A Treatise of Human Nature HTML version

To discover the true origin of morals, and of that love or hatred, which arises from mental
qualities, we must take the matter pretty deep, and compare some principles, which have
been already examined and explained.
We may begin with considering a-new the nature and force of sympathy. The minds of all
men are similar in their feelings and operations; nor can any one be actuated by any
affection, of which all others are not, in some degree, susceptible. As in strings equally
wound up, the motion of one communicates itself to the rest; so all the affections readily
pass from one person to another, and beget correspondent movements in every human
creature. When I see the effects of passion in the voice and gesture of any person, my
mind immediately passes from these effects to their causes, and forms such a lively idea
of the passion, as is presently converted into the passion itself. In like manner, when I
perceive the causes of any emotion, my mind is conveyed to the effects, and is actuated
with a like emotion. Were I present at any of the more terrible operations of surgery, it is
certain, that even before it begun, the preparation of the instruments, the laying of the
bandages in order, the heating of the irons, with all the signs of anxiety and concern in
the patient and assistants, would have a great effect upon my mind, and excite the
strongest sentiments of pity and terror. No passion of another discovers itself
immediately to the mind. We are only sensible of its causes or effects. From these we
infer the passion: And consequently these give rise to our sympathy.
Our sense of beauty depends very much on this principle; and where any object has
atendency to produce pleasure in its possessor, it is always regarded as beautiful; as every
object, that has a tendency to produce pain, is disagreeable and deformed. Thus the
conveniency of a house, the fertility of a field, the strength of a horse, the capacity,
security, and swift-sailing of a vessel, form the principal beauty of these several objects.
Here the object, which is denominated beautiful, pleases only by its tendency to produce
a certain effect. That effect is the pleasure or advantage of some other person. Now the
pleasure of a stranger, for whom we have no friendship, pleases us only by sympathy. To
this principle, therefore, is owing the beauty, which we find in every thing that is useful.
How considerable a part this is of beauty can easily appear upon reflection. Wherever an
object has a tendency to produce pleasure in the possessor, or in other words, is the
proper cause of pleasure, it is sure to please the spectator, by a delicate sympathy with the
possessor. Most of the works of art are esteemed beautiful, in proportion to their fitness
for the use of man, and even many of the productions of nature derive their beauty from
that source. Handsome and beautiful, on most occasions, is nor an absolute but a relative
quality, and pleases us by nothing but its tendency to produce an end that is agreeable.
[Footnote 25 Decentior equus cujus astricta sunt ilia; sed idem velocior. Pulcher aspectu
sit athieta, cujus lacertos exercitatio expressit; idem certamini paratior. Nunquam vero
species ab utilitate dividitur. Sed hoc quidem discernere, modici judicii est. Quinct. lib. 8.
(A horse with narrow flanks looks more comely; It also moves faster. An athlete whose
muscles have been developed by training presents a handsome appearance; he is also
better prepared for the contest. Attractive appearance is invariably associated with
efficient functioning. Yet it takes no outstanding powers of judgement to wake this