An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals
violation of them would be regarded as no less, or even as more criminal, than any
private injury or injustice.
The long and helpless infancy of man requires the combination of parents for the
subsistence of their young; and that combination requires the virtue of chastity or fidelity
to the marriage bed. Without such a UTILITY, it will readily be owned, that such a virtue
would never have been thought of.
[Footnote: The only solution, which Plato gives to all the objections that might be raised
against the community of women, established in his imaginary commonwealth, is, [Greek
quotation here]. Scite enim istud et dicitur et dicetur, Id quod utile sit honestum esse,
quod autem inutile sit turpe esse. [De Rep lib v p 457 ex edit Ser]. And this maxim will
admit of no doubt, where public utility is concerned, which is Plato's meaning. And
indeed to what other purpose do all the ideas of chastity and modesty serve? "Nisi utile
est quod facimus, frustra est gloria," says Phaedrus." [Greek quotation here]," says
Plutarch, de vitioso pudore. "Nihil eorum quae damnosa sunt, pulchrum est." The same
was the opinion of the Stoics [Greek quotation here; from Sept. Emp lib III cap 20].
An infidelity of this nature is much more PERNICIOUS in WOMEN than in MEN.
Hence the laws of chastity are much stricter over the one sex than over the other.
These rules have all a reference to generation; and yet women past child-bearing are no
more supposed to be exempted from them than those in the flower of their youth and
beauty. GENERAL RULES are often extended beyond the principle whence they first
arise; and this in all matters of taste and sentiment. It is a vulgar story at Paris, that,
during the rage of the Mississippi, a hump- backed fellow went every day into the Rue de
Quincempoix, where the stock-jobbers met in great crowds, and was well paid for
allowing them to make use of his hump as a desk, in order to sign their contracts upon it.
Would the fortune, which he raised by this expedient, make him a handsome fellow;
though it be confessed, that personal beauty arises very much from ideas of utility? The
imagination is influenced by associations of ideas; which, though they arise at first from
the judgement, are not easily altered by every particular exception that occurs to us. To
which we may add, in the present case of chastity, that the example of the old would be
pernicious to the young; and that women, continually foreseeing that a certain time would
bring them the liberty of indulgence, would naturally advance that period, and think more
lightly of this whole duty, so requisite to society.
Those who live in the same family have such frequent opportunities of licence of this
kind, that nothing could prevent purity of manners, were marriage allowed, among the
nearest relations, or any intercourse of love between them ratified by law and custom.
Incest, therefore, being PERNICIOUS in a superior degree, has also a superior turpitude
and moral deformity annexed to it.
What is the reason, why, by the Athenian laws, one might marry a half-sister by the
father, but not by the mother? Plainly this: The manners of the Athenians were so
reserved, that a man was never permitted to approach the women's apartment, even in the