible to assign any serious motive for his behaving in this manner.
Your friend makes you a visit when you happen to be in a humour
which makes it disagreeable to receive him: in your present mood his
civility is very apt to appear an impertinent intrusion; and if you were
to give way to the views of things which at this time occur, though
µ Cf. WN V.i.f.·.

The Theory of Moral Sentiments

civil in your temper, you would behave to him with coldness and con-
tempt. What renders you incapable of such a rudeness, is nothing but
a regard to the general rules of civility and hospitality, which prohibit
it. That habitual reverence which your former experience has taught
you for these, enables you to act, upon all such occasions, with nearly
equal propriety, and hinders those inequalities of temper, to which all
men are subject, from in¬‚uencing your conduct in any very sensible
degree. But if without regard to these general rules, even the duties
of politeness, which are so easily observed, and which one can scarce
have any serious motive to violate, would yet be so frequently violated,
what would become of the duties of justice, of truth, of chastity, of
¬delity, which it is often so dif¬cult to observe, and which there may be
so many strong motives to violate? But upon the tolerable observance
of these duties, depends the very existence of human society, which
would crumble into nothing if mankind were not generally impressed
with a reverence for those important rules of conduct.

 This reverence is still further enhanced by an opinion which is ¬rst
impressed by nature, and afterwards con¬rmed by reasoning and phi-
losophy, that those important rules of morality are the commands and
laws of the Deity, who will ¬nally reward the obedient, and punish the
transgressors of their duty.

 This opinion or apprehension, I say, seems ¬rst to be impressed by
nature. Men are naturally led to ascribe to those mysterious beings,
whatever they are, which happen, in any country, to be the objects
of religious fear, all their own sentiments and passions. They have
no other, they can conceive no other to ascribe to them. Those un-
known intelligences which they imagine but see not, must necessarily
be formed with some sort of resemblance to those intelligences of
which they have experience. During the ignorance and darkness of
pagan superstition, mankind seem to have formed the ideas of their
divinities with so little delicacy, that they ascribed to them, indiscrim-
inately, all the passions of human nature, those not excepted which
do the least honour to our species, such as lust, hunger, avarice, envy,
revenge. They could not fail, therefore, to ascribe to those beings, for
the excellence of whose nature they still conceived the highest admi-
ration, those sentiments and qualities which are the great ornaments

Of judgments of our own sentiments and conduct and of duty

of humanity, and which seem to raise it to a resemblance of divine
perfection, the love of virtue and bene¬cence, and the abhorrence of
vice and injustice. The man who was injured, called upon Jupiter to
be witness of the wrong that was done to him, and could not doubt,
but that divine being would behold it with the same indignation which
would animate the meanest of mankind, who looked on when injustice
was committed. The man who did the injury, felt himself to be the
proper object of the detestation and resentment of mankind; and his
natural fears led him to impute the same sentiments to those awful
beings, whose presence he could not avoid, and whose power he could
not resist. These natural hopes and fears, and suspicions, were prop-
agated by sympathy, and con¬rmed by education; and the gods were
universally represented and believed to be the rewarders of humanity
and mercy, and the avengers of per¬dy and injustice. And thus reli-
gion, even in its rudest form, gave a sanction to the rules of morality,
long before the age of arti¬cial reasoning and philosophy. That the
terrors of religion should thus enforce the natural sense of duty, was
of too much importance to the happiness of mankind, for nature to
leave it dependent upon the slowness and uncertainty of philosophical

µ These researches, however, when they came to take place, con¬rmed
those original anticipations of nature.µ Upon whatever we suppose
that our moral faculties are founded, whether upon a certain modi¬-
cation of reason, upon an original instinct, called a moral sense,µ or
upon some other principle of our nature, it cannot be doubted, that
they were given us for the direction of our conduct in this life. They
carry along with them the most evident badges of this authority, which
denote that they were set up within us to be the supreme arbiters of all
our actions, to superintend all our senses, passions, and appetites, and
to judge how far each of them was either to be indulged or restrained.
Our moral faculties are by no means, as some have pretended, upon
a level in this respect with the other faculties and appetites of our na-
ture, endowed with no more right to restrain these last, than these last

µ Cf. ˜History of Astronomy™, III.; ˜The History of the Ancient Physics™,  (both in EPS).
µ Cf. VII.iii.“. In the following Smith is very close to Joseph Butler™s account of conscience, esp.
in Fifteeen Sermons, Sermon  (paragraphs ±“±µ).

The Theory of Moral Sentiments

are to restrain them. No other faculty or principle of action judges of
any other. Love does not judge of resentment, nor resentment of love.
Those two passions may be opposite to one another, but cannot, with
any propriety, be said to approve or disapprove of one another. But it
is the peculiar of¬ce of those faculties now under our consideration to
judge, to bestow censure or applause upon all the other principles of
our nature. They may be considered as a sort of senses of which those
principles are the objects. Every sense is supreme over its own objects.
There is no appeal from the eye with regard to the beauty of colours,
nor from the ear with regard to the harmony of sounds, nor from the
taste with regard to the agreeableness of ¬‚avours. Each of those senses
judges in the last resort of its own objects. Whatever grati¬es the taste
is sweet, whatever pleases the eye is beautiful, whatever soothes the
ear is harmonious. The very essence of each of those qualities consists
in its being ¬tted to please the sense to which it is addressed. It belongs
to our moral faculties, in the same manner to determine when the ear
ought to be soothed, when the eye ought to be indulged, when the
taste ought to be grati¬ed, when and how far every other principle of
our nature ought either to be indulged or restrained. What is agree-
able to our moral faculties, is ¬t, and right, and proper to be done;
the contrary wrong, un¬t, and improper. The sentiments which they
approve of, are graceful and becoming: the contrary, ungraceful and
unbecoming. The very words, right, wrong, ¬t, improper, graceful,
unbecoming, mean only what pleases or displeases those faculties.

 Since these, therefore, were plainly intended to be the governing prin-
ciples of human nature, the rules which they prescribe are to be re-
garded as the commands and laws of the Deity, promulgated by those
vicegerents which he has thus set up within us. All general rules are
commonly denominated laws: thus the general rules which bodies ob-
serve in the communication of motion, are called the laws of motion.
But those general rules which our moral faculties observe in approv-
ing or condemning whatever sentiment or action is subjected to their
examination, may much more justly be denominated such. They have
a much greater resemblance to what are properly called laws, those
general rules which the sovereign lays down to direct the conduct of
his subjects. Like them they are rules to direct the free actions of men:
they are prescribed most surely by a lawful superior, and are attended

Of judgments of our own sentiments and conduct and of duty

too with the sanction of rewards and punishments. Those vicegerents
of God within us, never fail to punish the violation of them, by the tor-
ments of inward shame, and self-condemnation; and on the contrary,
always reward obedience with tranquillity of mind, with contentment,
and self-satisfaction.

· There are innumerable other considerations which serve to con¬rm
the same conclusion. The happiness of mankind, as well as of all other
rational creatures, seems to have been the original purpose intended
by the Author of nature, when he brought them into existence. No
other end seems worthy of that supreme wisdom and divine benignity
which we necessarily ascribe to him; and this opinion, which we are led
to by the abstract consideration of his in¬nite perfections, is still more
con¬rmed by the examination of the works of nature, which seem all
intended to promote happiness, and to guard against misery. But by
acting according to the dictates of our moral faculties, we necessar-
ily pursue the most effectual means for promoting the happiness of
mankind, and may therefore be said, in some sense, to co-operate with
the Deity, and to advance as far as in our power the plan of Providence.
By acting otherways, on the contrary, we seem to obstruct, in some
measure, the scheme which the Author of nature has established for
the happiness and perfection of the world, and to declare ourselves,
if I may say so, in some measure the enemies of God. Hence we are
naturally encouraged to hope for his extraordinary favour and reward
in the one case, and to dread his vengeance and punishment in the

 There are besides many other reasons, and many other natural prin-
ciples, which all tend to con¬rm and inculcate the same salutary doc-
trine. If we consider the general rules by which external prosperity
and adversity are commonly distributed in this life, we shall ¬nd,
that notwithstanding the disorder in which all things appear to be in
this world, yet even here every virtue naturally meets with its proper
reward, with the recompense which is most ¬t to encourage and pro-
mote it; and this too so surely, that it requires a very extraordinary
concurrence of circumstances entirely to disappoint it. What is the
reward most proper for encouraging industry, prudence, and circum-
spection? Success in every sort of business. And is it possible that in

The Theory of Moral Sentiments

the whole of life these virtues should fail of attaining it? Wealth and
external honours are their proper recompense, and the recompense
which they can seldom fail of acquiring. What reward is most proper
for promoting the practice of truth, justice, and humanity? The con-
¬dence, the esteem, and love of those we live with. Humanity does
not desire to be great, but to be beloved. It is not in being rich that
truth and justice would rejoice, but in being trusted and believed, rec-
ompenses which those virtues must almost always acquire. By some
very extraordinary and unlucky circumstance, a good man may come
to be suspected of a crime of which he was altogether incapable, and
upon that account be most unjustly exposed for the remaining part
of his life to the horror and aversion of mankind. By an accident of
this kind he may be said to lose his all, notwithstanding his integrity
and justice; in the same manner as a cautious man, notwithstanding
his utmost circumspection, may be ruined by an earthquake or an in-
undation. Accidents of the ¬rst kind, however, are perhaps still more
rare, and still more contrary to the common course of things than
those of the second; and it still remains true, that the practice of truth,
justice, and humanity is a certain and almost infallible method of ac-
quiring what those virtues chie¬‚y aim at, the con¬dence and love of
those we live with. A person may be very easily misrepresented with
regard to a particular action; but it is scarce possible that he should
be so with regard to the general tenor of his conduct. An innocent
man may be believed to have done wrong: this, however, will rarely
happen. On the contrary, the established opinion of the innocence of
his manners, will often lead us to absolve him where he has really been
in the fault, notwithstanding very strong presumptions. A knave, in
the same manner, may escape censure, or even meet with applause,
for a particular knavery, in which his conduct is not understood. But
no man was ever habitually such, without being almost universally
known to be so, and without being even frequently suspected of guilt,
when he was in reality perfectly innocent. And so far as vice and virtue
can be either punished or rewarded by the sentiments and opinions of
mankind, they both, according to the common course of things, meet
even here with something more than exact and impartial justice.

 But though the general rules by which prosperity and adversity are
commonly distributed, when considered in this cool and philosophical

Of judgments of our own sentiments and conduct and of duty

light, appear to be perfectly suited to the situation of mankind in this
life, yet they are by no means suited to some of our natural senti-
ments. Our natural love and admiration for some virtues is such, that
we should wish to bestow on them all sorts of honours and rewards,
even those which we must acknowledge to be the proper recompenses
of other qualities, with which those virtues are not always accompa-
nied. Our detestation, on the contrary, for some vices is such, that
we should desire to heap upon them every sort of disgrace and dis-
aster, those not excepted which are the natural consequences of very
different qualities. Magnanimity, generosity, and justice, command
so high a degree of admiration, that we desire to see them crowned
with wealth, and power, and honours of every kind, the natural conse-
quences of prudence, industry, and application; qualities with which
those virtues are not inseparably connected. Fraud, falsehood, bru-
tality, and violence, on the other hand, excite in every human breast
such scorn and abhorrence, that our indignation rouses to see them
possess those advantages which they may in some sense be said to have
merited, by the diligence and industry with which they are sometimes
attended. The industrious knave cultivates the soil; the indolent good
man leaves it uncultivated. Who ought to reap the harvest? Who
starve, and who live in plenty? The natural course of things decides
it in favour of the knave: the natural sentiments of mankind in favour
of the man of virtue. Man judges, that the good qualities of the one
are greatly over-recompensed by those advantages which they tend to
procure him, and that the omissions of the other are by far too severely
punished by the distress which they naturally bring upon him; and
human laws, the consequences of human sentiments, forfeit the life
and the estate of the industrious and cautious traitor, and reward, by
extraordinary recompenses, the ¬delity and public spirit of the im-
provident and careless good citizen. Thus man is by Nature directed
to correct, in some measure, that distribution of things which she
herself would otherwise have made. The rules which for this purpose
she prompts him to follow, are different from those which she herself
observes. She bestows upon every virtue, and upon every vice, that
precise reward or punishment which is best ¬tted to encourage the
one, or to restrain the other. She is directed by this sole consideration,
and pays little regard to the different degrees of merit and demerit,
which they may seem to possess in the sentiments and passions of man.

The Theory of Moral Sentiments

Man, on the contrary, pays regard to this only, and would endeavour to
render the state of every virtue precisely proportioned to that degree
of love and esteem, and of every vice to that degree of contempt and
abhorrence, which he himself conceives for it. The rules which she
follows are ¬t for her, those which he follows for him: but both are
calculated to promote the same great end, the order of the world, and
the perfection and happiness of human nature.

±° But though man is thus employed to alter that distribution of things
which natural events would make, if left to themselves; though, like
the gods of the poets, he is perpetually interposing, by extraordinary
means, in favour of virtue, and in opposition to vice, and, like them,
endeavours to turn away the arrow that is aimed at the head of the
righteous, but to accelerate the sword of destruction that is lifted up
against the wicked; yet he is by no means able to render the fortune
of either quite suitable to his own sentiments and wishes. The nat-
ural course of things cannot be entirely controlled by the impotent
endeavours of man: the current is too rapid and too strong for him
to stop it; and though the rules which direct it appear to have been
established for the wisest and best purposes, they sometimes produce
effects which shock all his natural sentiments. That a great combina-
tion of men should prevail over a small one; that those who engage in
an enterprise with forethought and all necessary preparation, should
prevail over such as oppose them without any; and that every end
should be acquired by those means only which Nature has established
for acquiring it, seems to be a rule not only necessary and unavoidable
in itself, but even useful and proper for rousing the industry and at-
tention of mankind. Yet, when, in consequence of this rule, violence
and arti¬ce prevail over sincerity and justice, what indignation does it
not excite in the breast of every human spectator? What sorrow and
compassion for the sufferings of the innocent, and what furious re-
sentment against the success of the oppressor? We are equally grieved
and enraged at the wrong that is done, but often ¬nd it altogether out
of our power to redress it. When we thus despair of ¬nding any force
upon earth which can check the triumph of injustice, we naturally
appeal to heaven, and hope, that the great Author of our nature will
himself execute hereafter, what all the principles which he has given
us for the direction of our conduct, prompt us to attempt even here;

Of judgments of our own sentiments and conduct and of duty

that he will complete the plan which he himself has thus taught us to
begin; and will, in a life to come, render to every one according to the
works which he has performed in this world. And thus we are led to the
belief of a future state, not only by the weaknesses, by the hopes and
fears of human nature, but by the noblest and best principles which
belong to it, by the love of virtue, and by the abhorrence of vice and

±± ˜Does it suit the greatness of God™, says the eloquent and philosophical
bishop of Clermont,µµ with that passionate and exaggerating force of
imagination, which seems sometimes to exceed the bounds of deco-
rum; ˜does it suit the greatness of God, to leave the world which he has
created in so universal a disorder? To see the wicked prevail almost
always over the just; the innocent dethroned by the usurper; the father
become the victim of the ambition of an unnatural son; the husband
expiring under the stroke of a barbarous and faithless wife? From the
height of his greatness ought God to behold those melancholy events
as a fantastical amusement, without taking any share in them? Because
he is great, should he be weak, or unjust, or barbarous? Because men
are little, ought they to be allowed either to be dissolute without pun-
ishment, or virtuous without reward? O God! if this is the character of
your Supreme Being; if it is you whom we adore under such dreadful
ideas; I can no longer acknowledge you for my father, for my protec-
tor, for the comforter of my sorrow, the support of my weakness, the
rewarder of my ¬delity. You would then be no more than an indolent
and fantastical tyrant, who sacri¬ces mankind to his insolent vanity,
and who has brought them out of nothing, only to make them serve
for the sport of his leisure and of his caprice.™

± When the general rules which determine the merit and demerit of ac-
tions, come thus to be regarded as the laws of an All-powerful Being,
who watches over our conduct, and who, in a life to come, will reward
the observance, and punish the breach of them; they necessarily ac-
quire a new sacredness from this consideration. That our regard to the
will of the Deity ought to be the supreme rule of our conduct, can be

µµ Jean-Baptiste Massillon, Sermon pour le lundi de la premi`re semaine de carˆme: ˜Sur la v´ rit´ d™un
e e ee
avenir™, deuxi` me partie (in Oeuvres choisies de Massillon (Paris, ±) I: ±°); cf. note  above.

The Theory of Moral Sentiments

doubted of by nobody who believes his existence. The very thought of
disobedience appears to involve in it the most shocking impropriety.
How vain, how absurd would it be for man, either to oppose or to
neglect the commands that were laid upon him by In¬nite Wisdom,
and In¬nite Power! How unnatural, how impiously ungrateful not
to reverence the precepts that were prescribed to him by the in¬nite
goodness of his Creator, even though no punishment was to follow
their violation. The sense of propriety too is here well supported
by the strongest motives of self-interest. The idea that, however we
may escape the observation of man, or be placed above the reach of
human punishment, yet we are always acting under the eye, and ex-
posed to the punishment of God, the great avenger of injustice, is
a motive capable of restraining the most headstrong passions, with
those at least who, by constant re¬‚ection, have rendered it familiar to

± It is in this manner that religion enforces the natural sense of duty: and
hence it is, that mankind are generally disposed to place great con¬-
dence in the probity of those who seem deeply impressed with religious
sentiments. Such persons, they imagine, act under an additional tie,
besides those which regulate the conduct of other men. The regard to
the propriety of action, as well as to reputation, the regard to the ap-
plause of his own breast, as well as to that of others, are motives which
they suppose have the same in¬‚uence over the religious man, as over
the man of the world. But the former lies under another restraint, and
never acts deliberately but as in the presence of that Great Superior
who is ¬nally to recompense him according to his deeds. A greater
trust is reposed, upon this account, in the regularity and exactness of
his conduct. And wherever the natural principles of religion are not
corrupted by the factious and party zeal of some worthless cabal; wher-
ever the ¬rst duty which it requires, is to ful¬l all the obligations of
morality; wherever men are not taught to regard frivolous observances,
as more immediate duties of religion, than acts of justice and benef-
icence; and to imagine, that by sacri¬ces, and ceremonies, and vain
supplications, they can bargain with the Deity for fraud, and per¬dy,
and violence, the world undoubtedly judges right in this respect, and
justly places a double con¬dence in the rectitude of the religious man™s

Of judgments of our own sentiments and conduct and of duty

Chapter VI In what cases the sense of duty ought to be the sole principle
of our conduct; and in what cases it ought to concur with other motives
± Religion affords such strong motives to the practice of virtue, and
guards us by such powerful restraints from the temptations of vice,
that many have been led to suppose, that religious principles were the
sole laudable motives of action. We ought neither, they said, to reward
from gratitude, nor punish from resentment; we ought neither to
protect the helplessness of our children, nor afford support to the
in¬rmities of our parents, from natural affection. All affections for
particular objects, ought to be extinguished in our breast, and one
great affection take the place of all others, the love of the Deity, the
desire of rendering ourselves agreeable to him, and of directing our
conduct, in every respect, according to his will. We ought not to be
grateful from gratitude, we ought not to be charitable from humanity,
we ought not to be public-spirited from the love of our country, nor
generous and just from the love of mankind. The sole principle and
motive of our conduct in the performance of all those different duties,
ought to be a sense that God has commanded us to perform them. I
shall not at present take time to examine this opinion particularly;µ
I shall only observe, that we should not have expected to have found
it entertained by any sect, who professed themselves of a religion in
which, as it is the ¬rst precept to love the Lord our God with all our
heart, with all our soul, and with all our strength, so it is the second to
love our neighbour as we love ourselves; and we love ourselves surely
for our own sakes, and not merely because we are commanded to do
so. That the sense of duty should be the sole principle of our conduct,
is no where the precept of Christianity; but that it should be the ruling
and the governing one, as philosophy, and as, indeed, common sense
directs. It may be a question, however, in what cases our actions ought
to arise chie¬‚y or entirely from a sense of duty, or from a regard to
general rules; and in what cases some other sentiment or affection
ought to concur, and have a principal in¬‚uence.

 The decision of this question, which cannot, perhaps, be given with
any very great accuracy, will depend upon two different circumstances;
¬rst, upon the natural agreeableness or deformity of the sentiment or
µ But see VII.ii..°.

The Theory of Moral Sentiments

affection which would prompt us to any action independent of all re-
gard to general rules; and, secondly, upon the precision and exactness,
or the looseness and inaccuracy, of the general rules themselves.

 First, I say, it will depend upon the natural agreeableness or defor-
mity of the affection itself, how far our actions ought to arise from it,
or entirely proceed from a regard to the general rule.

 All those graceful and admired actions, to which the benevolent affec-
tions would prompt us, ought to proceed as much from the passions
themselves, as from any regard to the general rules of conduct. A
benefactor thinks himself but ill requited, if the person upon whom
he has bestowed his good of¬ces, repays them merely from a cold
sense of duty, and without any affection to his person. A husband is
dissatis¬ed with the most obedient wife, when he imagines her con-
duct is animated by no other principle besides her regard to what the
relation she stands in requires. Though a son should fail in none of
the of¬ces of ¬lial duty, yet if he wants that affectionate reverence
which it so well becomes him to feel, the parent may justly complain
of his indifference. Nor could a son be quite satis¬ed with a parent
who, though he performed all the duties of his situation, had nothing
of that fatherly fondness which might have been expected from him.
With regard to all such benevolent and social affections, it is agreeable
to see the sense of duty employed rather to restrain than to enliven
them, rather to hinder us from doing too much, than to prompt us
to do what we ought. It gives us pleasure to see a father obliged to
check his own fondness, a friend obliged to set bounds to his natural
generosity, a person who has received a bene¬t, obliged to restrain the
too sanguine gratitude of his own temper.

µ The contrary maxim takes place with regard to the malevolent and
unsocial passions. We ought to reward from the gratitude and gen-
erosity of our own hearts, without any reluctance, and without being
obliged to re¬‚ect how great the propriety of rewarding: but we ought
always to punish with reluctance, and more from a sense of the propri-
ety of punishing, than from any savage disposition to revenge. Nothing
is more graceful than the behaviour of the man who appears to resent
the greatest injuries, more from a sense that they deserve, and are the

Of judgments of our own sentiments and conduct and of duty

proper objects of resentment, than from feeling himself the furies of
that disagreeable passion; who, like a judge, considers only the gen-
eral rule, which determines what vengeance is due for each particular
offence; who, in executing that rule, feels less for what himself has
suffered, than for what the offender is about to suffer; who, though in
wrath, remembers mercy, and is disposed to interpret the rule in the
most gentle and favourable manner, and to allow all the alleviations
which the most candid humanity could, consistently with good sense,
admit of.

 As the sel¬sh passions, according to what has formerly been observed,
hold, in other respects, a sort of middle place, between the social and
unsocial affections, so do they likewise in this. The pursuit of the ob-
jects of private interest, in all common, little, and ordinary cases, ought
to ¬‚ow rather from a regard to the general rules which prescribe such
conduct, than from any passion for the objects themselves; but upon
more important and extraordinary occasions, we should be awkward,
insipid, and ungraceful, if the objects themselves did not appear to
animate us with a considerable degree of passion. To be anxious, or to
be laying a plot either to gain or to save a single shilling, would degrade
the most vulgar tradesman in the opinion of all his neighbours. Let his
circumstances be ever so mean, no attention to any such small matters,
for the sake of the things themselves, must appear in his conduct. His
situation may require the most severe oeconomy and the most exact
assiduity: but each particular exertion of that oeconomy and assiduity
must proceed, not so much from a regard for that particular saving or
gain, as for the general rule which to him prescribes, with the utmost
rigour, such a tenor of conduct. His parsimony to-day must not arise
from a desire of the particular three-pence which he will save by it, nor
his attendance in his shop from a passion for the particular ten-pence
which he will acquire by it: both the one and the other ought to pro-
ceed solely from a regard to the general rule, which prescribes, with
the most unrelenting severity, this plan of conduct to all persons in
his way of life. In this consists the difference between the character of
a miser and that of a person of exact oeconomy and assiduity. The one
is anxious about small matters for their own sake; the other attends
to them only in consequence of the scheme of life which he has laid
down to himself.

The Theory of Moral Sentiments

· It is quite otherwise with regard to the more extraordinary and im-
portant objects of self-interest. A person appears mean-spirited, who
does not pursue these with some degree of earnestness for their own
sake. We should despise a prince who was not anxious about conquer-
ing or defending a province. We should have little respect for a private
gentleman who did not exert himself to gain an estate, or even a con-
siderable of¬ce, when he could acquire them without either meanness
or injustice. A member of parliament who shews no keenness about his
own election, is abandoned by his friends, as altogether unworthy of
their attachment. Even a tradesman is thought a poor-spirited fellow
among his neighbours, who does not bestir himself to get what they
call an extraordinary job, or some uncommon advantage. This spirit
and keenness constitutes the difference between the man of enterprise
and the man of dull regularity. Those great objects of self-interest, of
which the loss or acquisition quite changes the rank of the person,
are the objects of the passion properly called ambition; a passion,
which when it keeps within the bounds of prudence and justice, is
always admired in the world, and has even sometimes a certain ir-
regular greatness, which dazzles the imagination, when it passes the
limits of both these virtues, and is not only unjust but extravagant.
Hence the general admiration for heroes and conquerors, and even
for statesmen, whose projects have been very daring and extensive,
though altogether devoid of justice; such as those of the Cardinals of
Richlieu and of Retz. The objects of avarice and ambition differ only
in their greatness. A miser is as furious about a halfpenny, as a man of
ambition about the conquest of a kingdom.

 Secondly, I say, it will depend partly upon the precision and exact-
ness, or the looseness and inaccuracy of the general rules themselves,
how far our conduct ought to proceed entirely from a regard to them.

 The general rules of almost all the virtues, the general rules which
determine what are the of¬ces of prudence, of charity, of generosity,
of gratitude, of friendship, are in many respects loose and inaccurate,
admit of many exceptions, and require so many modi¬cations, that it
is scarce possible to regulate our conduct entirely by a regard to
them. The common proverbial maxims of prudence, being founded in

Of judgments of our own sentiments and conduct and of duty

universal experience, are perhaps the best general rules which can be
given about it. To affect, however, a very strict and literal adherence to
them would evidently be the most absurd and ridiculous pedantry. Of
all the virtues I have just now mentioned, gratitude is that, perhaps,
of which the rules are the most precise, and admit of the fewest excep-
tions. That as soon as we can we should make a return of equal, and
if possible of superior value to the services we have received, would
seem to be a pretty plain rule, and one which admitted of scarce any
exceptions. Upon the most super¬cial examination, however, this rule
will appear to be in the highest degree loose and inaccurate, and to
admit of ten thousand exceptions. If your benefactor attended you
in your sickness, ought you to attend him in his? or can you ful¬l
the obligation of gratitude, by making a return of a different kind?
If you ought to attend him, how long ought you to attend him? The
same time which he attended you, or longer, and how much longer?
If your friend lent you money in your distress, ought you to lend him
money in his? How much ought you to lend him? When ought you
to lend him? Now, or to-morrow, or next month? And for how long
a time? It is evident, that no general rule can be laid down, by which
a precise answer can, in all cases, be given to any of these questions.
The difference between his character and yours, between his circum-
stances and yours, may be such, that you may be perfectly grateful,
and justly refuse to lend him a halfpenny: and, on the contrary, you
may be willing to lend, or even to give him ten times the sum which he
lent you, and yet justly be accused of the blackest ingratitude, and of
not having ful¬lled the hundredth part of the obligation you lie under.
As the duties of gratitude, however, are perhaps the most sacred of
all those which the bene¬cent virtues prescribe to us, so the general
rules which determine them are, as I said before, the most accurate.
Those which ascertain the actions required by friendship, humanity,
hospitality, generosity, are still more vague and indeterminate.

±° There is, however, one virtue of which the general rules determine
with the greatest exactness every external action which it requires.
This virtue is justice.µ· The rules of justice are accurate in the highest

µ· Cf. Hume, Treatise, III.ii..

The Theory of Moral Sentiments

degree, and admit of no exceptions or modi¬cations, but such as may be
ascertained as accurately as the rules themselves, and which generally,
indeed, ¬‚ow from the very same principles with them. If I owe a
man ten pounds, justice requires that I should precisely pay him ten
pounds, either at the time agreed upon, or when he demands it. What
I ought to perform, how much I ought to perform, when and where I
ought to perform it, the whole nature and circumstances of the action
prescribed, are all of them precisely ¬xt and determined. Though
it may be awkward and pedantic, therefore, to affect too strict an
adherence to the common rules of prudence or generosity, there is no
pedantry in sticking fast by the rules of justice. On the contrary, the
most sacred regard is due to them; and the actions which this virtue
requires are never so properly performed, as when the chief motive for
performing them is a reverential and religious regard to those general
rules which require them. In the practice of the other virtues, our
conduct should rather be directed by a certain idea of propriety, by a
certain taste for a particular tenor of conduct, than by any regard to a
precise maxim or rule; and we should consider the end and foundation
of the rule, more than the rule itself. But it is otherwise with regard
to justice: the man who in that re¬nes the least, and adheres with the
most obstinate stedfastness to the general rules themselves, is the most
commendable, and the most to be depended upon. Though the end of
the rules of justice be, to hinder us from hurting our neighbour, it may
frequently be a crime to violate them, though we could pretend, with
some pretext of reason, that this particular violation could do no hurt.
A man often becomes a villain the moment he begins, even in his own
heart, to chicane in this manner. The moment he thinks of departing
from the most staunch and positive adherence to what those inviolable
precepts prescribe to him, he is no longer to be trusted, and no man
can say what degree of guilt he may not arrive at. The thief imagines
he does no evil, when he steals from the rich, what he supposes they
may easily want, and what possibly they may never even know has
been stolen from them. The adulterer imagines he does no evil, when
he corrupts the wife of his friend, provided he covers his intrigue from
the suspicion of the husband, and does not disturb the peace of the
family. When once we begin to give way to such re¬nements, there is
no enormity so gross of which we may not be capable.

Of judgments of our own sentiments and conduct and of duty

±± The rules of justice may be compared to the rules of grammar; the
rules of the other virtues, to the rules which critics lay down for
the attainment of what is sublime and elegant in composition.µ The
one, are precise, accurate, and indispensable. The other, are loose,
vague, and indeterminate, and present us rather with a general idea
of the perfection we ought to aim at, than afford us any certain and
infallible directions for acquiring it. A man may learn to write gram-
matically by rule, with the most absolute infallibility; and so, perhaps,
he may be taught to act justly. But there are no rules whose observance
will infallibly lead us to the attainment of elegance or sublimity in writ-
ing; though there are some which may help us, in some measure, to
correct and ascertain the vague ideas which we might otherwise have
entertained of those perfections. And there are no rules by the knowl-
edge of which we can infallibly be taught to act upon all occasions with
prudence, with just magnanimity, or proper bene¬cence: though there
are some which may enable us to correct and ascertain, in several re-
spects, the imperfect ideas which we might otherwise have entertained
of those virtues.

± It may sometimes happen, that with the most serious and earnest de-
sire of acting so as to deserve approbation, we may mistake the proper
rules of conduct, and thus be misled by that very principle which
ought to direct us. It is in vain to expect, that in this case mankind
should entirely approve of our behaviour. They cannot enter into that
absurd idea of duty which in¬‚uenced us, nor go along with any of
the actions which follow from it. There is still, however, something
respectable in the character and behaviour of one who is thus betrayed
into vice, by a wrong sense of duty, or by what is called an erroneous
conscience. How fatally soever he may be misled by it, he is still, with
the generous and humane, more the object of commiseration than of
hatred or resentment. They lament the weakness of human nature,
which exposes us to such unhappy delusions, even while we are most
sincerely labouring after perfection, and endeavouring to act accord-
ing to the best principle which can possibly direct us. False notions of
religion are almost the only causes which can occasion any very gross

µ Cf. VII.iv.±“.

The Theory of Moral Sentiments

perversion of our natural sentiments in this way; and that principle
which gives the greatest authority to the rules of duty, is alone ca-
pable of distorting our ideas of them in any considerable degree. In
all other cases common sense is suf¬cient to direct us, if not to the
most exquisite propriety of conduct, yet to something which is not
very far from it; and provided we are in earnest desirous to do well,
our behaviour will always, upon the whole, be praise-worthy. That to
obey the will of the Deity, is the ¬rst rule of duty, all men are agreed.
But concerning the particular commandments which that will may
impose upon us, they differ widely from one another. In this, there-
fore, the greatest mutual forbearance and toleration is due; and though
the defence of society requires that crimes should be punished, from
whatever motives they proceed, yet a good man will always punish
them with reluctance, when they evidently proceed from false notions
of religious duty. He will never feel against those who commit them
that indignation which he feels against other criminals, but will rather
regret, and sometimes even admire their unfortunate ¬rmness and
magnanimity, at the very time that he punishes their crime. In the
tragedy of Mahomet, one of the ¬nest of Mr Voltaire™s,µ it is well
represented, what ought to be our sentiments for crimes which pro-
ceed from such motives. In that tragedy, two young people of different
sexes, of the most innocent and virtuous dispositions, and without any
other weakness except what endears them the more to us, a mutual
fondness for one another, are instigated by the strongest motives of a
false religion, to commit a horrid murder, that shocks all the princi-
ples of human nature. A venerable old man, who had expressed the
most tender affection for them both, for whom, notwithstanding he
was the avowed enemy of their religion, they had both conceived the
highest reverence and esteem, and who was in reality their father,
though they did not know him to be such, is pointed out to them
as a sacri¬ce which God had expressly required at their hands, and
they are commanded to kill him. While they are about executing this
crime, they are tortured with all the agonies which can arise from
the struggle between the idea of the indispensableness of religious

µ Voltaire subsequently “ signi¬cantly “ renamed Mahomet (±·) to Le Fanatisme ou Mahomet
(±·). Cf. the references in note  above.

Of judgments of our own sentiments and conduct and of duty

duty on the one side, and compassion, gratitude, reverence for the
age, and love for the humanity and virtue of the person whom they
are going to destroy, on the other. The representation of this exhibits
one of the most interesting, and perhaps the most instructive spec-
tacle that was ever introduced upon any theatre. The sense of duty,
however, at last prevails over all the amiable weaknesses of human
nature. They execute the crime imposed upon them; but immedi-
ately discover their error, and the fraud which had deceived them,
and are distracted with horror, remorse, and resentment. Such as are
our sentiments for the unhappy Seid and Palmira, such ought we to
feel for every person who is in this manner misled by religion, when
we are sure that it is really religion which misleads him, and not the
pretence of it, which is made a cover to some of the worst of human

± As a person may act wrong by following a wrong sense of duty, so
nature may sometimes prevail, and lead him to act right in opposi-
tion to it. We cannot in this case be displeased to see that motive
prevail, which we think ought to prevail, though the person himself
is so weak as to think otherwise. As his conduct, however, is the ef-
fect of weakness, not principle, we are far from bestowing upon it any
thing that approaches to complete approbation. A bigotted Roman
Catholic, who, during the massacre of St Bartholomew, had been so
overcome by compassion, as to save some unhappy Protestants, whom
he thought it his duty to destroy, would not seem to be entitled to
that high applause which we should have bestowed upon him, had
he exerted the same generosity with complete self-approbation. We
might be pleased with the humanity of his temper, but we should
still regard him with a sort of pity which is altogether inconsistent
with the admiration that is due to perfect virtue. It is the same case
with all the other passions. We do not dislike to see them exert them-
selves properly, even when a false notion of duty would direct the
person to restrain them. A very devout Quaker, who upon being
struck upon one cheek, instead of turning up the other, should so
far forget his literal interpretation of our Saviour™s precept, as to be-
stow some good discipline upon the brute that insulted him, would
not be disagreeable to us. We should laugh and be diverted with his

The Theory of Moral Sentiments

spirit, and rather like him the better for it. But we should by no
means regard him with that respect and esteem which would seem
due to one who, upon a like occasion, had acted properly from a
just sense of what was proper to be done. No action can properly
be called virtuous, which is not accompanied with the sentiment of

Part IV
Of the effect of utility upon the sentiment
of approbation
Consisting of one section

Chapter I Of the beauty which the appearance of utility bestows upon all
the productions of art, and of the extensive in¬‚uence of this species of beauty
± That utility is one of the principal sources of beauty has been observed
by every body, who has considered with any attention what constitutes
the nature of beauty. The conveniency of a house gives pleasure to the
spectator as well as its regularity, and he is as much hurt when he
observes the contrary defect, as when he sees the correspondent win-
dows of different forms, or the door not placed exactly in the middle of
the building. That the ¬tness of any system or machine to produce the
end for which it was intended, bestows a certain propriety and beauty
upon the whole, and renders the very thought and contemplation of
it agreeable, is so very obvious that nobody has overlooked it.

 The cause too, why utility pleases, has of late been assigned by an
ingenious and agreeable philosopher, who joins the greatest depth
of thought to the greatest elegance of expression, and possesses the
singular and happy talent of treating the abstrusest subjects not only
with the most perfect perspicuity, but with the most lively eloquence.±
The utility of any object, according to him, pleases the master by per-
petually suggesting to him the pleasure or conveniency which it is
¬tted to promote. Every time he looks at it, he is put in mind of this
pleasure; and the object in this manner becomes a source of perpetual
satisfaction and enjoyment. The spectator enters by sympathy into the
sentiments of the master, and necessarily views the object under the
± David Hume, Treatise, II.ii.µ, and Enquiry, V.ii.

The Theory of Moral Sentiments

same agreeable aspect. When we visit the palaces of the great, we can-
not help conceiving the satisfaction we should enjoy if we ourselves
were the masters, and were possessed of so much artful and inge-
niously contrived accommodation. A similar account is given why the
appearance of inconveniency should render any object disagreeable
both to the owner and to the spectator.

 But that this ¬tness, this happy contrivance of any production of art,
should often be more valued, than the very end for which it was
intended; and that the exact adjustment of the means for attaining any
conveniency or pleasure, should frequently be more regarded, than
that very conveniency or pleasure, in the attainment of which their
whole merit would seem to consist, has not, so far as I know, been
yet taken notice of by any body. That this however is very frequently
the case, may be observed in a thousand instances, both in the most
frivolous and in the most important concerns of human life.

 When a person comes into his chamber, and ¬nds the chairs all stand-
ing in the middle of the room, he is angry with his servant, and rather
than see them continue in that disorder, perhaps takes the trouble
himself to set them all in their places with their backs to the wall.
The whole propriety of this new situation arises from its superior
conveniency in leaving the ¬‚oor free and disengaged. To attain this
conveniency he voluntarily puts himself to more trouble than all he
could have suffered from the want of it; since nothing was more easy,
than to have set himself down upon one of them, which is proba-
bly what he does when his labour is over. What he wanted therefore,
it seems, was not so much this conveniency, as that arrangement of
things which promotes it. Yet it is this conveniency which ultimately
recommends that arrangement, and bestows upon it the whole of its
propriety and beauty.

µ A watch, in the same manner, that falls behind above two minutes
in a day, is despised by one curious in watches. He sells it perhaps
for a couple of guineas, and purchases another at ¬fty, which will not
lose above a minute in a fortnight. The sole use of watches however,
is to tell us what o™clock it is, and to hinder us from breaking any
engagement, or suffering any other inconveniency by our ignorance

Of the effect of utility upon approbation

in that particular point. But the person so nice with regard to this
machine, will not always be found either more scrupulously punctual
than other men, or more anxiously concerned upon any other account,
to know precisely what time of day it is. What interests him is not so
much the attainment of this piece of knowledge, as the perfection of
the machine which serves to attain it.

 How many people ruin themselves by laying out money on trinkets of
frivolous utility? What pleases these lovers of toys is not so much the
utility, as the aptness of the machines which are ¬tted to promote it.
All their pockets are stuffed with little conveniencies. They contrive
new pockets, unknown in the clothes of other people, in order to carry
a greater number. They walk about loaded with a multitude of baubles,
in weight and sometimes in value not inferior to an ordinary Jew™s-box,
some of which may sometimes be of some little use, but all of which
might at all times be very well spared, and of which the whole utility
is certainly not worth the fatigue of bearing the burden.

· Nor is it only with regard to such frivolous objects that our conduct
is in¬‚uenced by this principle; it is often the secret motive of the most
serious and important pursuits of both private and public life.

 The poor man™s son, whom heaven in its anger has visited with am-
bition, when he begins to look around him, admires the condition of
the rich. He ¬nds the cottage of his father too small for his accommo-
dation, and fancies he should be lodged more at his ease in a palace.
He is displeased with being obliged to walk a-foot, or to endure the
fatigue of riding on horseback. He sees his superiors carried about
in machines, and imagines that in one of these he could travel with
less inconveniency. He feels himself naturally indolent, and willing to
serve himself with his own hands as little as possible; and judges, that
a numerous retinue of servants would save him from a great deal of
trouble. He thinks if he had attained all these, he would sit still con-
tentedly, and be quiet, enjoying himself in the thought of the happiness
and tranquillity of his situation. He is enchanted with the distant idea

 It is uncertain what was meant by ˜Jew™s-box™ in Smith™s time, but presumably it was a small trunk
of travelling salesmen.

The Theory of Moral Sentiments

of this felicity. It appears in his fancy like the life of some superior
rank of beings, and, in order to arrive at it, he devotes himself for ever
to the pursuit of wealth and greatness. To obtain the conveniencies
which these afford, he submits in the ¬rst year, nay in the ¬rst month
of his application, to more fatigue of body and more uneasiness of
mind than he could have suffered through the whole of his life from
the want of them. He studies to distinguish himself in some laborious
profession. With the most unrelenting industry he labours night and
day to acquire talents superior to all his competitors. He endeavours
next to bring those talents into public view, and with equal assiduity
solicits every opportunity of employment. For this purpose he makes
his court to all mankind; he serves those whom he hates, and is ob-
sequious to those whom he despises. Through the whole of his life
he pursues the idea of a certain arti¬cial and elegant repose which he
may never arrive at, for which he sacri¬ces a real tranquillity that is
at all times in his power, and which, if in the extremity of old age he
should at last attain to it, he will ¬nd to be in no respect preferable to
that humble security and contentment which he had abandoned for
it. It is then, in the last dregs of life, his body wasted with toil and
diseases, his mind galled and ruf¬‚ed by the memory of a thousand in-
juries and disappointments which he imagines he has met with from
the injustice of his enemies, or from the per¬dy and ingratitude of
his friends, that he begins at last to ¬nd that wealth and greatness are
mere trinkets of frivolous utility, no more adapted for procuring ease
of body or tranquillity of mind than the tweezer-cases of the lover of
toys; and like them too, more troublesome to the person who carries
them about with him than all the advantages they can afford him are
commodious. There is no other real difference between them, except
that the conveniencies of the one are somewhat more observable than
those of the other. The palaces, the gardens, the equipage, the retinue
of the great, are objects of which the obvious conveniency strikes every
body. They do not require that their masters should point out to us
wherein consists their utility. Of our own accord we readily enter into
it, and by sympathy enjoy and thereby applaud the satisfaction which
they are ¬tted to afford him. But the curiosity of a tooth-pick, of an
ear-picker, of a machine for cutting the nails, or of any other trinket
of the same kind, is not so obvious. Their conveniency may perhaps
be equally great, but it is not so striking, and we do not so readily

Of the effect of utility upon approbation

enter into the satisfaction of the man who possesses them. They are
therefore less reasonable subjects of vanity than the magni¬cence of
wealth and greatness; and in this consists the sole advantage of these
last. They more effectually gratify that love of distinction so natural
to man. To one who was to live alone in a desolate island it might be
a matter of doubt, perhaps, whether a palace, or a collection of such
small conveniencies as are commonly contained in a tweezer-case,
would contribute most to his happiness and enjoyment. If he is to live
in society, indeed, there can be no comparison, because in this, as in
all other cases, we constantly pay more regard to the sentiments of
the spectator, than to those of the person principally concerned, and
consider rather how his situation will appear to other people, than how
it will appear to himself. If we examine, however, why the spectator
distinguishes with such admiration the condition of the rich and the
great, we shall ¬nd that it is not so much upon account of the superior
ease or pleasure which they are supposed to enjoy, as of the numberless
arti¬cial and elegant contrivances for promoting this ease or pleasure.
He does not even imagine that they are really happier than other peo-
ple: but he imagines that they possess more means of happiness. And
it is the ingenious and artful adjustment of those means to the end for
which they were intended, that is the principal source of his admira-
tion. But in the languor of disease and the weariness of old age, the
pleasures of the vain and empty distinctions of greatness disappear.
To one, in this situation, they are no longer capable of recommend-
ing those toilsome pursuits in which they had formerly engaged him.
In his heart he curses ambition, and vainly regrets the ease and the
indolence of youth, pleasures which are ¬‚ed for ever, and which he
has foolishly sacri¬ced for what, when he has got it, can afford him
no real satisfaction. In this miserable aspect does greatness appear to
every man when reduced either by spleen or disease to observe with
attention his own situation, and to consider what it is that is really
wanting to his happiness. Power and riches appear then to be, what
they are, enormous and operose machines contrived to produce a few
tri¬‚ing conveniencies to the body, consisting of springs the most nice
and delicate, which must be kept in order with the most anxious at-
tention, and which in spite of all our care are ready every moment to
burst into pieces, and to crush in their ruins their unfortunate pos-
sessor. They are immense fabrics, which it requires the labour of a

The Theory of Moral Sentiments

life to raise, which threaten every moment to overwhelm the person
that dwells in them, and which while they stand, though they may
save him from some smaller inconveniencies, can protect him from
none of the severer inclemencies of the season. They keep off the
summer shower, not the winter storm, but leave him always as much,
and sometimes more exposed than before, to anxiety, to fear, and to
sorrow; to diseases, to danger, and to death.

 But though this splenetic philosophy, which in time of sickness or
low spirits is familiar to every man, thus entirely depreciates those
great objects of human desire, when in better health and in better
humour, we never fail to regard them under a more agreeable aspect.
Our imagination, which in pain and sorrow seems to be con¬ned and
cooped up within our own persons, in times of ease and prosperity
expands itself to every thing around us. We are then charmed with
the beauty of that accommodation which reigns in the palaces and
oeconomy of the great; and admire how every thing is adapted to
promote their ease, to prevent their wants, to gratify their wishes, and
to amuse and entertain their most frivolous desires. If we consider
the real satisfaction which all these things are capable of affording,
by itself and separated from the beauty of that arrangement which
is ¬tted to promote it, it will always appear in the highest degree
contemptible and tri¬‚ing. But we rarely view it in this abstract and
philosophical light. We naturally confound it in our imagination with
the order, the regular and harmonious movement of the system, the
machine or oeconomy by means of which it is produced. The pleasures
of wealth and greatness, when considered in this complex view, strike
the imagination as something grand and beautiful and noble, of which
the attainment is well worth all the toil and anxiety which we are so
apt to bestow upon it.

±° And it is well that nature imposes upon us in this manner. It is this
deception which rouses and keeps in continual motion the industry
of mankind. It is this which ¬rst prompted them to cultivate the

 The themes of this paragraph were worked out in response to Mandeville and Rousseau (cf. ˜Letter
to the Editors of the Edinburgh Review™ in EPS) and are central to Smith™s whole view of culture and
its economic underpinning; see, e.g., WN I.xi.c.·; LJ (A) iii.±µff. For Smith™s historical synthesis,
see WN III.

Of the effect of utility upon approbation

ground, to build houses, to found cities and commonwealths, and
to invent and improve all the sciences and arts, which ennoble and
embellish human life; which have entirely changed the whole face
of the globe, have turned the rude forests of nature into agreeable
and fertile plains, and made the trackless and barren ocean a new
fund of subsistence, and the great high road of communication to the
different nations of the earth. The earth by these labours of mankind
has been obliged to redouble her natural fertility, and to maintain a
greater multitude of inhabitants. It is to no purpose, that the proud and
unfeeling landlord views his extensive ¬elds, and without a thought
for the wants of his brethren, in imagination consumes himself the
whole harvest that grows upon them. The homely and vulgar proverb,
that the eye is larger than the belly, never was more fully veri¬ed than
with regard to him. The capacity of his stomach bears no proportion
to the immensity of his desires, and will receive no more than that
of the meanest peasant. The rest he is obliged to distribute among
those, who prepare, in the nicest manner, that little which he himself
makes use of, among those who ¬t up the palace in which this little is
to be consumed, among those who provide and keep in order all the
different baubles and trinkets, which are employed in the oeconomy
of greatness; all of whom thus derive from his luxury and caprice,
that share of the necessaries of life, which they would in vain have
expected from his humanity or his justice. The produce of the soil
maintains at all times nearly that number of inhabitants which it is
capable of maintaining. The rich only select from the heap what is
most precious and agreeable. They consume little more than the poor,
and in spite of their natural sel¬shness and rapacity, though they
mean only their own conveniency, though the sole end which they
propose from the labours of all the thousands whom they employ, be
the grati¬cation of their own vain and insatiable desires, they divide
with the poor the produce of all their improvements. They are led by an
invisible hand to make nearly the same distribution of the necessaries
of life, which would have been made, had the earth been divided into
equal portions among all its inhabitants, and thus without intending
it, without knowing it, advance the interest of the society, and afford

 Smith uses this famous phrase in two other places and two other meanings: WN IV.ii., and ˜History
of Astronomy™, III. (in EPS).

The Theory of Moral Sentiments

means to the multiplication of the species. When Providence divided
the earth among a few lordly masters, it neither forgot nor abandoned
those who seemed to have been left out in the partition. These last too
enjoy their share of all that it produces. In what constitutes the real
happiness of human life, they are in no respect inferior to those who
would seem so much above them. In ease of body and peace of mind,
all the different ranks of life are nearly upon a level, and the beggar,
who suns himself by the side of the highway, possesses that security
which kings are ¬ghting for.µ

±± The same principle, the same love of system, the same regard to the
beauty of order, of art and contrivance, frequently serves to recom-
mend those institutions which tend to promote the public welfare.
When a patriot exerts himself for the improvement of any part of the
public police, his conduct does not always arise from pure sympathy
with the happiness of those who are to reap the bene¬t of it. It is
not commonly from a fellow-feeling with carriers and waggoners that
a public-spirited man encourages the mending of high roads. When
the legislature establishes premiums and other encouragements to ad-
vance the linen or woollen manufactures, its conduct seldom proceeds
from pure sympathy with the wearer of cheap or ¬ne cloth, and much
less from that with the manufacturer or merchant. The perfection of
police, the extension of trade and manufactures, are noble and mag-
ni¬cent objects. The contemplation of them pleases us, and we are
interested in whatever can tend to advance them. They make part of
the great system of government, and the wheels of the political ma-
chine seem to move with more harmony and ease by means of them.
We take pleasure in beholding the perfection of so beautiful and grand
a system, and we are uneasy till we remove any obstruction that can in
the least disturb or encumber the regularity of its motions. All consti-
tutions of government, however, are valued only in proportion as they
tend to promote the happiness of those who live under them. This is
their sole use and end. From a certain spirit of system, however, from
a certain love of art and contrivance, we sometimes seem to value the
means more than the end, and to be eager to promote the happiness
of our fellow-creatures, rather from a view to perfect and improve a

µ Cf. Cicero, Tusculan Disputations, V.xxxii.; Epictetus, Discourses, III. xxii.µ“µ°.

Of the effect of utility upon approbation

certain beautiful and orderly system, than from any immediate sense or
feeling of what they either suffer or enjoy. There have been men of the
greatest public spirit, who have shown themselves in other respects
not very sensible to the feelings of humanity. And on the contrary,
there have been men of the greatest humanity, who seem to have been
entirely devoid of public spirit. Every man may ¬nd in the circle of his
acquaintance instances both of the one kind and the other. Who had
ever less humanity, or more public spirit, than the celebrated legislator
of Muscovy?· The social and well-natured James the First of Great
Britain seems, on the contrary, to have had scarce any passion, either
for the glory or the interest of his country. Would you awaken the
industry of the man who seems almost dead to ambition, it will often
be to no purpose to describe to him the happiness of the rich and the
great; to tell him that they are generally sheltered from the sun and the
rain, that they are seldom hungry, that they are seldom cold, and that
they are rarely exposed to weariness, or to want of any kind. The most
eloquent exhortation of this kind will have little effect upon him. If
you would hope to succeed, you must describe to him the conveniency
and arrangement of the different apartments in their palaces; you must
explain to him the propriety of their equipages, and point out to him
the number, the order, and the different of¬ces of all their attendants.
If any thing is capable of making impression upon him, this will. Yet
all these things tend only to keep off the sun and the rain, to save them
from hunger and cold, from want and weariness. In the same manner,
if you would implant public virtue in the breast of him who seems
heedless of the interest of his country, it will often be to no purpose
to tell him, what superior advantages the subjects of a well-governed
state enjoy; that they are better lodged, that they are better clothed,
that they are better fed. These considerations will commonly make no
great impression. You will be more likely to persuade, if you describe
the great system of public police which procures these advantages, if

 Concerning the ˜spirit of system™, see VI.ii..±µ“±; for the machine analogy, see VII.iii.±.. The
concept of system is central to Smith™s idea of science and philosophy; see, e.g., VII.iv (the system
of jurisprudence); WN V.i.f.ff. (natural versus moral philosophy); ˜History of Astronomy™, IV.±;
˜History of Ancient Physics™, .
· Peter I (the Great) (±·“±·µ), ¬rst tsar of Russia, commonly known as Muscovy in the eighteenth
century. Cf. Smith™s assessment in WN V.i.a.°.
 James (±µ“±µ) VIth of Scotland (±µ·) and Ist of England (±°).

The Theory of Moral Sentiments

you explain the connexions and dependencies of its several parts, their
mutual subordination to one another, and their general subserviency
to the happiness of the society; if you show how this system might be
introduced into his own country, what it is that hinders it from tak-
ing place there at present, how those obstructions might be removed,
and all the several wheels of the machine of government be made to
move with more harmony and smoothness, without grating upon one
another, or mutually retarding one another™s motions. It is scarce pos-
sible that a man should listen to a discourse of this kind, and not feel
himself animated to some degree of public spirit. He will, at least for
the moment, feel some desire to remove those obstructions, and to put
into motion so beautiful and so orderly a machine. Nothing tends so
much to promote public spirit as the study of politics, of the several
systems of civil government, their advantages and disadvantages, of
the constitution of our own country, its situation, and interest with
regard to foreign nations, its commerce, its defence, the disadvantages
it labours under, the dangers to which it may be exposed, how to re-
move the one, and how to guard against the other. Upon this account
political disquisitions, if just, and reasonable, and practicable, are of
all the works of speculation the most useful. Even the weakest and the
worst of them are not altogether without their utility. They serve at
least to animate the public passions of men, and rouse them to seek
out the means of promoting the happiness of the society.

Chapter II Of the beauty which the appearance of utility bestows upon the
characters and actions of men; and how far the perception of this beauty may
be regarded as one of the original principles of approbation
± The characters of men, as well as the contrivances of art, or the institu-
tions of civil government, may be ¬tted either to promote or to disturb
the happiness both of the individual and of the society. The prudent,
the equitable, the active, resolute, and sober character promises pros-
perity and satisfaction, both to the person himself and to every one
connected with him. The rash, the insolent, the slothful, effeminate,
and voluptuous, on the contrary, forebodes ruin to the individual, and
misfortune to all who have any thing to do with him. The ¬rst turn
of mind has at least all the beauty which can belong to the most per-
fect machine that was ever invented for promoting the most agreeable

Of the effect of utility upon approbation

purpose: and the second, all the deformity of the most awkward and
clumsy contrivance. What institution of government could tend so
much to promote the happiness of mankind as the general prevalence
of wisdom and virtue? All government is but an imperfect remedy
for the de¬ciency of these. Whatever beauty, therefore, can belong to
civil government upon account of its utility, must in a far superior
degree belong to these. On the contrary, what civil policy can be so
ruinous and destructive as the vices of men? The fatal effects of bad
government arise from nothing, but that it does not suf¬ciently guard
against the mischiefs which human wickedness gives occasion to.

 This beauty and deformity which characters appear to derive from
their usefulness or inconveniency, are apt to strike, in a peculiar man-
ner, those who consider, in an abstract and philosophical light, the
actions and conduct of mankind. When a philosopher goes to exam-
ine why humanity is approved of, or cruelty condemned, he does not
always form to himself, in a very clear and distinct manner, the con-
ception of any one particular action either of cruelty or of humanity,
but is commonly contented with the vague and indeterminate idea
which the general names of those qualities suggest to him. But it is in
particular instances only that the propriety or impropriety, the merit
or demerit of actions is very obvious and discernible. It is only when
particular examples are given that we perceive distinctly either the
concord or disagreement between our own affections and those of the
agent, or feel a social gratitude arise towards him in the one case, or
a sympathetic resentment in the other. When we consider virtue and
vice in an abstract and general manner, the qualities by which they ex-
cite these several sentiments seem in a great measure to disappear, and
the sentiments themselves become less obvious and discernible. On
the contrary, the happy effects of the one and the fatal consequences
of the other seem then to rise up to the view, and as it were to stand
out and distinguish themselves from all the other qualities of either.

 The same ingenious and agreeable author who ¬rst explained why
utility pleases, has been so struck with this view of things, as to resolve
our whole approbation of virtue into a perception of this species of
beauty which results from the appearance of utility. No qualities of the
mind, he observes, are approved of as virtuous, but such as are useful

The Theory of Moral Sentiments

or agreeable either to the person himself or to others; and no qualities
are disapproved of as vicious but such as have a contrary tendency.
And Nature, indeed, seems to have so happily adjusted our sentiments
of approbation and disapprobation, to the conveniency both of the
individual and of the society, that after the strictest examination it will
be found, I believe, that this is universally the case. But still I af¬rm,
that it is not the view of this utility or hurtfulness which is either the
¬rst or principal source of our approbation and disapprobation. These
sentiments are no doubt enhanced and enlivened by the perception of
the beauty or deformity which results from this utility or hurtfulness.
But still, I say, they are originally and essentially different from this

 For ¬rst of all, it seems impossible that the approbation of virtue
should be a sentiment of the same kind with that by which we approve
of a convenient and well-contrived building; or that we should have
no other reason for praising a man than that for which we commend
a chest of drawers.±°

µ And secondly, it will be found, upon examination, that the usefulness
of any disposition of mind is seldom the ¬rst ground of our appro-
bation; and that the sentiment of approbation always involves in it
a sense of propriety quite distinct from the perception of utility. We
may observe this with regard to all the qualities which are approved of
as virtuous, both those which, according to this system, are originally
valued as useful to ourselves, as well as those which are esteemed on
account of their usefulness to others.

 The qualities most useful to ourselves are, ¬rst of all, superior reason
and understanding, by which we are capable of discerning the remote
consequences of all our actions, and of foreseeing the advantage or
detriment which is likely to result from them: and secondly, self-
command, by which we are enabled to abstain from present pleasure
or to endure present pain, in order to obtain a greater pleasure or to
avoid a greater pain in some future time. In the union of those two
 Hume, Treatise, III.iii.±; Enquiry, IX.i. Cf. below VII.ii..±, and VII.iii..±·.
±° But see Hume™s preemption of this objection, Treatise, III.iii.µ, and Enquiry, V.i,±, ¬rst note.

Of the effect of utility upon approbation

qualities consists the virtue of prudence, of all the virtues that which
is most useful to the individual.

· With regard to the ¬rst of those qualities, it has been observed on a
former occasion,±± that superior reason and understanding are orig-
inally approved of as just and right and accurate, and not merely as
useful or advantageous. It is in the abstruser sciences, particularly in
the higher parts of mathematics, that the greatest and most admired
exertions of human reason have been displayed. But the utility of
those sciences, either to the individual or to the public, is not very
obvious, and to prove it, requires a discussion which is not always
very easily comprehended. It was not, therefore, their utility which
¬rst recommended them to the public admiration. This quality was
but little insisted upon, till it became necessary to make some reply
to the reproaches of those, who, having themselves no taste for such
sublime discoveries, endeavoured to depreciate them as useless.±

 That self-command, in the same manner, by which we restrain our
present appetites, in order to gratify them more fully upon another
occasion, is approved of, as much under the aspect of propriety, as
under that of utility. When we act in this manner, the sentiments
which in¬‚uence our conduct seem exactly to coincide with those of the
spectator. The spectator does not feel the solicitations of our present
appetites. To him the pleasure which we are to enjoy a week hence,
or a year hence, is just as interesting as that which we are to enjoy
this moment. When for the sake of the present, therefore, we sacri¬ce
the future, our conduct appears to him absurd and extravagant in the
highest degree, and he cannot enter into the principles which in¬‚uence
it. On the contrary, when we abstain from present pleasure, in order
to secure greater pleasure to come, when we act as if the remote object
interested us as much as that which immediately presses upon the
senses, as our affections exactly correspond with his own, he cannot
fail to approve of our behaviour: and as he knows from experience,
how few are capable of this self-command, he looks upon our conduct
±± I.i...

± Smith may be referring to such discussions as George Berkeley™s criticism of mathematics, espe-
cially of Newton™s method of ¬‚uxions in The Analyst (±·), and the replies of, among others, the
Scots mathematician Colin Maclaurin (±“±·) in his Treatise of Fluxions (±·).

The Theory of Moral Sentiments

with a considerable degree of wonder and admiration. Hence arises
that eminent esteem with which all men naturally regard a steady
perseverance in the practice of frugality, industry, and application,
though directed to no other purpose than the acquisition of fortune.
The resolute ¬rmness of the person who acts in this manner, and in
order to obtain a great though remote advantage, not only gives up
all present pleasures, but endures the greatest labour both of mind
and body, necessarily commands our approbation. That view of his
interest and happiness which appears to regulate his conduct, exactly
tallies with the idea which we naturally form of it. There is the most
perfect correspondence between his sentiments and our own, and
at the same time, from our experience of the common weakness of
human nature, it is a correspondence which we could not reasonably
have expected. We not only approve, therefore, but in some measure
admire his conduct, and think it worthy of a considerable degree
of applause. It is the consciousness of this merited approbation and
esteem which is alone capable of supporting the agent in this tenour of
conduct. The pleasure which we are to enjoy ten years hence interests
us so little in comparison with that which we may enjoy to-day, the
passion which the ¬rst excites, is naturally so weak in comparison with
that violent emotion which the second is apt to give occasion to, that
the one could never be any balance to the other, unless it was supported
by the sense of propriety, by the consciousness that we merited the
esteem and approbation of every body, by acting in the one way, and
that we became the proper objects of their contempt and derision by
behaving in the other.

 Humanity, justice, generosity, and public spirit, are the qualities most
useful to others. Wherein consists the propriety of humanity and jus-
tice has been explained upon a former occasion,± where it was shewn
how much our esteem and approbation of those qualities depended
upon the concord between the affections of the agent and those of the

±° The propriety of generosity and public spirit is founded upon the same
principle with that of justice. Generosity is different from humanity.

± I.i..±.

Of the effect of utility upon approbation

Those two qualities, which at ¬rst sight seem so nearly allied, do
not always belong to the same person. Humanity is the virtue of a
woman, generosity of a man. The fair-sex, who have commonly much
more tenderness than ours, have seldom so much generosity. That
women rarely make considerable donations, is an observation of the
civil law.a± Humanity consists merely in the exquisite fellow-feeling
which the spectator entertains with the sentiments of the persons
principally concerned, so as to grieve for their sufferings, to resent
their injuries, and to rejoice at their good fortune. The most humane
actions require no self-denial, no self-command, no great exertion of
the sense of propriety. They consist only in doing what this exquisite
sympathy would of its own accord prompt us to do. But it is otherwise
with generosity. We never are generous except when in some respect
we prefer some other person to ourselves, and sacri¬ce some great
and important interest of our own to an equal interest of a friend
or of a superior. The man who gives up his pretensions to an of¬ce
that was the great object of his ambition, because he imagines that
the services of another are better entitled to it; the man who exposes
his life to defend that of his friend, which he judges to be of more
importance; neither of them act from humanity, or because they feel
more exquisitely what concerns that other person than what concerns
themselves. They both consider those opposite interests, not in the
light in which they naturally appear to themselves, but in that in which
they appear to others. To every bystander, the success or preservation
of this other person may justly be more interesting than their own; but
it cannot be so to themselves. When to the interest of this other person,
therefore, they sacri¬ce their own, they accommodate themselves to
the sentiments of the spectator, and by an effort of magnanimity act
according to those views of things which, they feel, must naturally
occur to any third person. The soldier who throws away his life in
order to defend that of his of¬cer, would perhaps be but little affected
by the death of that of¬cer, if it should happen without any fault of
his own; and a very small disaster which had befallen himself might
excite a much more lively sorrow. But when he endeavours to act so as
a Raro mulieres donare solent.
± ˜Women rarely make donations™, a maxim in the commentaries on Roman law and found in a
common index (under mulier ) by S. Daoyz, Iuris Civilis Summa seu Index (±±°) of which there
was a recent edition (±·).

The Theory of Moral Sentiments

to deserve applause, and to make the impartial spectator enter into the
principles of his conduct, he feels, that to every body but himself, his
own life is a tri¬‚e compared with that of his of¬cer, and that when he
sacri¬ces the one to the other, he acts quite properly and agreeably to
what would be the natural apprehensions of every impartial bystander.

±± It is the same case with the greater exertions of public spirit. When a
young of¬cer exposes his life to acquire some inconsiderable addition
to the dominions of his sovereign, it is not because the acquisition
of the new territory is, to himself, an object more desireable than the
preservation of his own life. To him his own life is of in¬nitely more
value than the conquest of a whole kingdom for the state which he
serves. But when he compares those two objects with one another,
he does not view them in the light in which they naturally appear
to himself, but in that in which they appear to the nation he ¬ghts
for. To them the success of the war is of the highest importance;
the life of a private person of scarce any consequence. When he puts
himself in their situation, he immediately feels that he cannot be too
prodigal of his blood, if, by shedding it, he can promote so valuable
a purpose. In thus thwarting, from a sense of duty and propriety,
the strongest of all natural propensities, consists the heroism of his
conduct. There is many an honest Englishman, who, in his private
station, would be more seriously disturbed by the loss of a guinea,
than by the national loss of Minorca, who yet, had it been in his power
to defend that fortress, would have sacri¬ced his life a thousand times
rather than, through his fault, have let it fall into the hands of the
enemy.±µ When the ¬rst Brutus led forth his own sons to a capital
punishment, because they had conspired against the rising liberty of
Rome,± he sacri¬ced what, if he had consulted his own breast only,
would appear to be the stronger to the weaker affection. Brutus ought
naturally to have felt much more for the death of his own sons, than
±µ At the beginning of the Seven Years War, in May ±·µ, Admiral John Byng (±·°“µ·) let a French
naval force escape off English-held Minorca and failed to relieve the garrison there which was
besieged by the French. Byng was court-martialled and executed.
± According to tradition Lucius Junius Brutus founded the Roman republic when, in µ° BC, he
expelled the tyrant Tarquinius Superbus and was elected the ¬rst consul. He made the Roman
people swear never to allow a monarch in Rome again, but his own sons broke the oath, conspiring
to restore the Tarquins, and Brutus is supposed to have condemned them to death and supervised
their execution. The tale was a popular part of neo-republican lore in Britain.

Of the effect of utility upon approbation

for all that probably Rome could have suffered from the want of so
great an example. But he viewed them, not with the eyes of a father,
but with those of a Roman citizen. He entered so thoroughly into
the sentiments of this last character, that he paid no regard to that
tie, by which he himself was connected with them; and to a Roman
citizen, the sons even of Brutus seemed contemptible, when put into
the balance with the smallest interest of Rome. In these and in all other
cases of this kind, our admiration is not so much founded upon the
utility, as upon the unexpected, and on that account the great, the
noble, and exalted propriety of such actions. This utility, when we
come to view it, bestows upon them, undoubtedly, a new beauty, and
upon that account still further recommends them to our approbation.
This beauty, however, is chie¬‚y perceived by men of re¬‚ection and
speculation, and is by no means the quality which ¬rst recommends
such actions to the natural sentiments of the bulk of mankind.

± It is to be observed, that so far as the sentiment of approbation arises
from the perception of this beauty of utility, it has no reference of
any kind to the sentiments of others. If it was possible, therefore, that
a person should grow up to manhood without any communication


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