An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals HTML version

Again; suppose, that, though the necessities of human race continue the same as at
present, yet the mind is so enlarged, and so replete with friendship and generosity, that
every man has the utmost tenderness for every man, and feels no more concern for his
own interest than for that of his fellows; it seems evident, that the use of justice would, in
this case, be suspended by such an extensive benevolence, nor would the divisions and
barriers of property and obligation have ever been thought of. Why should I bind another,
by a deed or promise, to do me any good office, when I know that he is already
prompted, by the strongest inclination, to seek my happiness, and would, of himself,
perform the desired service; except the hurt, he thereby receives, be greater than the
benefit accruing to me? in which case, he knows, that, from my innate humanity and
friendship, I should be the first to oppose myself to his imprudent generosity. Why raise
landmarks between my neighbour's field and mine, when my heart has made no division
between our interests; but shares all his joys and sorrows with the same force and
vivacity as if originally my own? Every man, upon this supposition, being a second self
to another, would trust all his interests to the discretion of every man; without jealousy,
without partition, without distinction. And the whole human race would form only one
family; where all would lie in common, and be used freely, without regard to property;
but cautiously too, with as entire regard to the necessities of each individual, as if our
own interests were most intimately concerned.
In the present disposition of the human heart, it would, perhaps, be difficult to find
complete instances of such enlarged affections; but still we may observe, that the case of
families approaches towards it; and the stronger the mutual benevolence is among the
individuals, the nearer it approaches; till all distinction of property be, in a great measure,
lost and confounded among them. Between married persons, the cement of friendship is
by the laws supposed so strong as to abolish all division of possessions; and has often, in
reality, the force ascribed to it. And it is observable, that, during the ardour of new
enthusiasms, when every principle is inflamed into extravagance, the community of
goods has frequently been attempted; and nothing but experience of its inconveniencies,
from the returning or disguised selfishness of men, could make the imprudent fanatics
adopt anew the ideas of justice and of separate property. So true is it, that this virtue
derives its existence entirely from its necessary USE to the intercourse and social state of
To make this truth more evident, let us reverse the foregoing suppositions; and carrying
everything to the opposite extreme, consider what would be the effect of these new
situations. Suppose a society to fall into such want of all common necessaries, that the
utmost frugality and industry cannot preserve the greater number from perishing, and the
whole from extreme misery; it will readily, I believe, be admitted, that the strict laws of
justice are suspended, in such a pressing emergence, and give place to the stronger
motives of necessity and self-preservation. Is it any crime, after a shipwreck, to seize
whatever means or instrument of safety one can lay hold of, without regard to former
limitations of property? Or if a city besieged were perishing with hunger; can we
imagine, that men will see any means of preservation before them, and lose their lives,
from a scrupulous regard to what, in other situations, would be the rules of equity and
justice? The use and tendency of that virtue is to procure happiness and security, by