An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals HTML version
VIII. Of Qualities Immediately Agreeable To Others
[Footnote: It is the nature and, indeed, the definition of virtue, that it is A QUALITY OF
THE MIND AGREEABLE TO OR APPROVED OF BY EVERY ONE WHO
CONSIDERS OR CONTEMPLATES IT. But some qualities produce pleasure, because
they are useful to society, or useful or agreeable to the person himself; others produce it
more immediately, which is the case with the class of virtues here considered.]
AS the mutual shocks, in SOCIETY, and the oppositions of interest and self-love have
constrained mankind to establish the laws of JUSTICE, in order to preserve the
advantages of mutual assistance and protection: in like manner, the eternal contrarieties,
in COMPANY, of men's pride and self-conceit, have introduced the rules of Good
Manners or Politeness, in order to facilitate the intercourse of minds, and an undisturbed
commerce and conversation. Among well-bred people, a mutual deference is affected;
contempt of others disguised; authority concealed; attention given to each in his turn; and
an easy stream of conversation maintained, without vehemence, without interruption,
without eagerness for victory, and without any airs of superiority. These attentions and
regards are immediately AGREEABLE to others, abstracted from any consideration of
utility or beneficial tendencies: they conciliate affection, promote esteem, and extremely
enhance the merit of the person who regulates his behaviour by them.
Many of the forms of breeding are arbitrary and casual; but the thing expressed by them
is still the same. A Spaniard goes out of his own house before his guest, to signify that he
leaves him master of all. In other countries, the landlord walks out last, as a common
mark of deference and regard.
But, in order to render a man perfect GOOD COMPANY, he must have Wit and
Ingenuity as well as good manners. What wit is, it may not be easy to define; but it is
easy surely to determine that it is a quality immediately AGREEABLE to others, and
communicating, on its first appearance, a lively joy and satisfaction to every one who has
any comprehension of it. The most profound metaphysics, indeed, might be employed in
explaining the various kinds and species of wit; and many classes of it, which are now
received on the sole testimony of taste and sentiment, might, perhaps, be resolved into
more general principles. But this is sufficient for our present purpose, that it does affect
taste and sentiment, and bestowing an immediate enjoyment, is a sure source of
approbation and affection.
In countries where men pass most of their time in conversation, and visits, and
assemblies, these COMPANIONABLE qualities, so to speak, are of high estimation, and
form a chief part of personal merit. In countries where men live a more domestic life, and
either are employed in business, or amuse themselves in a narrower circle of
acquaintance, the more solid qualities are chiefly regarded. Thus, I have often observed,
that, among the French, the first questions with regard to a stranger are, IS HE POLITE?
HAS HE WIT? In our own country, the chief praise bestowed is always that of a GOOD-
NATURED, SENSIBLE FELLOW.