. 8
( 13)


with society, his own actions might, notwithstanding, be agreeable or
disagreeable to him on account of their tendency to his happiness or
disadvantage. He might perceive a beauty of this kind in prudence,
temperance, and good conduct, and a deformity in the opposite be-
haviour: he might view his own temper and character with that sort of
satisfaction with which we consider a well-contrived machine, in the
one case; or with that sort of distaste and dissatisfaction with which
we regard a very awkward and clumsy contrivance, in the other. As
these perceptions, however, are merely a matter of taste, and have all
the feebleness and delicacy of that species of perceptions, upon the
justness of which what is properly called taste is founded, they proba-
bly would not be much attended to by one in this solitary and miserable
condition. Even though they should occur to him, they would by no
means have the same effect upon him, antecedent to his connexion
with society, which they would have in consequence of that connex-
ion. He would not be cast down with inward shame at the thought of
this deformity; nor would he be elevated with secret triumph of mind
from the consciousness of the contrary beauty. He would not exult

The Theory of Moral Sentiments

from the notion of deserving reward in the one case, nor tremble from
the suspicion of meriting punishment in the other. All such sentiments
suppose the idea of some other being, who is the natural judge of the
person that feels them; and it is only by sympathy with the decisions
of this arbiter of his conduct, that he can conceive, either the triumph
of self-applause, or the shame of self-condemnation.

Part V
Of the in¬‚uence of custom and fashion upon
the sentiments of moral approbation and disapprobation
Consisting of one section

Chapter I Of the in¬‚uence of custom and fashion upon our notions
of beauty and deformity
± There are other principles besides those already enumerated, which
have a considerable in¬‚uence upon the moral sentiments of mankind,
and are the chief causes of the many irregular and discordant opinions
which prevail in different ages and nations concerning what is blameable
or praise-worthy. These principles are custom and fashion, principles
which extend their dominion over our judgments concerning beauty
of every kind.

 When two objects have frequently been seen together, the imagination
acquires a habit of passing easily from the one to the other. If the ¬rst
appear, we lay our account that the second is to follow. Of their own
accord they put us in mind of one another, and the attention glides
easily along them. Though, independent of custom, there should be
no real beauty in their union, yet when custom has thus connected
them together, we feel an impropriety in their separation. The one we
think is awkward when it appears without its usual companion. We miss
something which we expected to ¬nd, and the habitual arrangement
of our ideas is disturbed by the disappointment. A suit of clothes,
for example, seems to want something if they are without the most
insigni¬cant ornament which usually accompanies them, and we ¬nd
a meanness or awkwardness in the absence even of a haunch button.
When there is any natural propriety in the union, custom increases
our sense of it, and makes a different arrangement appear still more

The Theory of Moral Sentiments

disagreeable than it would otherwise seem to be. Those who have been
accustomed to see things in a good taste, are more disgusted by whatever
is clumsy or awkward. Where the conjunction is improper, custom
either diminishes, or takes away altogether, our sense of the impropriety.
Those who have been accustomed to slovenly disorder lose all sense of
neatness or elegance. The modes of furniture or dress which seem
ridiculous to strangers, give no offence to the people who are used to

 Fashion is different from custom, or rather is a particular species of
it. That is not the fashion which every body wears, but which those
wear who are of a high rank, or character. The graceful, the easy, and
commanding manners of the great, joined to the usual richness and
magni¬cence of their dress, give a grace to the very form which they
happen to bestow upon it. As long as they continue to use this form,
it is connected in our imaginations with the idea of something that is
genteel and magni¬cent, and though in itself it should be indifferent,
it seems, on account of this relation, to have something about it that
is genteel and magni¬cent too. As soon as they drop it, it loses all the
grace, which it had appeared to possess before, and being now used
only by the inferior ranks of people, seems to have something of their
meanness and awkwardness.

 Dress and furniture are allowed by all the world to be entirely under
the dominion of custom and fashion. The in¬‚uence of those principles,
however, is by no means con¬ned to so narrow a sphere, but extends
itself to whatever is in any respect the object of taste, to music, to po-
etry, to architecture. The modes of dress and furniture are continually
changing, and that fashion appearing ridiculous to-day which was ad-
mired ¬ve years ago, we are experimentally convinced that it owed its
vogue chie¬‚y or entirely to custom and fashion. Clothes and furniture
are not made of very durable materials. A well-fancied coat is done in
a twelve-month, and cannot continue longer to propagate, as the fash-
ion, that form according to which it was made. The modes of furniture
change less rapidly than those of dress; because furniture is commonly
more durable. In ¬ve or six years, however, it generally undergoes an
entire revolution, and every man in his own time sees the fashion in

Of the in¬‚uence of custom and fashion upon approbation

this respect change many different ways. The productions of the other
arts are much more lasting, and, when happily imagined, may continue
to propagate the fashion of their make for a much longer time. A well-
contrived building may endure many centuries: a beautiful air may be
delivered down by a sort of tradition, through many successive genera-
tions: a well-written poem may last as long as the world; and all of them
continue for ages together, to give the vogue to that particular style, to
that particular taste or manner, according to which each of them was
composed. Few men have an opportunity of seeing in their own times
the fashion in any of these arts change very considerably. Few men have
so much experience and acquaintance with the different modes which
have obtained in remote ages and nations, as to be thoroughly recon-
ciled to them, or to judge with impartiality between them, and what
takes place in their own age and country. Few men therefore are willing
to allow, that custom or fashion have much in¬‚uence upon their judg-
ments concerning what is beautiful, or otherwise, in the productions
of any of those arts; but imagine, that all the rules, which they think
ought to be observed in each of them, are founded upon reason and
nature, not upon habit or prejudice. A very little attention, however,
may convince them of the contrary, and satisfy them, that the in¬‚uence
of custom and fashion over dress and furniture, is not more absolute
than over architecture, poetry, and music.

µ Can any reason, for example, be assigned why the Doric capital should
be appropriated to a pillar, whose height is equal to eight diameters; the
Ionic volute to one of nine; and the Corinthian foliage to one of ten? The
propriety of each of those appropriations can be founded upon nothing
but habit and custom. The eye having been used to see a particular
proportion connected with a particular ornament, would be offended
if they were not joined together. Each of the ¬ve orders± has its pecu-
liar ornaments, which cannot be changed for any other, without giving
offence to all those who know any thing of the rules of architecture.
According to some architects, indeed, such is the exquisite judgment

± Smith says ˜¬ve™ because in addition to the three classic Greek orders which he speci¬es, the
eighteenth century was fond also of the two orders added by the Romans, the Tusculan and the
Composite. The ¬ve orders were current in the Palladian style (see Colen Campbell™s Vitruvius
Britannicus, ±·±µ) and the neo-classicism of Smith™s acquaintances, the Adams family.

The Theory of Moral Sentiments

with which the ancients have assigned to each order its proper orna-
ments, that no others can be found which are equally suitable. It seems,
however, a little dif¬cult to be conceived that these forms, though,
no doubt, extremely agreeable, should be the only forms which can
suit those proportions, or that there should not be ¬ve hundred oth-
ers which, antecedent to established custom, would have ¬tted them
equally well. When custom, however, has established particular rules
of building, provided they are not absolutely unreasonable, it is ab-
surd to think of altering them for others which are only equally good,
or even for others which, in point of elegance and beauty, have natu-
rally some little advantage over them. A man would be ridiculous who
should appear in public with a suit of clothes quite different from those
which are commonly worn, though the new dress should in itself be
ever so graceful or convenient. And there seems to be an absurdity of
the same kind in ornamenting a house after a quite different manner
from that which custom and fashion have prescribed; though the new
ornaments should in themselves be somewhat superior to the common

 According to the ancient rhetoricians, a certain measure of verse was
by nature appropriated to each particular species of writing, as being
naturally expressive of that character, sentiment, or passion, which
ought to predominate in it. One verse, they said, was ¬t for grave and
another for gay works, which could not, they thought, be interchanged
without the greatest impropriety. The experience of modern times,
however, seems to contradict this principle, though in itself it would
appear to be extremely probable. What is the burlesque verse in English,
is the heroic verse in French. The tragedies of Racine and the Henriad
of Voltaire, are nearly in the same verse with,

Let me have your advice in a weighty affair.

The burlesque verse in French, on the contrary, is pretty much the same
with the heroic verse of ten syllables in English. Custom has made the
one nation associate the ideas of gravity, sublimity, and seriousness,
to that measure which the other has connected with whatever is gay,
¬‚ippant, and ludicrous. Nothing would appear more absurd in English,
 Aristotle, Poetics, ±µb±“±°a; Horace, Ars Poetica, ·“.

Of the in¬‚uence of custom and fashion upon approbation

than a tragedy written in the Alexandrine verses of the French; or in
French, than a work of the same kind in verses of ten syllables.

· An eminent artist will bring about a considerable change in the es-
tablished modes of each of those arts, and introduce a new fashion of
writing, music, or architecture. As the dress of an agreeable man of
high rank recommends itself, and how peculiar and fantastical soever,
comes soon to be admired and imitated; so the excellencies of an em-
inent master recommend his peculiarities, and his manner becomes
the fashionable style in the art which he practices. The taste of the
Italians in music and architecture has, within these ¬fty years, under-
gone a considerable change, from imitating the peculiarities of some
eminent masters in each of those arts. Seneca is accused by Quintilian
of having corrupted the taste of the Romans, and of having introduced
a frivolous prettiness in the room of majestic reason and masculine elo-
quence. Sallust and Tacitus have by others been charged with the same
accusation, though in a different manner. They gave reputation, it is
pretended, to a style, which though in the highest degree concise, ele-
gant, expressive, and even poetical, wanted, however, ease, simplicity,
and nature, and was evidently the production of the most laboured and
studied affectation. How many great qualities must that writer pos-
sess, who can thus render his very faults agreeable? After the praise of
re¬ning the taste of a nation, the highest eulogy, perhaps, which can
be bestowed upon any author, is to say, that he corrupted it. In our
own language, Mr Pope and Dr Swift have each of them introduced a
manner different from what was practiced before, into all works that
are written in rhyme, the one in long verses, the other in short. The
quaintness of Butler has given place to the plainness of Swift. The ram-
bling freedom of Dryden, and the correct but often tedious and prosaic
languor of Addison, are no longer the objects of imitation, but all long
verses are now written after the manner of the nervous precision of
Mr Pope.µ
 The quotation is line  of Jonathan Swift™s burlesque poem ˜The Grand Question debated. Whether
Hamilton™s Bawn should be turned into a Barrack or a Malt-House™ (±·) and the contrast is with
the ±-syllable Alexandrines of Racine and of Voltaire™s Henriade. The ten-syllable heroic verse is
the blank verse. Cf. ˜English and Italian Verses™ (in EPS).
 Marcus Fabius Quintilian (b. c. AD µ) Institutio Oratoria (AD µ), X.i.±µ“±.
µ Samuel Butler (±±“°), famous for Hudibras (±); John Dryden (±±“±·°°).

The Theory of Moral Sentiments

 Neither is it only over the productions of the arts, that custom and fash-
ion exert their dominion. They in¬‚uence our judgments, in the same
manner, with regard to the beauty of natural objects. What various and
opposite forms are deemed beautiful in different species of things? The
proportions which are admired in one animal, are altogether different
from those which are esteemed in another. Every class of things has its
own peculiar conformation, which is approved of, and has a beauty of
its own, distinct from that of every other species. It is upon this account
that a learned Jesuit, father Buf¬er, has determined that the beauty
of every object consists in that form and colour, which is most usual
among things of that particular sort to which it belongs. Thus, in the
human form, the beauty of each feature lies in a certain middle, equally
removed from a variety of other forms that are ugly. A beautiful nose,
for example, is one that is neither very long, nor very short, neither
very straight, nor very crooked, but a sort of middle among all these
extremes, and less different from any one of them, than all of them are
from one another. It is the form which Nature seems to have aimed
at in them all, which, however, she deviates from in a great variety of
ways, and very seldom hits exactly; but to which all those deviations
still bear a very strong resemblance. When a number of drawings are
made after one pattern, though they may all miss it in some respects,
yet they will all resemble it more than they resemble one another; the
general character of the pattern will run through them all; the most
singular and odd will be those which are most wide of it; and though
very few will copy it exactly, yet the most accurate delineations will bear
a greater resemblance to the most careless, than the careless ones will
bear to one another. In the same manner, in each species of creatures,
what is most beautiful bears the strongest characters of the general fab-
ric of the species, and has the strongest resemblance to the greater part
of the individuals with which it is classed. Monsters, on the contrary, or
what is perfectly deformed, are always most singular and odd, and have
the least resemblance to the generality of that species to which they
belong. And thus the beauty of each species, though in one sense the
rarest of all things, because few individuals hit this middle form exactly,
yet in another, is the most common, because all the deviations from it

 Claude Buf¬er (±±“±··), Trait´ des premi`res v´rit´s et de la source de nos jugements (±·; anony-
e e ee
mous English translation ±·°), I.±.

Of the in¬‚uence of custom and fashion upon approbation

resemble it more than they resemble one another. The most customary
form, therefore, is in each species of things, according to him, the most
beautiful. And hence it is that a certain practice and experience in con-
templating each species of objects is requisite, before we can judge of
its beauty, or know wherein the middle and most usual form consists.
The nicest judgment concerning the beauty of the human species, will
not help us to judge of that of ¬‚owers, or horses, or any other species
of things. It is for the same reason that in different climates, and where
different customs and ways of living take place, as the generality of any
species receives a different conformation from those circumstances, so
different ideas of its beauty prevail. The beauty of a Moorish is not
exactly the same with that of an English horse. What different ideas are
formed in different nations concerning the beauty of the human shape
and countenance? A fair complexion is a shocking deformity upon the
coast of Guinea. Thick lips and a ¬‚at nose are a beauty. In some nations
long ears that hang down upon the shoulders are the objects of universal
admiration. In China if a lady™s foot is so large as to be ¬t to walk upon,
she is regarded as a monster of ugliness. Some of the savage nations in
North-America tie four boards round the heads of their children, and
thus squeeze them, while the bones are tender and gristly, into a form
that is almost perfectly square. Europeans are astonished at the absurd
barbarity of this practice, to which some missionaries have imputed
the singular stupidity of those nations among whom it prevails. But
when they condemn those savages, they do not re¬‚ect that the ladies
in Europe had, till within these very few years, been endeavouring, for
near a century past, to squeeze the beautiful roundness of their natural
shape into a square form of the same kind. And that, notwithstanding
the many distortions and diseases which this practice was known to
occasion, custom had rendered it agreeable among some of the most
civilized nations which, perhaps, the world ever beheld.

 Such is the system of this learned and ingenious Father, concerning the
nature of beauty; of which the whole charm, according to him, would
thus seem to arise from its falling in with the habits which custom
had impressed upon the imagination, with regard to things of each
particular kind. I cannot, however, be induced to believe that our sense
even of external beauty is founded altogether on custom. The utility of
any form, its ¬tness for the useful purposes for which it was intended,

The Theory of Moral Sentiments

evidently recommends it, and renders it agreeable to us, independent
of custom. Certain colours are more agreeable than others, and give
more delight to the eye the ¬rst time it ever beholds them. A smooth
surface is more agreeable than a rough one. Variety is more pleasing than
a tedious undiversi¬ed uniformity. Connected variety, in which each
new appearance seems to be introduced by what went before it, and in
which all the adjoining parts seem to have some natural relation to one
another, is more agreeable than a disjointed and disorderly assemblage
of unconnected objects. But though I cannot admit that custom is the
sole principle of beauty, yet I can so far allow the truth of this ingenious
system as to grant, that there is scarce any one external form so beautiful
as to please, if quite contrary to custom and unlike whatever we have
been used to in that particular species of things: or so deformed as not
to be agreeable, if custom uniformly supports it, and habituates us to
see it in every single individual of the kind.

Chapter II Of the in¬‚uence of custom and fashion upon
moral sentiments
± Since our sentiments concerning beauty of every kind, are so much
in¬‚uenced by custom and fashion, it cannot be expected, that those,
concerning the beauty of conduct, should be entirely exempted from
the dominion of those principles. Their in¬‚uence here, however, seems
to be much less than it is every where else. There is, perhaps, no form
of external objects, how absurd and fantastical soever, to which custom
will not reconcile us, or which fashion will not render even agreeable.
But the characters and conduct of a Nero, or a Claudius, are what
no custom will ever reconcile us to, what no fashion will ever render
agreeable; but the one will always be the object of dread and hatred; the
other of scorn and derision. The principles of the imagination, upon
which our sense of beauty depends, are of a very nice and delicate
nature, and may easily be altered by habit and education: but the
sentiments of moral approbation and disapprobation, are founded on
the strongest and most vigorous passions of human nature; and though
they may be somewhat warpt, cannot be entirely perverted.

 But though the in¬‚uence of custom and fashion upon moral senti-
ments, is not altogether so great, it is however perfectly similar to

Of the in¬‚uence of custom and fashion upon approbation

what it is every where else. When custom and fashion coincide with
the natural principles of right and wrong, they heighten the delicacy
of our sentiments, and increase our abhorrence for every thing which
approaches to evil. Those who have been educated in what is really
good company, not in what is commonly called such, who have been
accustomed to see nothing in the persons whom they esteemed and
lived with, but justice, modesty, humanity, and good order; are more
shocked with whatever seems to be inconsistent with the rules which
those virtues prescribe. Those, on the contrary, who have had the mis-
fortune to be brought up amidst violence, licentiousness, falsehood,
and injustice; lose, though not all sense of the impropriety of such
conduct, yet all sense of its dreadful enormity, or of the vengeance
and punishment due to it. They have been familiarized with it from
their infancy, custom has rendered it habitual to them, and they are
very apt to regard it as, what is called, the way of the world, something
which either may, or must be practised, to hinder us from being the
dupes of our own integrity.

 Fashion too will sometimes give reputation to a certain degree of disor-
der, and, on the contrary, discountenance qualities which deserve es-
teem. In the reign of Charles II. a degree of licentiousness was deemed
the characteristic of a liberal education. It was connected, according
to the notions of those times, with generosity, sincerity, magnanimity,
loyalty, and proved that the person who acted in this manner, was
a gentleman, and not a puritan. Severity of manners, and regularity
of conduct, on the other hand, were altogether unfashionable, and
were connected, in the imagination of that age, with cant, cunning,
hypocrisy, and low manners. To super¬cial minds, the vices of the
great seem at all times agreeable. They connect them, not only with
the splendour of fortune, but with many superior virtues, which they
ascribe to their superiors; with the spirit of freedom and independency,
with frankness, generosity, humanity, and politeness. The virtues of
the inferior ranks of people, on the contrary, their parsimonious frugal-
ity, their painful industry, and rigid adherence to rules, seem to them
mean and disagreeable. They connect them, both with the meanness of
the station to which those qualities commonly belong, and with many
great vices, which, they suppose, usually accompany them; such as an
abject, cowardly, ill-natured, lying, pilfering disposition.

The Theory of Moral Sentiments

 The objects with which men in the different professions and states of
life are conversant, being very different, and habituating them to very
different passions, naturally form in them very different characters
and manners. We expect in each rank and profession, a degree of those
manners, which, experience has taught us, belong to it. But as in each
species of things, we are particularly pleased with the middle confor-
mation, which, in every part and feature, agrees most exactly with the
general standard which nature seems to have established for things of
that kind; so in each rank, or, if I may say so, in each species of men, we
are particularly pleased, if they have neither too much, nor too little
of the character which usually accompanies their particular condition
and situation. A man, we say, should look like his trade and profession;
yet the pedantry of every profession is disagreeable. The different pe-
riods of life have, for the same reason, different manners assigned to
them. We expect in old age, that gravity and sedateness which its in¬r-
mities, its long experience, and its worn-out sensibility seem to render
both natural and respectable; and we lay our account to ¬nd in youth
that sensibility, that gaiety and sprightly vivacity which experience
teaches us to expect from the lively impressions that all interesting
objects are apt to make upon the tender and unpractised senses of that
early period of life. Each of those two ages, however, may easily have
too much of these peculiarities which belong to it. The ¬‚irting levity of
youth, and the immovable insensibility of old age, are equally disagree-
able. The young, according to the common saying, are most agreeable
when in their behaviour there is something of the manners of the old,
and the old, when they retain something of the gaiety of the young.
Either of them, however, may easily have too much of the manners
of the other. The extreme coldness, and dull formality, which are
pardoned in old age, make youth ridiculous. The levity, the careless-
ness, and the vanity, which are indulged in youth, render old age

µ The peculiar character and manners which we are led by custom to
appropriate to each rank and profession, have sometimes perhaps a
propriety independent of custom; and are what we should approve
of for their own sakes, if we took into consideration all the differ-
ent circumstances which naturally affect those in each different state
of life. The propriety of a person™s behaviour, depends not upon its

Of the in¬‚uence of custom and fashion upon approbation

suitableness to any one circumstance of his situation, but to all the
circumstances, which, when we bring his case home to ourselves, we
feel, should naturally call upon his attention. If he appears to be so
much occupied by any one of them, as entirely to neglect the rest, we
disapprove of his conduct, as something which we cannot entirely go
along with, because not properly adjusted to all the circumstances of
his situation: Yet, perhaps, the emotion he expresses for the object
which principally interests him, does not exceed what we should en-
tirely sympathize with, and approve of, in one whose attention was
not required by any other thing. A parent in private life might, upon
the loss of an only son, express without blame a degree of grief and
tenderness, which would be unpardonable in a general at the head of
an army, when glory, and the public safety, demanded so great a part
of his attention. As different objects ought, upon common occasions,
to occupy the attention of men of different professions, so different
passions ought naturally to become habitual to them; and when we
bring home to ourselves their situation in this particular respect, we
must be sensible, that every occurrence should naturally affect them
more or less, according as the emotion which it excites, coincides or
disagrees with the ¬xt habit and temper of their minds. We cannot
expect the same sensibility to the gay pleasures and amusements of
life in a clergyman, which we lay our account with in an of¬cer. The
man whose peculiar occupation it is to keep the world in mind of that
awful futurity which awaits them, who is to announce what may be the
fatal consequences of every deviation from the rules of duty, and who
is himself to set the example of the most exact conformity, seems to be
the messenger of tidings, which cannot, in propriety, be delivered ei-
ther with levity or indifference. His mind is supposed to be continually
occupied with what is too grand and solemn, to leave any room for the
impressions of those frivolous objects, which ¬ll up the attention of the
dissipated and the gay. We readily feel therefore, that, independent of
custom, there is a propriety in the manners which custom has allotted
to this profession; and that nothing can be more suitable to the charac-
ter of a clergyman, than that grave, that austere and abstracted severity,
which we are habituated to expect in his behaviour. These re¬‚ections
are so very obvious, that there is scarce any man so inconsiderate, as
not, at some time, to have made them, and to have accounted to himself
in this manner for his approbation of the usual character of this order.

The Theory of Moral Sentiments

 The foundation of the customary character of some other professions
is not so obvious, and our approbation of it is founded entirely in
habit, without being either con¬rmed, or enlivened by any re¬‚ections
of this kind. We are led by custom, for example, to annex the charac-
ter of gaiety, levity, and sprightly freedom, as well as of some degree
of dissipation, to the military profession. Yet, if we were to consider
what mood or tone of temper would be most suitable to this situa-
tion, we should be apt to determine, perhaps, that the most serious
and thoughtful turn of mind would best become those whose lives are
continually exposed to uncommon danger, and who should therefore
be more constantly occupied with the thoughts of death and its conse-
quences than other men. It is this very circumstance, however, which
is not improbably the occasion why the contrary turn of mind prevails
so much among men of this profession. It requires so great an effort
to conquer the fear of death, when we survey it with steadiness and
attention, that those who are constantly exposed to it, ¬nd it easier to
turn away their thoughts from it altogether, to wrap themselves up in
careless security and indifference, and to plunge themselves, for this
purpose, into every sort of amusement and dissipation. A camp is not
the element of a thoughtful or a melancholy man: persons of that cast,
indeed, are often abundantly determined, and are capable, by a great
effort, of going on with in¬‚exible resolution to the most unavoidable
death. But to be exposed to continual, though less imminent danger,
to be obliged to exert, for a long time, a degree of this effort, exhausts
and depresses the mind, and renders it incapable of all happiness and
enjoyment. The gay and careless, who have occasion to make no ef-
fort at all, who fairly resolve never to look before them, but to lose in
continual pleasures and amusements all anxiety about their situation,
more easily support such circumstances. Whenever, by any peculiar
circumstances, an of¬cer has no reason to lay his account with being
exposed to any uncommon danger, he is very apt to lose the gaiety and
dissipated thoughtlessness of his character. The captain of a city guard
is commonly as sober, careful, and penurious an animal as the rest of
his fellow-citizens. A long peace is, for the same reason, very apt to
diminish the difference between the civil and the military character.
The ordinary situation, however, of men of this profession, renders
gaiety, and a degree of dissipation, so much their usual character; and
custom has, in our imagination, so strongly connected this character

Of the in¬‚uence of custom and fashion upon approbation

with this state of life, that we are very apt to despise any man, whose
peculiar humour or situation, renders him incapable of acquiring it.
We laugh at the grave and careful faces of a city guard, which so little
resemble those of their profession. They themselves seem often to be
ashamed of the regularity of their own manners, and, not to be out
of the fashion of their trade, are fond of affecting that levity, which is
by no means natural to them. Whatever is the deportment which we
have been accustomed to see in a respectable order of men, it comes to
be so associated in our imagination with that order, that whenever we
see the one, we lay our account that we are to meet with the other, and
when disappointed, miss something which we expected to ¬nd. We
are embarrassed, and put to a stand, and know not how to address our-
selves to a character, which plainly affects to be of a different species
from those with which we should have been disposed to class it.

· The different situations of different ages and countries are apt, in the
same manner, to give different characters to the generality of those
who live in them, and their sentiments concerning the particular de-
gree of each quality, that is either blamable or praise-worthy, vary,
according to that degree which is usual in their own country, and in
their own times. That degree of politeness, which would be highly
esteemed, perhaps would be thought effeminate adulation, in Russia,
would be regarded as rudeness and barbarism at the court of France.
That degree of order and frugality, which, in a Polish nobleman, would
be considered as excessive parsimony, would be regarded as extrav-
agance in a citizen of Amsterdam. Every age and country look upon
that degree of each quality, which is commonly to be met with in
those who are esteemed among themselves, as the golden mean of that
particular talent or virtue. And as this varies, according as their dif-
ferent circumstances render different qualities more or less habitual
to them, their sentiments concerning the exact propriety of character
and behaviour vary accordingly.

 Among civilized nations, the virtues which are founded upon human-
ity, are more cultivated than those which are founded upon self-denial
and the command of the passions. Among rude and barbarous nations,
it is quite otherwise, the virtues of self-denial are more cultivated than
those of humanity. The general security and happiness which prevail

The Theory of Moral Sentiments

in ages of civility and politeness, afford little exercise to the contempt
of danger, to patience in enduring labour, hunger, and pain. Poverty
may easily be avoided, and the contempt of it therefore almost ceases
to be a virtue. The abstinence from pleasure becomes less necessary,
and the mind is more at liberty to unbend itself, and to indulge its
natural inclinations in all those particular respects.

 Among savages and barbarians it is quite otherwise. Every savage
undergoes a sort of Spartan discipline, and by the necessity of his sit-
uation is inured to every sort of hardship. He is in continual danger: he
is often exposed to the greatest extremities of hunger, and frequently
dies of pure want. His circumstances not only habituate him to every
sort of distress, but teach him to give way to none of the passions which
that distress is apt to excite. He can expect from his countrymen no
sympathy or indulgence for such weakness. Before we can feel much
for others, we must in some measure be at ease ourselves. If our own
misery pinches us very severely, we have no leisure to attend to that
of our neighbour: and all savages are too much occupied with their
own wants and necessities, to give much attention to those of another
person. A savage, therefore, whatever be the nature of his distress,
expects no sympathy from those about him, and disdains, upon that
account, to expose himself, by allowing the least weakness to escape
him. His passions, how furious and violent soever, are never permit-
ted to disturb the serenity of his countenance or the composure of his
conduct and behaviour. The savages in North America, we are told,
assume upon all occasions the greatest indifference, and would think
themselves degraded if they should ever appear in any respect to be
overcome, either by love, or grief, or resentment. Their magnanimity
and self-command, in this respect, are almost beyond the conception of
Europeans. In a country in which all men are upon a level, with regard
to rank and fortune, it might be expected that the mutual inclinations
of the two parties should be the only thing considered in marriages,
and should be indulged without any sort of control. This, however, is
the country in which all marriages, without exception, are made up by
the parents, and in which a young man would think himself disgraced
for ever, if he shewed the least preference of one woman above another,
or did not express the most complete indifference, both about the time
when, and the person to whom, he was to be married. The weakness of

Of the in¬‚uence of custom and fashion upon approbation

love, which is so much indulged in ages of humanity and politeness, is
regarded among savages as the most unpardonable effeminacy. Even
after the marriage, the two parties seem to be ashamed of a connexion
which is founded upon so sordid a necessity. They do not live together.
They see one another by stealth only. They both continue to dwell in
the houses of their respective fathers, and the open cohabitation of the
two sexes, which is permitted without blame in all other countries, is
here considered as the most indecent and unmanly sensuality. Nor is
it only over this agreeable passion that they exert this absolute self-
command. They often bear, in the sight of all their countrymen, with
injuries, reproach, and the grossest insults, with the appearance of the
greatest insensibility, and without expressing the smallest resentment.
When a savage is made prisoner of war, and receives, as is usual, the
sentence of death from his conquerors, he hears it without expressing
any emotion, and afterwards submits to the most dreadful torments,
without ever bemoaning himself, or discovering any other passion but
contempt of his enemies. While he is hung by the shoulders over a
slow ¬re, he derides his tormentors, and tells them with how much
more ingenuity he himself had tormented such of their countrymen
as had fallen into his hands. After he has been scorched and burnt,
and lacerated in all the most tender and sensible parts of his body for
several hours together, he is often allowed, in order to prolong his
misery, a short respite, and is taken down from the stake: he employs
this interval in talking upon all indifferent subjects, inquires after the
news of the country, and seems indifferent about nothing but his own
situation. The spectators express the same insensibility; the sight of
so horrible an object seems to make no impression upon them; they
scarce look at the prisoner, except when they lend a hand to torment
him. At other times they smoke tobacco, and amuse themselves with
any common object, as if no such matter was going on. Every savage
is said to prepare himself from his earliest youth for this dreadful end.
He composes, for this purpose, what they call the song of death, a
song which he is to sing when he has fallen into the hands of his ene-
mies, and is expiring under the tortures which they in¬‚ict upon him.
It consists of insults upon his tormentors, and expresses the highest
contempt of death and pain. He sings this song upon all extraordinary
occasions, when he goes out to war, when he meets his enemies in
the ¬eld, or whenever he has a mind to show that he has familiarised

The Theory of Moral Sentiments

his imagination to the most dreadful misfortunes, and that no human
event can daunt his resolution, or alter his purpose. The same con-
tempt of death and torture prevails among all other savage nations.
There is not a negro from the coast of Africa who does not, in this
respect, possess a degree of magnanimity which the soul of his sordid
master is too often scarce capable of conceiving. Fortune never exerted
more cruelly her empire over mankind, than when she subjected those
nations of heroes to the refuse of the jails of Europe, to wretches who
possess the virtues neither of the countries which they come from, nor
of those which they go to, and whose levity, brutality, and baseness, so
justly expose them to the contempt of the vanquished.·

±° This heroic and unconquerable ¬rmness, which the custom and edu-
cation of his country demand of every savage, is not required of those
who are brought up to live in civilized societies. If these last complain
when they are in pain, if they grieve when they are in distress, if they
allow themselves either to be overcome by love, or to be discomposed
by anger, they are easily pardoned. Such weaknesses are not appre-
hended to affect the essential parts of their character. As long as they do
not allow themselves to be transported to do any thing contrary to jus-
tice or humanity, they lose but little reputation, though the serenity of
their countenance, or the composure of their discourse and behaviour,
should be somewhat ruf¬‚ed and disturbed. A humane and polished
people, who have more sensibility to the passions of others, can more
readily enter into an animated and passionate behaviour, and can more
easily pardon some little excess. The person principally concerned is
sensible of this; and being assured of the equity of his judges, indulges
himself in stronger expressions of passion, and is less afraid of expos-
ing himself to their contempt by the violence of his emotions. We can
venture to express more emotion in the presence of a friend than in
that of a stranger, because we expect more indulgence from the one
than from the other. And in the same manner the rules of decorum
among civilized nations, admit of a more animated behaviour, than is
approved of among barbarians. The ¬rst converse together with the
openness of friends; the second with the reserve of strangers. The emo-
tion and vivacity with which the French and the Italians, the two most

· Cf. Smith™s economic criticism of slavery, WN I.viii.±; III.ii.; and IV.ix.·.

Of the in¬‚uence of custom and fashion upon approbation

polished nations upon the continent, express themselves on occasions
that are at all interesting, surprise at ¬rst those strangers who happen
to be travelling among them, and who, having been educated among a
people of duller sensibility, cannot enter into this passionate behaviour,
of which they have never seen any example in their own country. A
young French nobleman will weep in the presence of the whole court
upon being refused a regiment. An Italian, says the abbot Dˆ Bos, ex-
presses more emotion on being condemned in a ¬ne of twenty shillings,
than an Englishman on receiving the sentence of death. Cicero, in
the times of the highest Roman politeness, could, without degrad-
ing himself, weep with all the bitterness of sorrow in the sight of the
whole senate and the whole people; as it is evident he must have done
in the end of almost every oration. The orators of the earlier and ruder
ages of Rome could not probably, consistent with the manners of the
times, have expressed themselves with so much emotion. It would have
been regarded, I suppose, as a violation of nature and propriety in the
Scipios, in the Leliuses, and in the elder Cato, to have exposed so much
tenderness to the view of the public. Those ancient warriors could
express themselves with order, gravity, and good judgment; but are
said to have been strangers to that sublime and passionate eloquence
which was ¬rst introduced into Rome, not many years before the birth
of Cicero, by the two Gracchi, by Crassus, and by Sulpitius.±° This
animated eloquence, which has been long practised, with or without
success, both in France and Italy, is but just beginning to be intro-
duced into England. So wide is the difference between the degrees
of self-command which are required in civilized and in barbarous na-
tions, and by such different standards do they judge of the propriety
of behaviour.
 Jean-Baptiste Du Bos (±·°“±·). The reference cannot be found.
 Publius Cornelius Scipio Africanus Maior (“± BC) and his grandson by adoption, Publius
Cornelius Scipio Aemilianus, ˜Africanus Minor™ (c. ±µ“± BC) were both Roman consuls and
generals and the heroes of, respectively, the Second and Third Punic War. In politics and in war
they were associated with, respectively, Gaius Laelius and his son, Gaius Laelius Sapiens, both also
consuls and generals, the latter a well-known ¬gure in several of Cicero™s works, esp. De Amicitia.
Marcus Porcius Cato the elder (“± BC) was legendary for his severity as Roman censor in
± BC.
±° Just like the younger Scipio, these public ¬gures were discussed in Cicero™s treatise on the great
Roman orators, Brutus ( BC): Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus (c. ±“ BC; tribune in ± BC),
his brother Gaius (d. ±± BC; tribune in ± and ±), Lucius Licinius Crassus (±°“±), and
Publius Sulpicius Rufus (±“ BC; tribune in ).

The Theory of Moral Sentiments

±± This difference gives occasion to many others that are not less essen-
tial. A polished people being accustomed to give way, in some mea-
sure, to the movements of nature, become frank, open, and sincere.
Barbarians, on the contrary, being obliged to smother and conceal the
appearance of every passion, necessarily acquire the habits of false-
hood and dissimulation. It is observed by all those who have been
conversant with savage nations, whether in Asia, Africa, or America,
that they are all equally impenetrable, and that, when they have a
mind to conceal the truth, no examination is capable of drawing it
from them. They cannot be trepanned by the most artful questions.
The torture itself is incapable of making them confess any thing which
they have no mind to tell. The passions of a savage too, though they
never express themselves by any outward emotion, but lie concealed
in the breast of the sufferer, are, notwithstanding, all mounted to the
highest pitch of fury. Though he seldom shows any symptoms of
anger, yet his vengeance, when he comes to give way to it, is always
sanguinary and dreadful. The least affront drives him to despair. His
countenance and discourse indeed are still sober and composed, and
express nothing but the most perfect tranquillity of mind: but his
actions are often the most furious and violent. Among the North-
Americans it is not uncommon for persons of the tenderest age and
more fearful sex to drown themselves upon receiving only a slight
reprimand from their mothers, and this too without expressing any
passion, or saying any thing, except, you shall no longer have a daughter.
In civilized nations the passions of men are not commonly so
furious or so desperate. They are often clamorous and noisy, but
are seldom very hurtful; and seem frequently to aim at no other
satisfaction, but that of convincing the spectator, that they are in
the right to be so much moved, and of procuring his sympathy and

± All these effects of custom and fashion, however, upon the moral sen-
timents of mankind, are inconsiderable, in comparison of those which
they give occasion to in some other cases; and it is not concerning the
general style of character and behaviour, that those principles produce
the greatest perversion of judgment, but concerning the propriety or
impropriety of particular usages.

Of the in¬‚uence of custom and fashion upon approbation

± The different manners which custom teaches us to approve of in the
different professions and states of life, do not concern things of the
greatest importance. We expect truth and justice from an old man as
well as from a young, from a clergyman as well as from an of¬cer; and it
is in matters of small moment only that we look for the distinguishing
marks of their respective characters. With regard to these too, there
is often some unobserved circumstance which, if it was attended to,
would show us, that, independent of custom, there was a propriety
in the character which custom had taught us to allot to each profes-
sion. We cannot complain, therefore, in this case, that the perversion
of natural sentiment is very great. Though the manners of different
nations require different degrees of the same quality, in the character
which they think worthy of esteem, yet the worst that can be said to
happen even here, is that the duties of one virtue are sometimes ex-
tended so as to encroach a little upon the precincts of some other. The
rustic hospitality that is in fashion among the Poles encroaches, per-
haps, a little upon oeconomy and good order; and the frugality that
is esteemed in Holland, upon generosity and good-fellowship. The
hardiness demanded of savages diminishes their humanity; and, per-
haps, the delicate sensibility required in civilized nations sometimes
destroys the masculine ¬rmness of the character. In general, the style
of manners which takes place in any nation, may commonly upon the
whole be said to be that which is most suitable to its situation. Har-
diness is the character most suitable to the circumstances of a savage;
sensibility to those of one who lives in a very civilized society. Even
here, therefore, we cannot complain that the moral sentiments of men
are very grossly perverted.

± It is not therefore in the general style of conduct or behaviour that
custom authorises the widest departure from what is the natural pro-
priety of action. With regard to particular usages, its in¬‚uence is often
much more destructive of good morals, and it is capable of establishing,
as lawful and blameless, particular actions, which shock the plainest
principles of right and wrong.

±µ Can there be greater barbarity, for example, than to hurt an infant? Its
helplessness, its innocence, its amiableness, call forth the compassion,

The Theory of Moral Sentiments

even of an enemy, and not to spare that tender age is regarded as the
most furious effort of an enraged and cruel conqueror. What then
should we imagine must be the heart of a parent who could injure that
weakness which even a furious enemy is afraid to violate?±± Yet the ex-
position, that is, the murder of new-born infants, was a practice allowed
of in almost all the states of Greece, even among the polite and civilized
Athenians; and whenever the circumstances of the parent rendered it
inconvenient to bring up the child, to abandon it to hunger, or to wild
beasts, was regarded without blame or censure. This practice had
probably begun in times of the most savage barbarity. The imagina-
tions of men had been ¬rst made familiar with it in that earliest period
of society, and the uniform continuance of the custom had hindered
them afterwards from perceiving its enormity. We ¬nd, at this day, that
this practice prevails among all savage nations; and in that rudest and
lowest state of society it is undoubtedly more pardonable than in any
other. The extreme indigence of a savage is often such that he himself
is frequently exposed to the greatest extremity of hunger, he often dies
of pure want, and it is frequently impossible for him to support both
himself and his child. We cannot wonder, therefore, that in this case
he should abandon it. One who, in ¬‚ying from an enemy, whom it was
impossible to resist, should throw down his infant, because it retarded
his ¬‚ight, would surely be excusable; since, by attempting to save it, he
could only hope for the consolation of dying with it. That in this state
of society, therefore, a parent should be allowed to judge whether he
can bring up his child, ought not to surprise us so greatly. In the latter
ages of Greece, however, the same thing was permitted from views of
remote interest or conveniency, which could by no means excuse it.
Uninterrupted custom had by this time so thoroughly authorised the
practice, that not only the loose maxims of the world tolerated this
barbarous prerogative, but even the doctrine of philosophers, which
ought to have been more just and accurate, was led away by the estab-
lished custom, and upon this, as upon many other occasions, instead of
censuring, supported the horrible abuse, by far-fetched considerations
of public utility. Aristotle talks of it as of what the magistrate ought
upon many occasions to encourage. The humane Plato is of the same
opinion, and, with all that love of mankind which seems to animate

±± Cf. LJ(A) iii.·ff.

Of the in¬‚uence of custom and fashion upon approbation

all his writings, no where marks this practice with disapprobation. ±
When custom can give sanction to so dreadful a violation of humanity,
we may well imagine that there is scarce any particular practice so gross
which it cannot authorise. Such a thing, we hear men every day saying,
is commonly done, and they seem to think this a suf¬cient apology
for what, in itself, is the most unjust and unreasonable conduct.

± There is an obvious reason why custom should never pervert our sen-
timents with regard to the general style and character of conduct and
behaviour, in the same degree as with regard to the propriety or un-
lawfulness of particular usages. There never can be any such custom.
No society could subsist a moment, in which the usual strain of men™s
conduct and behaviour was of a piece with the horrible practice I have
just now mentioned.

± See Aristotle, Politics, VII.±, ±µb°“±; Plato, Republic, V, °c.

Part VI±
Of the character of virtue
Consisting of three sections

± When we consider the character of any individual, we naturally view
it under two different aspects; ¬rst, as it may affect his own happiness;
and secondly, as it may affect that of other people.

Section I Of the character of the individual, so far as it
affects his own happiness; or of prudence
± The preservation and healthful state of the body seem to be the objects
which Nature ¬rst recommends to the care of every individual. The
appetites of hunger and thirst, the agreeable or disagreeable sensations
of pleasure and pain, of heat and cold, etc. may be considered as lessons
delivered by the voice of Nature herself, directing him what he ought
to chuse, and what he ought to avoid, for this purpose. The ¬rst lessons
which he is taught by those to whom his childhood is entrusted, tend,
the greater part of them, to the same purpose. Their principal object
is to teach him how to keep out of harm™s way.

 As he grows up, he soon learns that some care and foresight are neces-
sary for providing the means of gratifying those natural appetites, of
procuring pleasure and avoiding pain, of procuring the agreeable and
± In a letter of ± March ±· to his publisher about his preparation of the sixth edition of the Theory
of Moral Sentiments, Smith explains: ˜I have inserted, immediately after the ¬fth part, a compleat
new sixth part containing a practical system of Morality, under the title of the Character of Virtue.™
Corr., p. °. He explains what he means by practical, as opposed to theoretical, morality below at

Of the character of virtue

avoiding the disagreeable temperature of heat and cold. In the proper
direction of this care and foresight consists the art of preserving and
increasing what is called his external fortune.

 Though it is in order to supply the necessities and conveniencies
of the body, that the advantages of external fortune are originally
recommended to us, yet we cannot live long in the world without
perceiving that the respect of our equals, our credit and rank in the
society we live in, depend very much upon the degree in which we
possess, or are supposed to possess, those advantages. The desire of
becoming the proper objects of this respect, of deserving and obtaining
this credit and rank among our equals, is, perhaps, the strongest of
all our desires, and our anxiety to obtain the advantages of fortune
is accordingly much more excited and irritated by this desire, than
by that of supplying all the necessities and conveniencies of the body,
which are always very easily supplied.

 Our rank and credit among our equals, too, depend very much upon,
what, perhaps, a virtuous man would wish them to depend entirely, our
character and conduct, or upon the con¬dence, esteem, and good-will,
which these naturally excite in the people we live with.

µ The care of the health, of the fortune, of the rank and reputation of the
individual, the objects upon which his comfort and happiness in this
life are supposed principally to depend, is considered as the proper
business of that virtue which is commonly called Prudence.

 We suffer more, it has already been observed, when we fall from a
better to a worse situation, than we ever enjoy when we rise from
a worse to a better. Security, therefore, is the ¬rst and the principal
object of prudence. It is averse to expose our health, our fortune, our
rank, or reputation, to any sort of hazard. It is rather cautious than
enterprising, and more anxious to preserve the advantages which we
already possess, than forward to prompt us to the acquisition of still
greater advantages. The methods of improving our fortune, which it
principally recommends to us, are those which expose to no loss or

 I.iii.l..

The Theory of Moral Sentiments

hazard; real knowledge and skill in our trade or profession, assiduity
and industry in the exercise of it, frugality, and even some degree of
parsimony, in all our expences.

· The prudent man always studies seriously and earnestly to understand
whatever he professes to understand, and not merely to persuade
other people that he understands it; and though his talents may not
always be very brilliant, they are always perfectly genuine. He neither
endeavours to impose upon you by the cunning devices of an artful
impostor, nor by the arrogant airs of an assuming pedant, nor by the
con¬dent assertions of a super¬cial and impudent pretender. He is
not ostentatious even of the abilities which he really possesses. His
conversation is simple and modest, and he is averse to all the quackish
arts by which other people so frequently thrust themselves into public
notice and reputation. For reputation in his profession he is naturally
disposed to rely a good deal upon the solidity of his knowledge and
abilities; and he does not always think of cultivating the favour of those
little clubs and cabals, who, in the superior arts and sciences, so often
erect themselves into the supreme judges of merit; and who make it
their business to celebrate the talents and virtues of one another, and
to decry whatever can come into competition with them. If he ever
connects himself with any society of this kind, it is merely in self-
defence, not with a view to impose upon the public, but to hinder the
public from being imposed upon, to his disadvantage, by the clamours,
the whispers, or the intrigues, either of that particular society, or of
some other of the same kind.

 The prudent man is always sincere, and feels horror at the very thought
of exposing himself to the disgrace which attends upon the detection
of falsehood. But though always sincere, he is not always frank and
open; and though he never tells any thing but the truth, he does not
always think himself bound, when not properly called upon, to tell
the whole truth. As he is cautious in his actions, so he is reserved in
his speech; and never rashly or unnecessarily obtrudes his opinion
concerning either things or persons.

 Cf. Smith™s analysis of frugality in WN II.iii.±µ“±.
 Cf. above III...

Of the character of virtue

 The prudent man, though not always distinguished by the most ex-
quisite sensibility, is always very capable of friendship. But his friend-
ship is not that ardent and passionate, but too often transitory affection,
which appears so delicious to the generosity of youth and inexperience.
It is a sedate, but steady and faithful attachment to a few well-tried
and well-chosen companions; in the choice of whom he is not guided
by the giddy admiration of shining accomplishments, but by the sober
esteem of modesty, discretion, and good conduct. But though capable
of friendship, he is not always much disposed to general sociality. He
rarely frequents, and more rarely ¬gures in those convivial societies
which are distinguished for the jollity and gaiety of their conversation.
Their way of life might too often interfere with the regularity of his
temperance, might interrupt the steadiness of his industry, or break
in upon the strictness of his frugality.

±° But though his conversation may not always be very sprightly or di-
verting, it is always perfectly inoffensive. He hates the thought of being
guilty of any petulance or rudeness. He never assumes impertinently
over any body, and, upon all common occasions, is willing to place him-
self rather below than above his equals. Both in his conduct and conver-
sation, he is an exact observer of decency, and respects with an almost
religious scrupulosity, all the established decorums and ceremonials
of society. And, in this respect, he sets a much better example than
has frequently been done by men of much more splendid talents and
virtues; who, in all ages, from that of Socrates and Aristippus,µ down
to that of Dr Swift and Voltaire, and from that of Philip and Alexander
the Great, down to that of the great Czar Peter of Moscovy, have too
often distinguished themselves by the most improper and even inso-
lent contempt of all the ordinary decorums of life and conversation,
and who have thereby set the most pernicious example to those who
wish to resemble them, and who too often content themselves with im-
itating their follies, without even attempting to attain their perfections.

µ Aristippus of Cyrene (c. µ“c. µµ BC), a disciple of Socrates and subsequently founder of the
Cyrenaic school of philosophy (sometimes ascribed to his grandson of the same name). According
to tradition, he was both a theorist and practitioner of hedonism. Smith would have known him
from Xenophon™s Memorabilia and Diogenes La¨ rtius™ Lives of the Philosophers.
 Philip II of Macedon ( or “ BC), father of Alexander the Great of Macedon (µ“ BC).
For Peter the Great, see IV.±.±±, note ·.

The Theory of Moral Sentiments

±± In the steadiness of his industry and frugality, in his steadily sacri¬cing
the ease and enjoyment of the present moment for the probable expec-
tation of the still greater ease and enjoyment of a more distant but more
lasting period of time, the prudent man is always both supported and
rewarded by the entire approbation of the impartial spectator, and
of the representative of the impartial spectator, the man within the
breast. The impartial spectator does not feel himself worn out by the
present labour of those whose conduct he surveys; nor does he feel
himself solicited by the importunate calls of their present appetites.
To him their present, and what is likely to be their future situation,
are very nearly the same: he sees them nearly at the same distance,
and is affected by them very nearly in the same manner. He knows,
however, that to the persons principally concerned, they are very far
from being the same, and that they naturally affect them in a very dif-
ferent manner. He cannot therefore but approve, and even applaud,
that proper exertion of self-command, which enables them to act as
if their present and their future situation affected them nearly in the
same manner in which they affect him.

± The man who lives within his income, is naturally contented with his
situation, which, by continual, though small accumulations, is grow-
ing better and better every day. He is enabled gradually to relax, both
in the rigour of his parsimony and in the severity of his application;
and he feels with double satisfaction this gradual increase of ease and
enjoyment, from having felt before the hardship which attended the
want of them. He has no anxiety to change so comfortable a situation,
and does not go in quest of new enterprises and adventures, which
might endanger, but could not well increase, the secure tranquillity
which he actually enjoys. If he enters into any new projects or enter-
prises, they are likely to be well concerted and well prepared. He can
never be hurried or drove into them by any necessity, but has always
time and leisure to deliberate soberly and coolly concerning what are
likely to be their consequences.

± The prudent man is not willing to subject himself to any responsibil-
ity which his duty does not impose upon him. He is not a bustler in
business where he has no concern; is not a meddler in other people™s

Of the character of virtue

affairs; is not a professed counsellor or adviser, who obtrudes his advice
where nobody is asking it. He con¬nes himself, as much as his duty
will permit, to his own affairs, and has no taste for that foolish impor-
tance which many people wish to derive from appearing to have some
in¬‚uence in the management of those of other people. He is averse
to enter into any party disputes, hates faction, and is not always very
forward to listen to the voice even of noble and great ambition. When
distinctly called upon, he will not decline the service of his country, but
he will not cabal in order to force himself into it, and would be much
better pleased that the public business were well managed by some
other person, than that he himself should have the trouble, and incur
the responsibility, of managing it. In the bottom of his heart he would
prefer the undisturbed enjoyment of secure tranquillity, not only to
all the vain splendour of successful ambition, but to the real and solid
glory of performing the greatest and most magnanimous actions.

± Prudence, in short, when directed merely to the care of the health, of
the fortune, and of the rank and reputation of the individual, though
it is regarded as a most respectable, and even, in some degree, as an
amiable and agreeable quality, yet it never is considered as one, either
of the most endearing, or of the most ennobling of the virtues. It com-
mands a certain cold esteem, but seems not entitled to any very ardent
love or admiration.

±µ Wise and judicious conduct, when directed to greater and nobler pur-
poses than the care of the health, the fortune, the rank and reputation
of the individual, is frequently and very properly called prudence.
We talk of the prudence of the great general, of the great statesman,
of the great legislator. Prudence is, in all these cases, combined with
many greater and more splendid virtues, with valour, with extensive
and strong benevolence, with a sacred regard to the rules of justice,
and all these supported by a proper degree of self-command. This
superior prudence, when carried to the highest degree of perfection,
necessarily supposes the art, the talent, and the habit or disposition of
acting with the most perfect propriety in every possible circumstance
and situation. It necessarily supposes the utmost perfection of all the
intellectual and of all the moral virtues. It is the best head joined to

The Theory of Moral Sentiments

the best heart. It is the most perfect wisdom combined with the most
perfect virtue. It constitutes very nearly the character of the Aca-
demical or Peripatetic· sage, as the inferior prudence does that of the

± Mere imprudence, or the mere want of the capacity to take care of
one™s-self, is, with the generous and humane, the object of compas-
sion; with those of less delicate sentiments, of neglect, or, at worst, of
contempt, but never of hatred or indignation. When combined with
other vices, however, it aggravates in the highest degree the infamy and
disgrace which would otherwise attend them. The artful knave, whose
dexterity and address exempt him, though not from strong suspicions,
yet from punishment or distinct detection, is too often received in the
world with an indulgence which he by no means deserves. The awk-
ward and foolish one, who, for want of this dexterity and address, is
convicted and brought to punishment, is the object of universal hatred,
contempt, and derision. In countries where great crimes frequently
pass unpunished, the most atrocious actions become almost familiar,
and cease to impress the people with that horror which is universally
felt in countries where an exact administration of justice takes place.
The injustice is the same in both countries; but the imprudence is often
very different. In the latter, great crimes are evidently great follies. In
the former, they are not always considered as such. In Italy, during the
greater part of the sixteenth century, assassinations, murders, and even
murders under trust, seem to have been almost familiar among the su-
perior ranks of people. C¦sar Borgia invited four of the little princes
in his neighbourhood, who all possessed little sovereignties, and com-
manded little armies of their own, to a friendly conference at Seni-
gaglia, where, as soon as they arrived, he put them all to death. This
infamous action, though certainly not approved of even in that age of
crimes, seems to have contributed very little to the discredit, and not in
the least to the ruin of the perpetrator. That ruin happened a few years
after from causes altogether disconnected with this crime. Machiavel,
not indeed a man of the nicest morality even for his own times, was res-
ident, as minister from the republic of Florence, at the court of C¦sar
Borgia when this crime was committed. He gives a very particular

· Platonic, resp. Aristotelian.

Of the character of virtue

account of it, and in that pure, elegant, and simple language which
distinguishes all his writings. He talks of it very coolly; is pleased with
the address with which C¦sar Borgia conducted it; has much contempt
for the dupery and weakness of the sufferers; but no compassion for
their miserable and untimely death, and no sort of indignation at the
cruelty and falsehood of their murderer. The violence and injustice of
great conquerors are often regarded with foolish wonder and admira-
tion; those of petty thieves, robbers, and murderers, with contempt,
hatred, and even horror upon all occasions. The former, though they
are a hundred times more mischievous and destructive, yet when suc-
cessful, they often pass for deeds of the most heroic magnanimity. The
latter are always viewed with hatred and aversion, as the follies, as well
as the crimes, of the lowest and most worthless of mankind. The injus-
tice of the former is certainly, at least, as great as that of the latter; but
the folly and imprudence are not near so great. A wicked and worthless
man of parts often goes through the world with much more credit than
he deserves. A wicked and worthless fool appears always, of all mor-
tals, the most hateful, as well as the most contemptible. As prudence
combined with other virtues, constitutes the noblest; so imprudence
combined with other vices, constitutes the vilest of all characters.

Section II Of the character of the individual, so far as it can
affect the happiness of other people
± The character of every individual, so far as it can affect the happiness
of other people, must do so by its disposition either to hurt or to bene¬t

 Proper resentment for injustice attempted, or actually committed, is
the only motive which, in the eyes of the impartial spectator, can justify
our hurting or disturbing in any respect the happiness of our neighbour.
To do so from any other motive is itself a violation of the laws of justice,
which force ought to be employed either to restrain or to punish. The

 See Descrizione del modo tenuto dal duca Valentino nello ammazzare Vitellozzo Vitelli, Oliverotto da
Fermo, il signor Pagolo e il duca di Gravina Orsini, which Machiavelli published as an appendix to
The Prince in ±µ. Cf. Smith™s assessment of Machiavelli, Rhetoric, XX.ii.·°.

The Theory of Moral Sentiments

wisdom of every state or commonwealth endeavours, as well as it can,
to employ the force of the society to restrain those who are subject to
its authority, from hurting or disturbing the happiness of one another.
The rules which it establishes for this purpose, constitute the civil and
criminal law of each particular state or country. The principles upon
which those rules either are, or ought to be founded, are the subject
of a particular science, of all sciences by far the most important, but
hitherto, perhaps, the least cultivated, that of natural jurisprudence;
concerning which it belongs not to our present subject to enter into
any detail. A sacred and religious regard not to hurt or disturb in any
respect the happiness of our neighbour, even in those cases where no
law can properly protect him, constitutes the character of the perfectly
innocent and just man; a character which, when carried to a certain
delicacy of attention, is always highly respectable and even venerable
for its own sake, and can scarce ever fail to be accompanied with many
other virtues, with great feeling for other people, with great humanity
and great benevolence. It is a character suf¬ciently understood, and
requires no further explanation. In the present section I shall only
endeavour to explain the foundation of that order which nature seems
to have traced out for the distribution of our good off¬ces, or for the
direction and employment of our very limited powers of bene¬cence:
¬rst, towards individuals; and secondly, towards societies.

 The same unerring wisdom, it will be found, which regulates every
other part of her conduct, directs, in this respect too, the order of her
recommendations; which are always stronger or weaker in proportion
as our bene¬cence is more or less necessary, or can be more or less

Chapter I Of the order in which individuals are recommended
by nature to our care and attention
± Every man, as the Stoics used to say, is ¬rst and principally recom-
mended to his own care; and every man is certainly, in every respect,
¬tter and abler to take care of himself than of any other person.±°
 See above, Advertisement , and the last paragraph of the book, VII.iv.·.
±° See, e.g., Cicero, De of¬ciis, III.v. and III.x.. For the following considerations of the proper
order in which others are the objects of our benevolence, cf. ibid. I.xiv.µ and µ°ff.

Of the character of virtue

Every man feels his own pleasures and his own pains more sensibly
than those of other people. The former are the original sensations;
the latter the re¬‚ected or sympathetic images of those sensations. The
former may be said to be the substance; the latter the shadow.

 After himself, the members of his own family, those who usually live
in the same house with him, his parents, his children, his brothers and
sisters, are naturally the objects of his warmest affections. They are
naturally and usually the persons upon whose happiness or misery his
conduct must have the greatest in¬‚uence. He is more habituated to
sympathize with them. He knows better how every thing is likely to
affect them, and his sympathy with them is more precise and determi-
nate, than it can be with the greater part of other people. It approaches
nearer, in short, to what he feels for himself.

 This sympathy too, and the affections which are founded on it, are
by nature more strongly directed towards his children than towards
his parents, and his tenderness for the former seems generally a more
active principle, than his reverence and gratitude towards the latter. In
the natural state of things, it has already been observed,±± the existence
of the child, for some time after it comes into the world, depends
altogether upon the care of the parent; that of the parent does not
naturally depend upon the care of the child. In the eye of nature, it
would seem, a child is a more important object than an old man; and
excites a much more lively, as well as a much more universal sympathy.
It ought to do so. Every thing may be expected, or at least hoped, from
the child. In ordinary cases, very little can be either expected or hoped
from the old man. The weakness of childhood interests the affections
of the most brutal and hard-hearted. It is only to the virtuous and
humane, that the in¬rmities of old age are not the objects of contempt
and aversion. In ordinary cases, an old man dies without being much
regretted by any body. Scarce a child can die without rending asunder
the heart of somebody.

 The earliest friendships, the friendships which are naturally con-
tracted when the heart is most susceptible of that feeling, are those

±± III..±.

The Theory of Moral Sentiments

among brothers and sisters. Their good agreement, while they remain
in the same family, is necessary for its tranquillity and happiness. They
are capable of giving more pleasure or pain to one another than to the
greater part of other people. Their situation renders their mutual
sympathy of the utmost importance to their common happiness; and,
by the wisdom of nature, the same situation, by obliging them to ac-
commodate to one another, renders that sympathy more habitual, and
thereby more lively, more distinct, and more determinate.

µ The children of brothers and sisters are naturally connected by the
friendship which, after separating into different families, continues to
take place between their parents. Their good agreement improves the
enjoyment of that friendship; their discord would disturb it. As they
seldom live in the same family, however, though of more importance
to one another, than to the greater part of other people, they are
of much less than brothers and sisters. As their mutual sympathy
is less necessary, so it is less habitual, and therefore proportionately

 The children of cousins, being still less connected, are of still less
importance to one another; and the affection gradually diminishes as
the relation grows more and more remote.

· What is called affection, is in reality nothing but habitual sympathy.
Our concern in the happiness or misery of those who are the objects
of what we call our affections; our desire to promote the one, and
to prevent the other; are either the actual feeling of that habitual
sympathy, or the necessary consequences of that feeling. Relations
being usually placed in situations which naturally create this habitual
sympathy, it is expected that a suitable degree of affection should take
place among them. We generally ¬nd that it actually does take place;
we therefore naturally expect that it should; and we are, upon that
account, more shocked when, upon any occasion, we ¬nd that it does
not. The general rule is established, that persons related to one another
in a certain degree, ought always to be affected towards one another in
a certain manner, and that there is always the highest impropriety, and
sometimes even a sort of impiety, in their being affected in a different
manner. A parent without parental tenderness, a child devoid of all

Of the character of virtue

¬lial reverence, appear monsters, the objects, not of hatred only, but
of horror.

 Though in a particular instance, the circumstances which usually pro-
duce those natural affections, as they are called, may, by some accident,
not have taken place, yet respect for the general rule will frequently,
in some measure, supply their place, and produce something which,
though not altogether the same, may bear, however, a very considerable
resemblance to those affections.± A father is apt to be less attached
to a child, who, by some accident, has been separated from him in its
infancy, and who does not return to him till it is grown up to man-
hood. The father is apt to feel less paternal tenderness for the child;
the child, less ¬lial reverence for the father. Brothers and sisters, when
they have been educated in distant countries, are apt to feel a similar
diminution of affection. With the dutiful and the virtuous, however,
respect for the general rule will frequently produce something which,
though by no means the same, yet may very much resemble those nat-
ural affections. Even during the separation, the father and the child,
the brothers or the sisters, are by no means indifferent to one another.
They all consider one another as persons to and from whom certain
affections are due, and they live in the hopes of being some time or
another in a situation to enjoy that friendship which ought naturally to
have taken place among persons so nearly connected. Till they meet,
the absent son, the absent brother, are frequently the favourite son,
the favourite brother. They have never offended, or, if they have, it
is so long ago, that the offence is forgotten, as some childish trick
not worth the remembering. Every account they have heard of one
another, if conveyed by people of any tolerable good nature, has been,
in the highest degree, ¬‚attering and favourable. The absent son, the
absent brother, is not like other ordinary sons and brothers; but an
all-perfect son, an all-perfect brother; and the most romantic hopes
are entertained of the happiness to be enjoyed in the friendship and
conversation of such persons. When they meet, it is often with so
strong a disposition to conceive that habitual sympathy which con-
stitutes the family affection, that they are very apt to fancy they have
actually conceived it, and to behave to one another as if they had.

± Cf. III..·“±, and VII.iii...

The Theory of Moral Sentiments

Time and experience, however, I am afraid, too frequently undeceive
them. Upon a more familiar acquaintance, they frequently discover
in one another habits, humours, and inclinations, different from what
they expected, to which, from want of habitual sympathy, from want
of the real principle and foundation of what is properly called family-
affection, they cannot now easily accommodate themselves. They have
never lived in the situation which almost necessarily forces that easy
accommodation, and though they may now be sincerely desirous to
assume it, they have really become incapable of doing so. Their famil-
iar conversation and intercourse soon become less pleasing to them,
and, upon that account, less frequent. They may continue to live with
one another in the mutual exchange of all essential good of¬ces, and
with every other external appearance of decent regard. But that cor-
dial satisfaction, that delicious sympathy, that con¬dential openness
and ease, which naturally take place in the conversation of those who
have lived long and familiarly with one another, it seldom happens
that they can completely enjoy.

 It is only, however, with the dutiful and the virtuous, that the general
rule has even this slender authority. With the dissipated, the pro¬‚igate,
and the vain, it is entirely disregarded. They are so far from respecting
it, that they seldom talk of it but with the most indecent derision; and
an early and long separation of this kind never fails to estrange them
most completely from one another. With such persons, respect for
the general rule can at best produce only a cold and affected civility
(a very slender semblance of real regard); and even this, the slightest
offence, the smallest opposition of interest, commonly puts an end to

±° The education of boys at distant great schools, of young men at distant
colleges, of young ladies in distant nunneries and boarding-schools,
seems, in the higher ranks of life, to have hurt most essentially the
domestic morals, and consequently the domestic happiness, both of
France and England.± Do you wish to educate your children to be
dutiful to their parents, to be kind and affectionate to their brothers
and sisters? put them under the necessity of being dutiful children,

± Cf. WN V.i.f..

Of the character of virtue

of being kind and affectionate brothers and sisters: educate them in
your own house. From their parent™s house they may, with propri-
ety and advantage, go out every day to attend public schools: but let
their dwelling be always at home. Respect for you must always im-
pose a very useful restraint upon their conduct; and respect for them
may frequently impose no useless restraint upon your own. Surely
no acquirement, which can possibly be derived from what is called
a public education, can make any sort of compensation for what is
almost certainly and necessarily lost by it. Domestic education is the
institution of nature; public education, the contrivance of man. It is
surely unnecessary to say, which is likely to be the wisest.

±± In some tragedies and romances, we meet with many beautiful and
interesting scenes, founded upon, what is called, the force of blood,
or upon the wonderful affection which near relations are supposed to
conceive for one another, even before they know that they have any
such connection. This force of blood, however, I am afraid, exists no-
where but in tragedies and romances. Even in tragedies and romances,
it is never supposed to take place between any relations, but those who
are naturally bred up in the same house; between parents and children,
between brothers and sisters. To imagine any such mysterious affec-
tion between cousins, or even between aunts or uncles, and nephews
or nieces, would be too ridiculous.

± In pastoral countries, and in all countries where the authority of law
is not alone suf¬cient to give perfect security to every member of the
state, all the different branches of the same family commonly chuse
to live in the neighbourhood of one another.± Their association is
frequently necessary for their common defence. They are all, from the
highest to the lowest, of more or less importance to one another. Their
concord strengthens their necessary association; their discord always
weakens, and might destroy it. They have more intercourse with one
another, than with the members of any other tribe. The remotest
members of the same tribe claim some connection with one another;
and, where all other circumstances are equal, expect to be treated
± Smith operated with a theory of four ˜stages™, or general types, of society; hunters, nomads,
agricultural, or pastoral, societies, and commercial societies. See esp. WN V.i.a“b, and LJ (A)
i.·“µ, (B) ±.

The Theory of Moral Sentiments

with more distinguished attention than is due to those who have no
such pretensions. It is not many years ago that, in the Highlands of
Scotland, the Chieftain used to consider the poorest man of his clan,
as his cousin and relation. The same extensive regard to kindred is
said to take place among the Tartars, the Arabs, the Turkomans, and,
I believe, among all other nations who are nearly in the same state of
society in which the Scots Highlanders were about the beginning of
the present century.

± In commercial countries, where the authority of law is always perfectly
suf¬cient to protect the meanest man in the state, the descendants of
the same family, having no such motive for keeping together, naturally
separate and disperse, as interest or inclination may direct. They soon
cease to be of importance to one another; and, in a few generations,


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