An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals HTML version

But perhaps the difficulty of accounting for these effects of usefulness, or its contrary,
has kept philosophers from admitting them into their systems of ethics, and has induced
them rather to employ any other principle, in explaining the origin of moral good and
evil. But it is no just reason for rejecting any principle, confirmed by experience, that we
cannot give a satisfactory account of its origin, nor are able to resolve it into other more
general principles. And if we would employ a little thought on the present subject, we
need be at no loss to account for the influence of utility, and to deduce it from principles,
the most known and avowed in human nature.
From the apparent usefulness of the social virtues, it has readily been inferred by sceptics,
both ancient and modern, that all moral distinctions arise from education, and were, at
first, invented, and afterwards encouraged, by the art of politicians, in order to render
men tractable, and subdue their natural ferocity and selfishness, which incapacitated them
for society. This principle, indeed, of precept and education, must so far be owned to
have a powerful influence, that it may frequently increase or diminish, beyond their
natural standard, the sentiments of approbation or dislike; and may even, in particular
instances, create, without any natural principle, a new sentiment of this kind; as is evident
in all superstitious practices and observances: But that ALL moral affection or dislike
arises from this origin, will never surely be allowed by any judicious enquirer. Had nature
made no such distinction, founded on the original constitution of the mind, the words,
DESPICABLE, had never had place in any language; nor could politicians, had they
invented these terms, ever have been able to render them intelligible, or make them
convey any idea to the audience. So that nothing can be more superficial than this
paradox of the sceptics; and it were well, if, in the abstruser studies of logic and
metaphysics, we could as easily obviate the cavils of that sect, as in the practical and
more intelligible sciences of politics and morals.
The social virtues must, therefore, be allowed to have a natural beauty and amiableness,
which, at first, antecedent to all precept or education, recommends them to the esteem of
uninstructed mankind, and engages their affections. And as the public utility of these
virtues is the chief circumstance, whence they derive their merit, it follows, that the end,
which they have a tendency to promote, must be some way agreeable to us, and take hold
of some natural affection. It must please, either from considerations of self-interest, or
from more generous motives and regards.
It has often been asserted, that, as every man has a strong connexion with society, and
perceives the impossibility of his solitary subsistence, he becomes, on that account,
favourable to all those habits or principles, which promote order in society, and insure to
him the quiet possession of so inestimable a blessing, As much as we value our own
happiness and welfare, as much must we applaud the practice of justice and humanity, by
which alone the social confederacy can be maintained, and every man reap the fruits of
mutual protection and assistance.
This deduction of morals from self-love, or a regard to private interest, is an obvious
thought, and has not arisen wholly from the wanton sallies and sportive assaults of the