An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals HTML version

Decency, or a proper regard to age, sex, character, and station in the world, may be
ranked among the qualities which are immediately agreeable to others, and which, by that
means, acquire praise and approbation. An effeminate behaviour in a man, a rough
manner in a woman; these are ugly because unsuitable to each character, and different
from the qualities which we expect in the sexes. It is as if a tragedy abounded in comic
beauties, or a comedy in tragic. The disproportions hurt the eye, and convey a
disagreeable sentiment to the spectators, the source of blame and disapprobation. This is
that INDECORUM, which is explained so much at large by Cicero in his Offices.
Among the other virtues, we may also give Cleanliness a place; since it naturally renders
us agreeable to others, and is no inconsiderable source of love and affection. No one will
deny, that a negligence in this particular is a fault; and as faults are nothing but smaller
vices, and this fault can have no other origin than the uneasy sensation which it excites in
others; we may, in this instance, seemingly so trivial, clearly discover the origin of moral
distinctions, about which the learned have involved themselves in such mazes of
perplexity and error.
But besides all the AGREEABLE qualities, the origin of whose beauty we can, in some
degree, explain and account for, there still remains something mysterious and
inexplicable, which conveys an immediate satisfaction to the spectator, but how, or why,
or for what reason, he cannot pretend to determine. There is a manner, a grace, an ease, a
genteelness, an I-know-not-what, which some men possess above others, which is very
different from external beauty and comeliness, and which, however, catches our affection
almost as suddenly and powerfully. And though this MANNER be chiefly talked of in the
passion between the sexes, where the concealed magic is easily explained, yet surely
much of it prevails in all our estimation of characters, and forms no inconsiderable part of
personal merit. This class of accomplishments, therefore, must be trusted entirely to the
blind, but sure testimony of taste and sentiment; and must be considered as a part of
ethics, left by nature to baffle all the pride of philosophy, and make her sensible of her
narrow boundaries and slender acquisitions.
We approve of another, because of his wit, politeness, modesty, decency, or any
agreeable quality which he possesses; although he be not of our acquaintance, nor has
ever given us any entertainment, by means of these accomplishments. The idea, which we
form of their effect on his acquaintance, has an agreeable influence on our imagination,
and gives us the sentiment of approbation. This principle enters into all the judgements
which we form concerning manners and characters.