An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals
our hearts are immediately caught, our sympathy enlivened, and our cool approbation
converted into the warmest sentiments of friendship and regard. These seem necessary
and infallible consequences of the general principles of human nature, as discovered in
common life and practice.
Again; reverse these views and reasonings: Consider the matter a posteriori; and
weighing the consequences, enquire if the merit of social virtue be not, in a great
measure, derived from the feelings of humanity, with which it affects the spectators. It
appears to be matter of fact, that the circumstance of UTILITY, in all subjects, is a source
of praise and approbation: That it is constantly appealed to in all moral decisions
concerning the merit and demerit of actions: That it is the SOLE source of that high
regard paid to justice, fidelity, honour, allegiance, and chastity: That it is inseparable
from all the other social virtues, humanity, generosity, charity, affability, lenity, mercy,
and moderation: And, in a word, that it is a foundation of the chief part of morals, which
has a reference to mankind and our fellow-creatures.
It appears also, that, in our general approbation of characters and manners, the useful
tendency of the social virtues moves us not by any regards to self-interest, but has an
influence much more universal and extensive. It appears that a tendency to public good,
and to the promoting of peace, harmony, and order in society, does always, by affecting
the benevolent principles of our frame, engage us on the side of the social virtues. And it
appears, as an additional confirmation, that these principles of humanity and sympathy
enter so deeply into all our sentiments, and have so powerful an influence, as may enable
them to excite the strongest censure and applause. The present theory is the simple result
of all these inferences, each of which seems founded on uniform experience and
Were it doubtful, whether there were any such principle in our nature as humanity or a
concern for others, yet when we see, in numberless instances, that whatever has a
tendency to promote the interests of society, is so highly approved of, we ought thence to
learn the force of the benevolent principle; since it is impossible for anything to please as
means to an end, where the end is totally indifferent. On the other hand, were it doubtful,
whether there were, implanted in our nature, any general principle of moral blame and
approbation, yet when we see, in numberless instances, the influence of humanity, we
ought thence to conclude, that it is impossible, but that everything which promotes the
interest of society must communicate pleasure, and what is pernicious give uneasiness.
But when these different reflections and observations concur in establishing the same
conclusion, must they not bestow an undisputed evidence upon it?
It is however hoped, that the progress of this argument will bring a farther confirmation
of the present theory, by showing the rise of other sentiments of esteem and regard from
the same or like principles.