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A Treatise of Human Nature

the attention we give to our offspring. In this case, therefore, all men suppose a motive to
the action distinct from a sense of duty.
Here is a man, that does many benevolent actions; relieves the distressed, comforts the
afflicted, and extends his bounty even to the greatest strangers. No character can be more
amiable and virtuous. We regard these actions as proofs of the greatest humanity. This
humanity bestows a merit on the actions. A regard to this merit is, therefore, a secondary
consideration, and derived from the antecedent principle of humanity, which is
meritorious and laudable.
In short, it may be established as an undoubted maxim, THAT NO ACTION CAN BE
VIRTUOUS, OR MORALLY GOOD, UNLESS THERE BE IN HUMAN NATURE
SOME MOTIVE TO PRODUCE IT, DISTINCT FROM THE SENSE OF ITS
MORALITY.
But may not the sense of morality or duty produce an action, without any other motive? I
answer, It may: But this is no objection to the present doctrine. When any virtuous
motive or principle is common in human nature, a person, who feels his heart devoid of
that motive, may hate himself upon that account, and may perform the action without the
motive, from a certain sense of duty, in order to acquire by practice, that virtuous
principle, or at least, to disguise to himself, as much as possible, his want of it. A man
that really feels no gratitude in his temper, is still pleased to perform grateful actions, and
thinks he has, by that means, fulfilled his duty. Actions are at first only considered as
signs of motives: But it is usual, in this case, as in all others, to fix our attention on the
signs, and neglect, in some measure, the thing signifyed. But though, on some occasions,
a person may perform an action merely out of regard to its moral obligation, yet still this
supposes in human nature some distinct principles, which are capable of producing the
action, and whose moral beauty renders the action meritorious.
Now to apply all this to the present case; I suppose a person to have lent me a sum of
money, on condition that it be restored in a few days; and also suppose, that after the
expiration of the term agreed on, he demands the sum: I ask, What reason or motive have
I to restore the money? It will, perhaps, be said, that my regard to justice, and abhorrence
of villainy and knavery, are sufficient reasons for me, if I have the least grain of honesty,
or sense of duty and obligation. And this answer, no doubt, is just and satisfactory to man
in his civilized state, and when trained up according to a certain discipline and education.
But in his rude and more natural condition, if you are pleased to call such a condition
natural, this answer would be rejected as perfectly unintelligible and sophistical. For one
in that situation would immediately ask you, WHEREIN CONSISTS THIS HONESTY
AND JUSTICE, WHICH YOU FIND IN RESTORING A LOAN, AND ABSTAINING
FROM THE PROPERTY OF OTHERS? It does not surely lie in the external action. It
must, therefore be placed in the motive, from which the external action is derived. This
motive can never be a regard to the honesty of the action. For it is a plain fallacy to say,
that a virtuous motive is requisite to render an action honest, and at the same time that a
regard to the honesty is the motive of the action. We can never have a regard to the virtue
of an action, unless the action be antecedently virtuous. No action can be virtuous, but so
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