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An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals

I. Of The General Principles Of Morals
DISPUTES with men, pertinaciously obstinate in their principles, are, of all others, the
most irksome; except, perhaps, those with persons, entirely disingenuous, who really do
not believe the opinions they defend, but engage in the controversy, from affectation,
from a spirit of opposition, or from a desire of showing wit and ingenuity, superior to the
rest of mankind. The same blind adherence to their own arguments is to be expected in
both; the same contempt of their antagonists; and the same passionate vehemence, in
inforcing sophistry and falsehood. And as reasoning is not the source, whence either
disputant derives his tenets; it is in vain to expect, that any logic, which speaks not to the
affections, will ever engage him to embrace sounder principles.
Those who have denied the reality of moral distinctions, may be ranked among the
disingenuous disputants; nor is it conceivable, that any human creature could ever
seriously believe, that all characters and actions were alike entitled to the affection and
regard of everyone. The difference, which nature has placed between one man and
another, is so wide, and this difference is still so much farther widened, by education,
example, and habit, that, where the opposite extremes come at once under our
apprehension, there is no scepticism so scrupulous, and scarce any assurance so
determined, as absolutely to deny all distinction between them. Let a man's insensibility
be ever so great, he must often be touched with the images of Right and Wrong; and let
his prejudices be ever so obstinate, he must observe, that others are susceptible of like
impressions. The only way, therefore, of converting an antagonist of this kind, is to leave
him to himself. For, finding that nobody keeps up the controversy with him, it is probable
he will, at last, of himself, from mere weariness, come over to the side of common sense
and reason.
There has been a controversy started of late, much better worth examination, concerning
the general foundation of Morals; whether they be derived from Reason, or from
Sentiment; whether we attain the knowledge of them by a chain of argument and
induction, or by an immediate feeling and finer internal sense; whether, like all sound
judgement of truth and falsehood, they should be the same to every rational intelligent
being; or whether, like the perception of beauty and deformity, they be founded entirely
on the particular fabric and constitution of the human species.
The ancient philosophers, though they often affirm, that virtue is nothing but conformity
to reason, yet, in general, seem to consider morals as deriving their existence from taste
and sentiment. On the other hand, our modern enquirers, though they also talk much of
the beauty of virtue, and deformity of vice, yet have commonly endeavoured to account
for these distinctions by metaphysical reasonings, and by deductions from the most
abstract principles of the understanding. Such confusion reigned in these subjects, that an
opposition of the greatest consequence could prevail between one system and another,
and even in the parts of almost each individual system; and yet nobody, till very lately,
was ever sensible of it. The elegant Lord Shaftesbury, who first gave occasion to remark