An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals HTML version

immediately agreeable to the person himself]. The image, gentlemen, which you have
here delineated of Cleanthes, cried I, is that of accomplished merit. Each of you has given
a stroke of the pencil to his figure; and you have unawares exceeded all the pictures
drawn by Gratian or Castiglione. A philosopher might select this character as a model of
perfect virtue.
And as every quality which is useful or agreeable to ourselves or others is, in common
life, allowed to be a part of personal merit; so no other will ever be received, where men
judge of things by their natural, unprejudiced reason, without the delusive glosses of
superstition and false religion. Celibacy, fasting, penance, mortification, self-denial,
humility, silence, solitude, and the whole train of monkish virtues; for what reason are
they everywhere rejected by men of sense, but because they serve to no manner of
purpose; neither advance a man's fortune in the world, nor render him a more valuable
member of society; neither qualify him for the entertainment of company, nor increase
his power of self-enjoyment? We observe, on the contrary, that they cross all these
desirable ends; stupify the understanding and harden the heart, obscure the fancy and sour
the temper. We justly, therefore, transfer them to the opposite column, and place them in
the catalogue of vices; nor has any superstition force sufficient among men of the world,
to pervert entirely these natural sentiments. A gloomy, hair-brained enthusiast, after his
death, may have a place in the calendar; but will scarcely ever be admitted, when alive,
into intimacy and society, except by those who are as delirious and dismal as himself.
It seems a happiness in the present theory, that it enters not into that vulgar dispute
concerning the DEGREES of benevolence or self-love, which prevail in human nature; a
dispute which is never likely to have any issue, both because men, who have taken part,
are not easily convinced, and because the phenomena, which can be produced on either
side, are so dispersed, so uncertain, and subject to so many interpretations, that it is
scarcely possible accurately to compare them, or draw from them any determinate
inference or conclusion. It is sufficient for our present purpose, if it be allowed, what
surely, without the greatest absurdity cannot be disputed, that there is some benevolence,
however small, infused into our bosom; some spark of friendship for human kind; some
particle of the dove kneaded into our frame, along with the elements of the wolf and
serpent. Let these generous sentiments be supposed ever so weak; let them be insufficient
to move even a hand or finger of our body, they must still direct the determinations of our
mind, and where everything else is equal, produce a cool preference of what is useful and
serviceable to mankind, above what is pernicious and dangerous. A MORAL
DISTINCTION, therefore, immediately arises; a general sentiment of blame and
approbation; a tendency, however faint, to the objects of the one, and a proportionable
aversion to those of the other. Nor will those reasoners, who so earnestly maintain the
predominant selfishness of human kind, be any wise scandalized at hearing of the weak
sentiments of virtue implanted in our nature. On the contrary, they are found as ready to
maintain the one tenet as the other; and their spirit of satire (for such it appears, rather
than of corruption) naturally gives rise to both opinions; which have, indeed, a great and
almost an indissoluble connexion together.