A Treatise of Human Nature HTML version
PART III.3: Of The Other Virtues And Vices
SECT. I OF THE ORIGIN OF THE NATURAL VIRTUES AND VICES
We come now to the examination of such virtues and vices as are entirely natural, and
have no dependance on the artifice and contrivance of men. The examination of these
will conclude this system of morals.
The chief spring or actuating principle of the human mind is pleasure or pain; and when
these sensations are removed, both from our thought and feeling, we are, in a great
measure, incapable of passion or action, of desire or volition. The most immediate effects
of pleasure and pain are the propense and averse motions of the mind; which are
diversified into volition, into desire and aversion, grief and joy, hope and fear, according
as the pleasure or pain changes its situation, and becomes probable or improbable, certain
or uncertain, or is considered as out of our power for the present moment. But when
along with this, the objects, that cause pleasure or pain, acquire a relation to ourselves or
others; they still continue to excite desire and aversion, grief and joy: But cause, at the
same time, the indirect passions of pride or humility, love or hatred, which in this case
have a double relation of impressions and ideas to the pain or pleasure.
We have already observed, that moral distinctions depend entirely on certain peculiar
sentiments of pain and pleasure, and that whatever mental quality in ourselves or others
gives us a satisfaction, by the survey or reflection, is of course virtuous; as every thing of
this nature, that gives uneasiness, is vicious. Now since every quality in ourselves or
others, which gives pleasure, always causes pride or love; as every one, that produces
uneasiness, excites humility or hatred: It follows, that these two particulars are to be
considered as equivalent, with regard to our mental qualities, virtue and the power of
producing love or pride, vice and the power of producing humility or hatred. In every
case, therefore, we must judge of the one by the other; and may pronounce any quality of
the mind virtuous, which causes love or pride; and any one vicious, which causes hatred
If any action be either virtuous or vicious, it is only as a sign of some quality or character.
It must depend upon durable principles of the mind, which extend over the whole
conduct, and enter into the personal character. Actions themselves, not proceeding from
any constant principle, have no influence on love or hatred, pride or humility; and
consequently are never considered in morality.
This reflection is self-evident, and deserves to be attended to, as being of the utmost
importance in the present subject. We are never to consider any single action in our
enquiries concerning the origin of morals; but only the quality or character from which
the action proceeded. These alone are durable enough to affect our sentiments concerning
the person. Actions are, indeed, better indications of a character than words, or even
wishes and sentiments; but it is only so far as they are such indications, that they are
attended with love or hatred, praise or blame.