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An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals

Treating vice with the greatest candour, and making it all possible concessions, we must
acknowledge that there is not, in any instance, the smallest pretext for giving it the
preference above virtue, with a view of self-interest; except, perhaps, in the case of
justice, where a man, taking things in a certain light, may often seem to be a loser by his
integrity. And though it is allowed that, without a regard to property, no society could
subsist; yet according to the imperfect way in which human affairs are conducted, a
sensible knave, in particular incidents, may think that an act of iniquity or infidelity will
make a considerable addition to his fortune, without causing any considerable breach in
the social union and confederacy. That HONESTY IS THE BEST POLICY, may be a
good general rule, but is liable to many exceptions; and he, it may perhaps be thought,
conducts himself with most wisdom, who observes the general rule, and takes advantage
of all the exceptions. I must confess that, if a man think that this reasoning much requires
an answer, it would be a little difficult to find any which will to him appear satisfactory
and convincing. If his heart rebel not against such pernicious maxims, if he feel no
reluctance to the thoughts of villainy or baseness, he has indeed lost a considerable
motive to virtue; and we may expect that this practice will be answerable to his
speculation. But in all ingenuous natures, the antipathy to treachery and roguery is too
strong to be counter-balanced by any views of profit or pecuniary advantage. Inward
peace of mind, consciousness of integrity, a satisfactory review of our own conduct; these
are circumstances, very requisite to happiness, and will be cherished and cultivated by
every honest man, who feels the importance of them.
Such a one has, besides, the frequent satisfaction of seeing knaves, with all their
pretended cunning and abilities, betrayed by their own maxims; and while they purpose
to cheat with moderation and secrecy, a tempting incident occurs, nature is frail, and they
give into the snare; whence they can never extricate themselves, without a total loss of
reputation, and the forfeiture of all future trust and confidence with mankind.
But were they ever so secret and successful, the honest man, if he has any tincture of
philosophy, or even common observation and reflection, will discover that they
themselves are, in the end, the greatest dupes, and have sacrificed the invaluable
enjoyment of a character, with themselves at least, for the acquisition of worthless toys
and gewgaws. How little is requisite to supply the necessities of nature? And in a view to
pleasure, what comparison between the unbought satisfaction of conversation, society,
study, even health and the common beauties of nature, but above all the peaceful
reflection on one's own conduct; what comparison, I say, between these and the feverish,
empty amusements of luxury and expense? These natural pleasures, indeed, are really
without price; both because they are below all price in their attainment, and above it in
their enjoyment.
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