An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals HTML version

Appendix I. Concerning Moral Sentiment
IF the foregoing hypothesis be received, it will now be easy for us to determine the
question first started, [FOOTNOTE: Sect. 1.] concerning the general principles of morals;
and though we postponed the decision of that question, lest it should then involve us in
intricate speculations, which are unfit for moral discourses, we may resume it at present,
and examine how far either REASON or SENTIMENT enters into all decisions of praise
or censure.
One principal foundation of moral praise being supposed to lie in the usefulness of any
quality or action, it is evident that REASON must enter for a considerable share in all
decisions of this kind; since nothing but that faculty can instruct us in the tendency of
qualities and actions, and point out their beneficial consequences to society and to their
possessor. In many cases this is an affair liable to great controversy: doubts may arise;
opposite interests may occur; and a preference must be given to one side, from very nice
views, and a small overbalance of utility. This is particularly remarkable in questions
with regard to justice; as is, indeed, natural to suppose, from that species of utility which
attends this virtue [Footnote: See App. II.]. Were every single instance of justice, like that
of benevolence, useful to society; this would be a more simple state of the case, and
seldom liable to great controversy. But as single instances of justice are often pernicious
in their first and immediate tendency, and as the advantage to society results only from
the observance of the general rule, and from the concurrence and combination of several
persons in the same equitable conduct; the case here becomes more intricate and
involved. The various circumstances of society; the various consequences of any practice;
the various interests which may be proposed; these, on many occasions, are doubtful, and
subject to great discussion and inquiry. The object of municipal laws is to fix all the
questions with regard to justice: the debates of civilians; the reflections of politicians; the
precedents of history and public records, are all directed to the same purpose. And a very
accurate REASON or JUDGEMENT is often requisite, to give the true determination,
amidst such intricate doubts arising from obscure or opposite utilities.
But though reason, when fully assisted and improved, be sufficient to instruct us in the
pernicious or useful tendency of qualities and actions; it is not alone sufficient to produce
any moral blame or approbation. Utility is only a tendency to a certain end; and were the
end totally indifferent to us, we should feel the same indifference towards the means. It is
requisite a SENTIMENT should here display itself, in order to give a preference to the
useful above the pernicious tendencies. This SENTIMENT can be no other than a feeling
for the happiness of mankind, and a resentment of their misery; since these are the
different ends which virtue and vice have a tendency to promote. Here therefore
REASON instructs us in the several tendencies of actions, and HUMANITY makes a
distinction in favour of those which are useful and beneficial.
This partition between the faculties of understanding and sentiment, in all moral
decisions, seems clear from the preceding hypothesis. But I shall suppose that hypothesis
false: it will then be requisite to look out for some other theory that may be satisfactory;