An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals HTML version

In conversation, the lively spirit of dialogue is AGREEABLE, even to those who desire
not to have any share in the discourse: hence the teller of long stories, or the pompous
declaimer, is very little approved of. But most men desire likewise their turn in the
conversation, and regard, with a very evil eye, that LOQUACITY which deprives them of
a right they are naturally so jealous of.
There is a sort of harmless LIARS, frequently to be met with in company, who deal much
in the marvellous. Their usual intention is to please and entertain; but as men are most
delighted with what they conceive to be truth, these people mistake extremely the means
of pleasing, and incur universal blame. Some indulgence, however, to lying or fiction is
given in HUMOROUS stories; because it is there really agreeable and entertaining, and
truth is not of any importance.
Eloquence, genius of all kinds, even good sense, and sound reasoning, when it rises to an
eminent degree, and is employed upon subjects of any considerable dignity and nice
discernment; all these endowments seem immediately agreeable, and have a merit distinct
from their usefulness. Rarity, likewise, which so much enhances the price of every thing,
must set an additional value on these noble talents of the human mind.
Modesty may be understood in different senses, even abstracted from chastity, which has
been already treated of. It sometimes means that tenderness and nicety of honour, that
apprehension of blame, that dread of intrusion or injury towards others, that Pudor, which
is the proper guardian of every kind of virtue, and a sure preservative against vice and
corruption. But its most usual meaning is when it is opposed to IMPUDENCE and
ARROGRANCE, and expresses a diffidence of our own judgement, and a due attention
and regard for others. In young men chiefly, this quality is a sure sign of good sense; and
is also the certain means of augmenting that endowment, by preserving their ears open to
instruction, and making them still grasp after new attainments. But it has a further charm
to every spectator; by flattering every man's vanity, and presenting the appearance of a
docile pupil, who receives, with proper attention and respect, every word they utter.
Men have, in general, a much greater propensity to overvalue than undervalue
themselves; notwithstanding the opinion of Aristotle [Footnote: Ethic. ad Nicomachum.].
This makes us more jealous of the excess on the former side, and causes us to regard,
with a peculiar indulgence, all tendency to modesty and self-diffidence; as esteeming the
danger less of falling into any vicious extreme of that nature. It is thus in countries where
men's bodies are apt to exceed in corpulency, personal beauty is placed in a much greater
degree of slenderness, than in countries where that is the most usual defect. Being so
often struck with instances of one species of deformity, men think they can never keep at
too great a distance from it, and wish always to have a leaning to the opposite side. In like
manner, were the door opened to self- praise, and were Montaigne's maxim observed,
that one should say as frankly, I HAVE SENSE, I HAVE LEARNING, I HAVE
COURAGE, BEAUTY, OR WIT, as it is sure we often think so; were this the case, I say,
every one is sensible that such a flood of impertinence would break in upon us, as would
render society wholly intolerable. For this reason custom has established it as a rule, in
common societies, that men should not indulge themselves in self-praise, or even speak