An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals
Appendix III. Some Farther Considerations With Regard To
The intention of this Appendix is to give some more particular explication of the origin
and nature of Justice, and to mark some differences between it and the other virtues.
The social virtues of humanity and benevolence exert their influence immediately by a
direct tendency or instinct, which chiefly keeps in view the simple object, moving the
affections, and comprehends not any scheme or system, nor the consequences resulting
from the concurrence, imitation, or example of others. A parent flies to the relief of his
child; transported by that natural sympathy which actuates him, and which affords no
leisure to reflect on the sentiments or conduct of the rest of mankind in like
circumstances. A generous man cheerfully embraces an opportunity of serving his friend;
because he then feels himself under the dominion of the beneficent affections, nor is he
concerned whether any other person in the universe were ever before actuated by such
noble motives, or will ever afterwards prove their influence. In all these cases the social
passions have in view a single individual object, and pursue the safety or happiness alone
of the person loved and esteemed. With this they are satisfied: in this they acquiesce. And
as the good, resulting from their benign influence, is in itself complete and entire, it also
excites the moral sentiment of approbation, without any reflection on farther
consequences, and without any more enlarged views of the concurrence or imitation of
the other members of society. On the contrary, were the generous friend or disinterested
patriot to stand alone in the practice of beneficence, this would rather inhance his value in
our eyes, and join the praise of rarity and novelty to his other more exalted merits.
The case is not the same with the social virtues of justice and fidelity. They are highly
useful, or indeed absolutely necessary to the well-being of mankind: but the benefit
resulting from them is not the consequence of every individual single act; but arises from
the whole scheme or system concurred in by the whole, or the greater part of the society.
General peace and order are the attendants of justice or a general abstinence from the
possessions of others; but a particular regard to the particular right of one individual
citizen may frequently, considered in itself, be productive of pernicious consequences.
The result of the individual acts is here, in many instances, directly opposite to that of the
whole system of actions; and the former may be extremely hurtful, while the latter is, to
the highest degree, advantageous. Riches, inherited from a parent, are, in a bad man's
hand, the instrument of mischief. The right of succession may, in one instance, be hurtful.
Its benefit arises only from the observance of the general rule; and it is sufficient, if
compensation be thereby made for all the ills and inconveniences which flow from
particular characters and situations.
Cyrus, young and unexperienced, considered only the individual case before him, and
reflected on a limited fitness and convenience, when he assigned the long coat to the tall
boy, and the short coat to the other of smaller size. His governor instructed him better,
while he pointed out more enlarged views and consequences, and informed his pupil of
the general, inflexible rules, necessary to support general peace and order in society.