An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals HTML version

which are so variable in different dialects, and in different ages of the same dialect. But
on the whole, it seems to me, that though it is always allowed, that there are virtues of
many different kinds, yet, when a man is called virtuous, or is denominated a man of
virtue, we chiefly regard his social qualities, which are, indeed, the most valuable. It is, at
the same time, certain, that any remarkable defect in courage, temperance, economy,
industry, understanding, dignity of mind, would bereave even a very good-natured,
honest man of this honourable appellation. Who did ever say, except by way of irony,
that such a one was a man of great virtue, but an egregious blockhead?
But, Secondly, it is no wonder that languages should not be very precise in marking the
boundaries between virtues and talents, vices and defects; since there is so little
distinction made in our internal estimation of them. It seems indeed certain, that the
SENTIMENT of conscious worth, the self-satisfaction proceeding from a review of a
man's own conduct and character; it seems certain, I say, that this sentiment, which,
though the most common of all others, has no proper name in our language,
[Footnote: The term, pride, is commonly taken in a bad sense; but this sentiment seems
indifferent, and may be either good or bad, according as it is well or ill founded, and
according to the other circumstances which accompany it. The French express this
sentiment by the term, AMOUR PROPRE, but as they also express self-love as well as
vanity by the same term, there arises thence a great confusion in Rochefoucault, and
many of their moral writers.]
arises from the endowments of courage and capacity, industry and ingenuity, as well as
from any other mental excellencies. Who, on the other hand, is not deeply mortified with
reflecting on his own folly and dissoluteness, and feels not a secret sting or compunction
whenever his memory presents any past occurrence, where he behaved with stupidity of
ill-manners? No time can efface the cruel ideas of a man's own foolish conduct, or of
affronts, which cowardice or impudence has brought upon him. They still haunt his
solitary hours, damp his most aspiring thoughts, and show him, even to himself, in the
most contemptible and most odious colours imaginable.
What is there too we are more anxious to conceal from others than such blunders,
infirmities, and meannesses, or more dread to have exposed by raillery and satire? And is
not the chief object of vanity, our bravery or learning, our wit or breeding, our eloquence
or address, our taste or abilities? These we display with care, if not with ostentation; and
we commonly show more ambition of excelling in them, than even in the social virtues
themselves, which are, in reality, of such superior excellence. Good-nature and honesty,
especially the latter, are so indispensably required, that, though the greatest censure
attends any violation of these duties, no eminent praise follows such common instances
of them, as seem essential to the support of human society. And hence the reason, in my
opinion, why, though men often extol so liberally the qualities of their heart, they are shy
in commending the endowments of their head: because the latter virtues, being supposed
more rare and extraordinary, are observed to be the more usual objects of pride and self-
conceit; and when boasted of, beget a strong suspicion of these sentiments.