An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals HTML version

Appendix II. Of Self-Love
THERE is a principle, supposed to prevail among many, which is utterly incompatible
with all virtue or moral sentiment; and as it can proceed from nothing but the most
depraved disposition, so in its turn it tends still further to encourage that depravity. This
principle is, that all BENEVOLENCE is mere hypocrisy, friendship a cheat, public spirit
a farce, fidelity a snare to procure trust and confidence; and that while all of us, at
bottom, pursue only our private interest, we wear these fair disguises, in order to put
others off their guard, and expose them the more to our wiles and machinations. What
heart one must be possessed of who possesses such principles, and who feels no internal
sentiment that belies so pernicious a theory, it is easy to imagine: and also what degree of
affection and benevolence he can bear to a species whom he represents under such odious
colours, and supposes so little susceptible of gratitude or any return of affection. Or if we
should not ascribe these principles wholly to a corrupted heart, we must at least account
for them from the most careless and precipitate examination. Superficial reasoners,
indeed, observing many false pretences among mankind, and feeling, perhaps, no very
strong restraint in their own disposition, might draw a general and a hasty conclusion that
all is equally corrupted, and that men, different from all other animals, and indeed from
all other species of existence, admit of no degrees of good or bad, but are, in every
instance, the same creatures under different disguises and appearances.
There is another principle, somewhat resembling the former; which has been much
insisted on by philosophers, and has been the foundation of many a system; that,
whatever affection one may feel, or imagine he feels for others, no passion is, or can be
disinterested; that the most generous friendship, however sincere, is a modification of
self-love; and that, even unknown to ourselves, we seek only our own gratification, while
we appear the most deeply engaged in schemes for the liberty and happiness of mankind.
By a turn of imagination, by a refinement of reflection, by an enthusiasm of passion, we
seem to take part in the interests of others, and imagine ourselves divested of all selfish
considerations: but, at bottom, the most generous patriot and most niggardly miser, the
bravest hero and most abject coward, have, in every action, an equal regard to their own
happiness and welfare.
Whoever concludes from the seeming tendency of this opinion, that those, who make
profession of it, cannot possibly feel the true sentiments of benevolence, or have any
regard for genuine virtue, will often find himself, in practice, very much mistaken.
Probity and honour were no strangers to Epicurus and his sect. Atticus and Horace seem
to have enjoyed from nature, and cultivated by reflection, as generous and friendly
dispositions as any disciple of the austerer schools. And among the modern, Hobbes and
Locke, who maintained the selfish system of morals, lived irreproachable lives; though
the former lay not under any restraint of religion which might supply the defects of his
An epicurean or a Hobbist readily allows, that there is such a thing as a friendship in the
world, without hypocrisy or disguise; though he may attempt, by a philosophical