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An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals

chymistry, to resolve the elements of this passion, if I may so speak, into those of
another, and explain every affection to be self-love, twisted and moulded, by a particular
turn of imagination, into a variety of appearances. But as the same turn of imagination
prevails not in every man, nor gives the same direction to the original passion; this is
sufficient even according to the selfish system to make the widest difference in human
characters, and denominate one man virtuous and humane, another vicious and meanly
interested. I esteem the man whose self-love, by whatever means, is so directed as to give
him a concern for others, and render him serviceable to society: as I hate or despise him,
who has no regard to any thing beyond his own gratifications and enjoyments. In vain
would you suggest that these characters, though seemingly opposite, are at bottom the
same, and that a very inconsiderable turn of thought forms the whole difference between
them. Each character, notwithstanding these inconsiderable differences, appears to me, in
practice, pretty durable and untransmutable. And I find not in this more than in other
subjects, that the natural sentiments arising from the general appearances of things are
easily destroyed by subtile reflections concerning the minute origin of these appearances.
Does not the lively, cheerful colour of a countenance inspire me with complacency and
pleasure; even though I learn from philosophy that all difference of complexion arises
from the most minute differences of thickness, in the most minute parts of the skin; by
means of which a superficies is qualified to reflect one of the original colours of light,
and absorb the others?
But though the question concerning the universal or partial selfishness of man be not so
material as is usually imagined to morality and practice, it is certainly of consequence in
the speculative science of human nature, and is a proper object of curiosity and enquiry.
It may not, therefore, be unsuitable, in this place, to bestow a few reflections upon it.
[Footnote: Benevolence naturally divides into two kinds, the GENERAL and the
PARTICULAR. The first is, where we have no friendship or connexion or esteem for the
person, but feel only a general sympathy with him or a compassion for his pains, and a
congratulation with his pleasures. The other species of benevolence is founded on an
opinion of virtue, on services done us, or on some particular connexions. Both these
sentiments must be allowed real in human nature: but whether they will resolve into some
nice considerations of self-love, is a question more curious than important. The former
sentiment, to wit, that of general benevolence, or humanity, or sympathy, we shall have
occasion frequently to treat of in the course of this inquiry; and I assume it as real, from
general experience, without any other proof.]
The most obvious objection to the selfish hypothesis is, that, as it is contrary to common
feeling and our most unprejudiced notions, there is required the highest stretch of
philosophy to establish so extraordinary a paradox. To the most careless observer there
appear to be such dispositions as benevolence and generosity; such affections as love,
friendship, compassion, gratitude. These sentiments have their causes, effects, objects,
and operations, marked by common language and observation, and plainly distinguished
from those of the selfish passions. And as this is the obvious appearance of things, it must
be admitted, till some hypothesis be discovered, which by penetrating deeper into human
nature, may prove the former affections to be nothing but modifications of the latter. All