An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals HTML version

V. Why Utility Pleases
It seems so natural a thought to ascribe to their utility the praise, which we bestow on the
social virtues, that one would expect to meet with this principle everywhere in moral
writers, as the chief foundation of their reasoning and enquiry. In common life, we may
observe, that the circumstance of utility is always appealed to; nor is it supposed, that a
greater eulogy can be given to any man, than to display his usefulness to the public, and
enumerate the services, which he has performed to mankind and society. What praise,
even of an inanimate form, if the regularity and elegance of its parts destroy not its fitness
for any useful purpose! And how satisfactory an apology for any disproportion or
seeming deformity, if we can show the necessity of that particular construction for the
use intended! A ship appears more beautiful to an artist, or one moderately skilled in
navigation, where its prow is wide and swelling beyond its poop, than if it were framed
with a precise geometrical regularity, in contradiction to all the laws of mechanics. A
building, whose doors and windows were exact squares, would hurt the eye by that very
proportion; as ill adapted to the figure of a human creature, for whose service the fabric
was intended.
What wonder then, that a man, whose habits and conduct are hurtful to society, and
dangerous or pernicious to every one who has an intercourse with him, should, on that
account, be an object of disapprobation, and communicate to every spectator the strongest
sentiment of disgust and hatred.
[Footnote: We ought not to imagine, because an inanimate object may be useful as well
as a man, that therefore it ought also, according to this system, to merit he appellation of
VIRTUOUS. The sentiments, excited by utility, are, in the two cases, very different; and
the one is mixed with affection, esteem, approbation, &c., and not the other. In like
manner, an inanimate object may have good colour and proportions as well as a human
figure. But can we ever be in love with the former? There are a numerous set of passions
and sentiments, of which thinking rational beings are, by the original constitution of
nature, the only proper objects: and though the very same qualities be transferred to an
insensible, inanimate being, they will not excite the same sentiments. The beneficial
qualities of herbs and minerals are, indeed, sometimes called their VIRTUES; but this is
an effect of the caprice of language, which out not to be regarded in reasoning. For
though there be a species of approbation attending even inanimate objects, when
beneficial, yet this sentiment is so weak, and so different from that which is directed to
beneficent magistrates or statesman; that they ought not to be ranked under the same class
or appellation.
A very small variation of the object, even where the same qualities are preserved, will
destroy a sentiment. Thus, the same beauty, transferred to a different sex, excites no
amorous passion, where nature is not extremely perverted.]