An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals
Liberality in princes is regarded as a mark of beneficence, but when it occurs, that the
homely bread of the honest and industrious is often thereby converted into delicious cates
for the idle and the prodigal, we soon retract our heedless praises. The regrets of a prince,
for having lost a day, were noble and generous: but had he intended to have spent it in
acts of generosity to his greedy courtiers, it was better lost than misemployed after that
Luxury, or a refinement on the pleasures and conveniences of life, had not long been
supposed the source of every corruption in government, and the immediate cause of
faction, sedition, civil wars, and the total loss of liberty. It was, therefore, universally
regarded as a vice, and was an object of declamation to all satirists, and severe moralists.
Those, who prove, or attempt to prove, that such refinements rather tend to the increase
of industry, civility, and arts regulate anew our MORAL as well as POLITICAL
sentiments, and represent, as laudable or innocent, what had formerly been regarded as
pernicious and blameable.
Upon the whole, then, it seems undeniable, THAT nothing can bestow more merit on any
human creature than the sentiment of benevolence in an eminent degree; and THAT a
PART, at least, of its merit arises from its tendency to promote the interests of our
species, and bestow happiness on human society. We carry our view into the salutary
consequences of such a character and disposition; and whatever has so benign an
influence, and forwards so desirable an end, is beheld with complacency and pleasure.
The social virtues are never regarded without their beneficial tendencies, nor viewed as
barren and unfruitful. The happiness of mankind, the order of society, the harmony of
families, the mutual support of friends, are always considered as the result of their gentle
dominion over the breasts of men.
How considerable a PART of their merit we ought to ascribe to their utility, will better
appear from future disquisitions; [Footnote: Sect. III. and IV.] as well as the reason, why
this circumstance has such a command over our esteem and approbation. [Footnote: Sect.