Not a member?     Existing members login below:

An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals

to the object either honorable or dishonorable appellations. A griping miser, for instance,
praises extremely INDUSTRY and FRUGALITY even in others, and sets them, in his
estimation, above all the other virtues. He knows the good that results from them, and
feels that species of happiness with a more lively sympathy, than any other you could
represent to him; though perhaps he would not part with a shilling to make the fortune of
the industrious man, whom he praises so highly.]
Let us suppose a person originally framed so as to have no manner of concern for his
fellow-creatures, but to regard the happiness and misery of all sensible beings with
greater indifference than even two contiguous shades of the same colour. Let us suppose,
if the prosperity of nations were laid on the one hand, and their ruin on the other, and he
were desired to choose; that he would stand like the schoolman's ass, irresolute and
undetermined, between equal motives; or rather, like the same ass between two pieces of
wood or marble, without any inclination or propensity to either side. The consequence, I
believe, must be allowed just, that such a person, being absolutely unconcerned, either for
the public good of a community or the private utility of others, would look on every
quality, however pernicious, or however beneficial, to society, or to its possessor, with
the same indifference as on the most common and uninteresting object.
But if, instead of this fancied monster, we suppose a MAN to form a judgement or
determination in the case, there is to him a plain foundation of preference, where
everything else is equal; and however cool his choice may be, if his heart be selfish, or if
the persons interested be remote from him; there must still be a choice or distinction
between what is useful, and what is pernicious. Now this distinction is the same in all its
parts, with the MORAL DISTINCTION, whose foundation has been so often, and so
much in vain, enquired after. The same endowments of the mind, in every circumstance,
are agreeable to the sentiment of morals and to that of humanity; the same temper is
susceptible of high degrees of the one sentiment and of the other; and the same alteration
in the objects, by their nearer approach or by connexions, enlivens the one and the other.
By all the rules of philosophy, therefore, we must conclude, that these sentiments are
originally the same; since, in each particular, even the most minute, they are governed by
the same laws, and are moved by the same objects.
Why do philosophers infer, with the greatest certainty, that the moon is kept in its orbit
by the same force of gravity, that makes bodies fall near the surface of the earth, but
because these effects are, upon computation, found similar and equal? And must not this
argument bring as strong conviction, in moral as in natural disquisitions?
To prove, by any long detail, that all the qualities, useful to the possessor, are approved
of, and the contrary censured, would be superfluous. The least reflection on what is every
day experienced in life, will be sufficient. We shall only mention a few instances, in order
to remove, if possible, all doubt and hesitation.
The quality, the most necessary for the execution of any useful enterprise, is discretion;
by which we carry on a safe intercourse with others, give due attention to our own and to
their character, weigh each circumstance of the business which we undertake, and employ
Remove