An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals HTML version

IX. Conclusion
IT may justly appear surprising that any man in so late an age, should find it requisite to
prove, by elaborate reasoning, that Personal Merit consists altogether in the possession of
mental qualities, USEFUL or AGREEABLE to the PERSON HIMSELF or to OTHERS.
It might be expected that this principle would have occurred even to the first rude,
unpractised enquirers concerning morals, and been received from its own evidence,
without any argument or disputation. Whatever is valuable in any kind, so naturally
classes itself under the division of USEFUL or AGREEABLE, the UTILE or the
DULCE, that it is not easy to imagine why we should ever seek further, or consider the
question as a matter of nice research or inquiry. And as every thing useful or agreeable
must possess these qualities with regard either to the PERSON HIMSELF or to
OTHERS, the complete delineation or description of merit seems to be performed as
naturally as a shadow is cast by the sun, or an image is reflected upon water. If the
ground, on which the shadow is cast, be not broken and uneven; nor the surface from
which the image is reflected, disturbed and confused; a just figure is immediately
presented, without any art or attention. And it seems a reasonable presumption, that
systems and hypotheses have perverted our natural understanding, when a theory, so
simple and obvious, could so long have escaped the most elaborate examination.
But however the case may have fared with philosophy, in common life these principles
are still implicitly maintained; nor is any other topic of praise or blame ever recurred to,
when we employ any panegyric or satire, any applause or censure of human action and
behaviour. If we observe men, in every intercourse of business or pleasure, in every
discourse and conversation, we shall find them nowhere, except the schools, at any loss
upon this subject. What so natural, for instance, as the following dialogue? You are very
happy, we shall suppose one to say, addressing himself to another, that you have given
your daughter to Cleanthes. He is a man of honour and humanity. Every one, who has
any intercourse with him, is sure of FAIR and KIND treatment. [Footnote: Qualities
useful to others.] I congratulate you too, says another, on the promising expectations of
this son-in-law; whose assiduous application to the study of the laws, whose quick
penetration and early knowledge both of men and business, prognosticate the greatest
honours and advancement. [Footnote: Qualities useful to the person himself.] You
surprise me, replies a third, when you talk of Cleanthes as a man of business and
application. I met him lately in a circle of the gayest company, and he was the very life
and soul of our conversation: so much wit with good manners; so much gallantry without
affectation; so much ingenious knowledge so genteelly delivered, I have never before
observed in any one. [Footnote: Qualities immediately agreeable to others,] You would
admire him still more, says a fourth, if you knew him more familiarly. That cheerfulness,
which you might remark in him, is not a sudden flash struck out by company: it runs
through the whole tenor of his life, and preserves a perpetual serenity on his countenance,
and tranquillity in his soul. He has met with severe trials, misfortunes as well as dangers;
and by his greatness of mind, was still superior to all of them [Footnote: Qualities