Infomotions, Inc.Adam Smith (1723-1790) / Farrer, James Anson, 1849-1925

Author: Farrer, James Anson, 1849-1925
Title: Adam Smith (1723-1790)
Publisher: New York G.P. Putnam's sons 1881
Tag(s): smith, adam, 1723-1790; adam smith; adam; smith; approbation; propriety; moral; sympathy; moral approbation; resentment; sentiments; spectator; theory; conduct; virtue; impartial spectator; gratitude; moral sentiments
Contributor(s): Eric Lease Morgan (Infomotions, Inc.)
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Identifier: adamsmith172317902farruoft
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Discover what books you consider "great". Take the Great Books Survey.


1. In a periodical called the Edinburgh Review, published in 1755, for a 

few numbers, a Review of Dr. Johnson s Dictionary, and Observa 
tions on the State of Learning in Europe. 

2. Theory of Moral Sentiments and Dissertation on the Origin of 

Language. 1759. 

3. Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations. 1776. 

4. A volume of Essays, published posthumously, containing 

A History of Astronomy. 

A History of Ancient Physics. 

A History of Ancient Logic and Metaphysics. 

An Essay on the Imitative Arts. 

On certain English and Italian Verses. 

On the External Senses. 



(1723 1790) 






7 ,,U,v 
( I O 

OF ^ >; 



THE appearance of the first instalment of the Series of 
English Philosophers affords the Editor an opportunity of 
defining- the position and aim of this and the succeeding 
volumes. We live in an age of series : Art, Science, 
Letters, are each represented hy one or more; it is the object 
of the present Series to add Philosophy to the list of subjects 
which are daily becoming more and more popular. Had it 
been our aim to produce a History of Philosophy in the 
interests of any one school of thought, co-operation would 
have been well-nigh impracticable. Such, however, is not 
our object. We seek to lay before the reader what each 
English Philosopher thought and wrote about the problems 
with which he dealt, not what we may think he ought to 
have thought and written. Criticism will be suggested rather 
than indulged in, and these volumes will be expositions rather 
than reviews. The size and number of the volumes compiled 
by each leading Philosopher are chiefly due to tehe necessity ; 
which Philosophers have generally considered imperative, of 
demolishing all previous systems of Philosophy before they 


commence the work of constructing- their own. Of this work 
of destruction little will be found in these volumes; we propose 
to lay stress on what a Philosopher did rather than on what he 
undid. In the summary will be found a general survey of the 
main criticisms that have been passed upon the views of the 
Philosopher who forms the subject of the work, and in the 
bibliographic appendix the reader will be directed to sources 
of more detailed criticism than the size and nature of the 
volumes in the Series would permit. The lives of Philosophers 
are not, as a rule, eventful, the biographies will consequently 
be brief. It is hoped that the Series, when complete, will 
supply a comprehensive History of English Philosophy. It 
will include an Introduction to the Study of Philosophy, by 
Professor H. Sidgwick. 

OXFOBD, Nov., 1880. 














A 2 















THE fnmo of Adam Smith rests so deservedly on his great work, 
the Wealth of Nations, that the fact is apt to be lost sight of, 
that long- before he distinguished himself as a political econo 
mist he had gained a reputation, not confined to his own 
country, by his speculations in moral philosophy. The Theory 
of Moral Sentiments was first published in 1759, when its 
author was thirty-six ; the Wealth of Nations in 1776, when 
he was fifty-three. The success of the latter soon eclipsed that 
of his first work, but the wide celebrity which soon attended 
the former is attested by the fact of the sort of competition 
that ensued for translating it into French. Rochefoucauld, 
grandson of the famous author of the Maxims, got so far in a 
translation of it as the end of the first Part, when a complete 
translation by the Abbe Blavet compelled him to renounce the 
continuance of his work. The Abbo Morellet-r-so conspicuous 
a figure in the French literature of that period speaks of him 
self in his Memoirs as having been impressed by Adam Smith s 
Theory with a great idea of its author s wisdom and depth of 
thought. 1 

1 Memoires, i. 211. "SaTheorie des Sentlmens Moraux m avait donr.tS 
nne gramle idee de sa sagacite et de sa profondeur." Yet, according to 
Grimm, it had 110 success iu Paris. Corresp., iv. 291. 



The publication of these t\vo books, the only writings pub 
lished by their author in his lifetime, are strictly speaking the 
only episodes which form anything like landmarks in Adam 
Smith s career. The sixty-seven years of his life (1723-90) 
were in other respects strangely destitute of what are called 
" events ;" and beyond the adventure of his childhood, when 
Jie was carried away by gipsies but soon rescued, nothing 
extraordinary ever occurred to ruffle the even surface of his 

If, therefore, the happiness of an individual, like that of a 
nation, may be taken to vary inversely with the materials 
afforded by them to the biographer or the historian, Adam 
Smith may be considered to have attained no mean degree of 
human felicity. From his ideal of life, political ambition and 
greatness were altogether excluded ; it was his creed that 
happiness was equal in every lot, and that contentment alone 
was necessary to ensure it. " What," he asks, " can be added 
to the happiness of the man who is in health, who is out of 
debt, and has a clear conscience? " 

To this simple standard, circumstances assisted him to mould 
his life. His health, delicate in his early years, became 
stronger with age ; necessity never compelled him to seek a 
competence in uncongenial pursuits j nor did a tranquil life of 
learning ever tempt him into paths at variance with the laws 
of his moral being or his country. In several passages of his 
Moral Sentiments, it will appear that he took no pains to con 
ceal his preference for the old Epicurean theory of life, that in 
case of body and peace of mind consists happiness, the goal of 
all desire. 

But the charm of such a formula of life is perhaps more 
obvious than its rendering into an actual state of existence. 
Ease of body does not always come for the wishing; and peace 
of mind often lies still further from command. The advan- 


tage of the formula is, that it sets before us a definite aim, and 
affords us at any time a measure of the happiness we enjoy 
or of that we see around us. Judged by this standard, 
however, the conclusion must be and it is a conclusion from 
which Adam Smith does not shrink that the lot of a beggar 
may be equal in point of happiness to that of a king. 

The result of this Epicurean theory of life on Adam Smith 
was, fortunately for the world, a strong preference for the life 
of learning and literature over the professional or political life. 
He abjured from the first all anxiety for the prizes held out by 
the various professions to candidates for wealth or reputation. 
Though sent to Balliol at seventeen as a Snell exhibitioner, 
for the purpose of fitting himself for service in the Church of 
England, he preferred so much the peace of his own mind to 
the wishes of his friends and relations, that, when he left Ox 
ford after a residence of seven years, he declined to enter into 
the ecclesiastical profession at all, and he returned to Scotland 
with the sole and simple hope of obtaining through literature 
some post of moderate preferment more suitable to his incli 

Fortune seems to have favoured him in making such a 
course possible, for after leaving Oxford he spent two years at 
home with his mother at Kirkaldy. He had not to encounter 
the difficulties which compelled Hume to practise frugality 
abroad, in order to preserve his independence. His father, who 
had died a few months before his birth, had been private secre 
tary to the Principal Secretary of State for Scotland, and after 
that Comptroller of the Customs at Kirkaldy. Adam Smith 
was, moreover, an only child, and if there was not wealth at 
home, there was the competence which was all he desired. 

By the circumstances of his birth, his education, like that of 
David Hume, devolved in his early years upon his mother, of 
whom one would gladly know more than has been vouchsafed 

B 2 


by her son s biographer. She is said to have been blamed for 
spoiling- him, but it is possible that what seemed to her Scotch 
neighbours excessive indulgence meant no very exceptional 
degree of kindness. At all events, the treatment succeeded, 
nor had ever a mother a more devoted son. Her death, which 
did not long precede his own, closed a life of unremitted affec 
tion on both sides, and was the first and greatest bereavement 
that Adam Smith ever had to mourn. The society of his mother 
and her niece, Miss Douglas, who lived with them, was all that 
he ever knew of family life; and when the small circle broke 
up, as it did at last speedily and with short intervals of 
survival for those who experienced the grief of the first sepa 
ration, Adam Smith was well-advanced in years. He survived 
his mother only six years, his cousin about two ; and he had 
passed sixty when the former died. 

It is said, that after a disappointment in early life, Adam 
Smith gave up all thoughts of marriage; but if he thus 
failed of the happiest condition of life, it is equally true that 
he was spared the greatest sorrows of human existence, and 
a number of minor troubles and anxieties. The domestic 
economy was entirely conducted by his cousin, and to the 
philosopher is attributed with more than usual justice all 
that incapacity for the common details of life with which 
the popular conception always clothes a scholar. It is said 
that even the fancy of a La Bruyere has scarcely imagined 
instances of a more striking absence of mind than might be 
actually quoted of him ; 2 and from boyhood upwards he had 
the habit of laughing and talking to himself which sometimes 
led casual observers to inferences not to his credit. 

Dugald Stewart, whose somewhat meagre memoir on Adam 
Smith is the chief authority for all that is known of his life, 

2 See, for some anecdotes of this kind, the Quartwly Review, vol 
xxx vi. 200. 


describes him as "certainly not fitted for the general com 
merce of the world or for the business of active life." The 
subject of his studies rendered him " habitually inattentive to 
familiar objects and to common occurrences." Even in 
company, he was apt to be engrossed with his studies,, and 
would seem, by the motion of his lips as well as by his looks 
and gestures, to be in all the fervour of composition. In con 
versation " he was scarcely ever known to start a topic him 
self," and if he did succeed in falling in with the common 
dialogue of conversation, "he was somewhat apt to con 
vey his own ideas in the form of a lecture/ Notwith 
standing these defects, we are told of "the splendour of 
his conversation," and of the inexhaustible novelty and 
variety which belonged to it, by reason of his ready adap 
tation of fanciful theories to all the common topics of 

Of his early years often the most interesting of any, as 
indicative of future character singularly little remains known. 
Some of those who were the companions of his first school 
years at Kirkaldy, and who remained his friends for life, have 
attested the passion he even then had for books and " the ex 
traordinary powers of his memory." 

At the age of fourteen he was sent to the University of 
Glasgow, where his favourite studies were mathematics and 
natural sciences, and where he attended the lectures of Dr. 
Huteheson, who has been called " the father of speculative 
philosophy in Scotland in modern times," and whose theory 
of the Moral Sense had so much influence on Adam Smith s 
own later ethical speculations. 

Beyond this reference to his studies, nothing is told of 

Adam Smith s three years at Glasgow. His whole youth is 

in fact a blank for his biographer. We hear of no prizes, no 

distinctions, no friendships, no adventures, no eccentricities of 


any kind. Nor is it much better with regard to his career at 
Oxford, to which he was sent by the University of Glasgow 
at the age of seventeen. Only one anecdote remains, of very 
doubtful truth, and not mentioned by Dugald Stewart, to the 
effect that he once incurred rebuke from the college authori 
ties of Balliol for having been detected in his rooms read inn- 
Name s Treatise on Human Nature. The story is worth men 
tioning, if only as an indication of the prevalent idea of Adam 
Smith s bent of mind in his undergraduate days; and those 
who, in spite of experience, still hold to the theory, that at the 
bottom of every story some truth must lie, may gather from 
this one, that even at college the future friend of the historian 
was attracted by the bold scepticism which distinguished his 

It was perhaps by reason of this attraction that at the end 
of seven years at Oxford Adam Smith declined to take orders. 
Leaving Oxford, which for most men means an entire change 
of life, meant for him simply a change in the scene of his 
studies ; a transfer of them from one place to another. Lan 
guages, literature, and history, could, he found, be studied as 
well at Kirkaldy as at the chief seat of learning in England. 
To Oxford, so different in most colleges now from what it was 
in those days, he seems never to have expressed or felt the 
gratitude which through life attached him to Glasgow; and 
his impressions of the English university have been immor 
talized by him in no flattering terms in what he has said of it 
in his Wealth of Nations. 

After nearly two years spent at home, Adam Smith removed 
to Edinburgh, where, under the patronage of Lord Kumes, so 
well known in connexion with the Scotch literature of the last 
century, he delivered lectures on rhetoric and Idles lettrcs ; and 
the same subject formed the greater part of his lectures as 
Professor of Logic at Glasgow, to which post he was elected 


m 1751, at the age of twenty-eight. The next year he was 
chosen Professor of Moral Philosophy at the same university ; 
and the period of thirteen years, during which he held this 
situation, he ever regarded as the most useful and happy of his 

Of his lectures at Glasgow only so much has been preserved 
as he published in the Moral Sentiments and Wealth of Nations 
respectively. He divided his course into four parts, the first 
relating to Natural Theology, the second to Ethics, the third 
to the subject of Justice and the growth of Jurisprudence, the 
fourth to Politics. Under the latter head he dealt with the 
political institutions relating to commerce and all the subjects 
which enter into his maturer work on the Nature and Causes 
of the Wealth of Nations ; whilst under the second head, he 
expounded the doctrines which he afterwards published in the 
Moral Sentiments. On the subject of Justice, it was his inten 
tion to write a system of natural jurisprudence, f or a theory 
of the general principles which ought to run through and be 
the foundation of the laws of all nations/ It was to have 
been an improvement on the work of Grotius ou the same 
subject, and the Theory of Moral Sentiments concludes with 
a promise which, unfortunately, was never fulfilled. " I shall," 
he says, " in another discourse, endeavour to give an account 
of the general principles of law and government, and of the 
different revolutions they have undergone in the different ages 
and periods of society, not only in what concerns justice, but 
in what concerns police, revenue, and arms, and whatever else 
is the object of law. I shall not, therefore, at present, enter into 
any further details concerning the history of jurisprudence. 3 

One of Adam Smith s own pupils, and afterwards for life 
one of his most intimate friends, Dr. Millar, professor of law 

3 To this hope he still clung even in the sixth edition of his work, pub 
lished the .year of his death, 17 ( JO. 


at Glasgow, and author of an excellent work on the Origin 
of Ranks, has left a graphic description of the great success 
which attended these lectures at Glasgow. " There was no 
situation in which the abilities of Mr. Smith appeared to 

greater advantage than as a professor His reputation 

as a professor was accordingly raised very high, and a multi 
tude of students from a great distance resorted to the Univer 
sity, merely upon his account. Those branches of science 
which he taught became fashionable at this place, and his 
opinions were the chief topic of discussion in clubs and literary 
societies. Even the small peculiarities in his pronunciation 
or manner of speaking, became frequently the objects of 

It seems to have been during the early years of his pro 
fessorship at Glasgow that Adam Smith formed that friendship 
with David Hume which forms so pleasing a feature in the 
life of both of them, and is so memorable in the history of 
literary attachments. There was sufficient sameness in the 
fundamental characteristics and opinions of each of them, 
together with sufficient cliiferences on minor points, to ensure 
the permanence of their mutual affection. Both took the 
same interest in questions of moral philosophy and political 
economy ; both had a certain simplicity and gentleness of 
character ; both held the same ideas of the relation of natural 
to revealed religion. 

A letter written by Hume to his friend in 1759, on the 
occasion of the publication of his Moral Sentiments, is of in 
terest, not only as characteristic of the friendship between 
them, but as indicative of the good reception which the book 
immediately met with from all persons competent to judge of 
it. The letter is dated April 12, 1759 : 

" I give you thanks for the agreeable present of your Theory. 
"Wedderburne and 1 made presents of our copies to such of our 


acquaintances as we thought good judges, and proper to spread 
the reputation of the book. I sent one to the Duke of Argyll, 
to Lord Lyttleton, Horace Walpole, Soame Jennyns, and 
Burke, an Irish gentleman, who wrote lately a very prctly 
treatise on the Sublime. Millar desired my permission to 
send one in your name to Dr. Warburton. I have delayed 
writing till I could tell you something of the success of the 
book, and could prognosticate, with some probability, whether 
it should be finally damned to oblivion, or should be registered 
in the temple of immortality. Though it has been published 
only a few weeks, I think there appear already such strong 

symptoms, that I can almost venture to foretell its fate 

I am afraid of Lord Kames s Law Tracts. A man might as 
well think of making a fine sauce by a mixture of wormwood 
and aloes as an agreeable composition by joining metaphysics 

and Scotch law I believe I have mentioned to you 

already llelvetius s book de V Esprit. It is worth your read 
ing, not for its philosophy, which I do not highly value, but 
for its agreeable composition. I had a letter from him a few- 
days ago wherein he tells me that my name was much oftener 
in the manuscript, but that the censor of books at Paris obliged 

him to strike it out But what is all this to my book ? 

say you. Mv dear Mr. Smith, have patience : compose your 
self to tranquillity; show yourself a philosopher in practice as 
well as profession ; think on the emptiness, and rashness, and 
futility of the common judgment of men ; how little they are 
regulated bv reason in any subject, much more in philosophical 
subjects, which so far exceed the comprehension of the vulgar. 
.... A wise man s kingdom is his own breast ; or, if he ever 
looks farther, it will only be to the judgment of a select few, 
who are free from prejudices and capable of examining his 
work. Nothing indeed can be a stronger presumption of 
falsehood than the approbation of the multitude ; and Phocion, 


you know, always suspected himself of some blunder when he 
was attended with the applauses of the populace. 

" Supposing 1 , therefore, that you have duly prepared yourself 
for the woist by all these reflections, I proceed to tell you the 
melancholy news, that your book has been very unfortunate, 
for the public seem disposed to applaud it extremely. It was 
looked for by the foolish people with some impatience ; and 
the mob of literati are beginning- already to be very loud in its 
praises. Three bishops called yesterday at Millar s shop in 
order to buy copies and to ask questions about its author. 
The Bishop of Peterborough said he had passed the evening 
in a company where he heard it extolled above all books in 
the world. The Duke of Argyll is more decisive than he uses 
to be in its favour. I suppose he either considers it an exotic 
or thinks the author will be serviceable to him in the Glasgow 
elections. Lord Lyttleton says that Robertson, and Smith, and 
Bower are the glories of English literature. Oswald protests 
he does not know whether he has reaped more instruction or 
entertainment from it. But you may easily judge what reli 
ance can be placed on his judgment who has been engaged all 
his life in public business, and who never sees any faults in 
his friends. Millar exults and brags that two-thirds of the 
edition are already sold, and that it is sure of success. You 
see what a son of earth that is, to value books only by the 
profit they bring him. In that view, I believe, it may prove 
a very good book. 

" Charles Townsend, who passes for the cleverest fellow in 
England, is so taken with the performance that he said to 
Oswald he would put the Duke of Buccleuch under the author s 
care, and would make it worth his while to accept of that 
charge. As soon as I heard this I called on him twice, with 
a view of talking with him about the matter, and of con 
vincing him of the propriety of sending that young nobleman 


to Glasgow ; for I could not hope that he could offer you any 
terms which would tempt you to renounce your professorship. 
But I missed him 

" In recompense for so many mortifying- things, which no 
thing hut truth could have extorted from me, and which I 
could easily have multiplied to a greater number, I doubt not 
but you are so good a Christian as to return good for evil ; 
and to flatter my vanity by telling me that all the godly in 
Scotland abuse me for my account of John Knox and the 
Reformation/ &c. 

The invitation referred to by Hume in this letter to travel 
with the Duke of Buccleuch carne in about four years time ; 
and the liberal terms in which the proposal was made, together 
with the strong temptation to travel, led to a final resignation 
of the Glasgow professorship. 

But here again curiosity is doomed to disappointment; for 
Adam Smith wrote no journal of his travels abroad, and he 
had such an aversion to letter-writing that no records of this 
sort preserve his impressions of foreign life. 4 Scarcely more 
than the bare outline of his route is known. Some two weeks 
at Paris were followed by eighteen months at Toulouse. Then 
a tour in the South of France was followed by two months at 
Geneva; and from Christmas, 17G5, to the following- October 
the travellers were in Paris, this latter period being the only 
one of any general interest, on account of the illustrious 
acquaintances which the introductions of Hume enabled Adam 
Smith to make in the French capital. 

During this period Adam Smith became acquainted with 
the chief men of letters and philosophers of Paris, such as 
D Alemhert, Uelvetius, Marmontel, Morcllet; and it is to be 
regretted that Moreliet, who mentions the fact of conversations 

4 A few of his letters are published in Lord Brougham s Account of 
Adam Smith s Lijc and Wurks, i. 279-89. 


between himself, Target, and Adam Smith, on subjects of 
political economy and on several points connected with the 
great work then contemplated by the latter, should have 
given us no clue to the influence Turgot may have had in 
suggesting or confirming the idea of free trade. That the 
intercourse between them became intimate may at least be 
inferred from the unverified story of their subsequent literary 
correspondence ; and to Quesnai, the economist, it is known 
that Adam Smith intended, but for the death of the former, 
to have dedicated his Wealth of Nations. With Morellet, too, 
Adam Smith seems to have been intimate. The abbe records 
in his Memoirs that he kept for twenty years a pocket-book 
presented to him as a keepsake by Adam Smith. The latter 
sent him also a copy of the Wealth of Nations ten years later, 
which Morellet, with his usual zeal for translating, set to work 
upon at once. The Abbe Blavet, however, was again the first 
in the field, so that Morellet could not find a publisher. It is 
worth noticing that Morellet mentions the fact that Adam 
Smith spoke French very badly, which is not the least incon 
sistent with his biographer s claim for him of an " uncommonly 
extensive and accurate knowledge" of modern languages. 

The duke and the philosopher, having laid in their com 
panionship abroad the foundation of a friendship which lasted 
till the death of the latter, returned to London in October, 
1766. The next ten years of his life Adam Smith spent at 
home with his mother and cousin, preparing the work on 
which his fame now chiefly rests. It was a period of quiet 
uneventful study, and almost solitude. Writing to Hume, he 
says that his chief amusements are long and solitary walks by 
the sea, and that he never felt more happy, comfortable, or 
contented, in his life. Hume made vain endeavours to tempt 
him to Edinburgh from his retirement. " I want," he said, 
"to know what you have been doing, and propose to exact a 


rigorous account of the method in which you have employed 
yourself during" your retreat. I am positive you are wrong 1 in 
many of your speculations, especially where you have the 
misfortune to differ from me. All these are reasons for our 

This was in 17G9. Seven years later, 1776, the Wealth of 
Nations appeared, and Hume, who was then dying", again 
wrote his friend a congratulatory letter. " Euge. ! Belle ! I 
am much pleased with your performance, and the perusal of it 
has taken me from a great state of anxiety. It was a work 
of so much expectation, by yourself, by your friends, and by 
the public, that I trembled for its appearance ; but am now 
much relieved. Not but that the reading of it necessarily 
requires so much attention, that I shall still doubt for some 
time of its being at first very popular. But it has depth and 
solidity, and acuteness, and is so much illustrated by curious 
facts, that it must, at last, take the public attention. It is 
probably much improved by your last abode in London. If 
you were here, at my fireside, I should dispute some of your 
principles. . . . But these, and a hundred other points, are fit 
only to be discussed in conversation. I hope it will be soon, 
for I am in a very bad state of health, and cannot afford a 
long delay." 

This letter seems to have led to a meeting between the 
two friends, the last before the sad final separation. Of the 
cheerfulness with which Hume met his death, Adam Smith 
wrote an account in a letter addressed to Strahan, the pub 
lisher, and appended to Hume s autobiography, telling how 
Hume, in reference to his approaching departure, imagined a 
conversation between himself and Charon, and how he con 
tinued to correct his works for a new edition, to read books of 
amusement, to converse, or sometimes play at whist with his 
friends. He also extolled Hume s extreme gentleness of 


nature, which never weakened the firmness of his mind nor 
the steadiness of his resolutions; his constant pleasantry and 
good humour ; his severe application to study, his extensive 
learning-, his depth of thought. He thought that his temper 
was more evenly balanced than in any other man he ever 
knew; and that, however much difference of opinion there 
might be among men as to his philosophical ideas, according 
as they happened or not to coincide with their own, there 
could scarcely be any concerning his character and conduct. 
" Upon the whole," he concluded, " I have always considered 
him, both in his lifetime and since his death, as approaching 
as nearly to the idea of a perfectly wise and virtuous man as 
perhaps the nature of human frailty will permit/ 

Considering that Hume counted among his friends such 
churchmen as Robertson the historian, and Blair, author of 
the Sermons, Adam Smith s confident belief in the uniformity 
of judgment about his friend s character need not appear un 
reasonable; but, unfortunately, a dignitary of the Church, 
author of a Commentary on the Psalms, and afterwards Bishop 
of Norwich, chose to consider the letter to Strahan a mani 
festo against Christianity, and accordingly published anony 
mously a letter to Adam Smith, purporting to be written 
"by one of the people called Christians." The writer claimed 
to have in his composition a large proportion of the milk of 
human kindness ; to be no bigot nor enemy to human learn 
ing; and never to have known the meaning of envy or 
hatred. Strange then that, at the age of forty-six, Dr. Home 
should have been guilty of a letter, which it would be difficult 
to match for injustice of inference, or contemptibility of style, 
and which he even thought fit to leave to posterity among his 
other published works. He begins: "You have been lately 
employed in embalming a philosopher; his body, I believe I 
must say, for concerning the other part of his nature neither 


you nor he seem to have entertained an idea, sleeping- or 
waking-. Else it surely might have claimed a little of your 
care and attention ; and one would think the belief of the 
soul s existence and immortality could do no harm, if it did 
no good,, in a Theory of Moral Sentiments. But every gen 
tleman understands his own business best/ 

The letter, pervaded by the same spirit of banter through - 
out, is too long 1 to quote at length, but the following extracts 
contain the leading idea : " Are you sure, and can you make 
us sure, that there really exist no such things as God, a future 
state of rewards and punishments ? If so, all is well. Let 
us then, in our last hours, read Lucian, and play at whist, 
and droll upon Charon and his boat,; let us die as foolish and 
insensible, as much like our brother philosophers the calves 
of the field and the asses of the desert, as we can, for the life 

of us Upon the whole, doctor, your meaning is good; 

but I think you will not succeed this time. You would per 
suade us, by the example of David Hume, Esq., that atheism 
is the only cordial for low spirits, and the proper antidote 
against the fear of death." 

It is difficult to say whether the puerility or the ignorance 
displayed in this letter is the greater. Either the writer had 
never read the Theory of Moral Sentiments at all, or he was so 
little versed in philosophy as to see no difference between 
Deism and Atheism, two distinct logical contradictories. 
There is, moreover, not a word in Adam Smith s letter to 
justify any reference to religious questions at all; and sub 
sequent quotations from the Moral Sentiments will abundantly 
demonstrate the total falsity of the churchman s assumptions. 
Adam Smith treated his letter with the contemptuous silence 
it so well deserved. The story quoted by Sir Walter Scott, 
in an article in the Quarterly, that Johnson grossly insulted 
Adam Smith at a literary meeting in Glasgow, by reason of 


his dislike for him, as the eulogizer of Hume, is easily shown 
to rest on no foundation. Hume did not die till 1770, and it 
was three years earlier that Johnson visited Glasgow. 

The two years after the publication of his greatest work 
Adam Smith spent in London, in the midst of that literary 
society which we know so well through the pages of Boswell. 
Then, at the request of the Duke of Buccleuch, he was made 
one of the Commissioners of Custom in Scotland, and in this 
occupation spent the last twelve years of his life, in the midst 
of a society which must have formed an agreeable contrast to 
the long years of his retirement and solitude. The light 
duties of his office; the pleasures of friendship; the loss of 
his mother and cousin, and increasing- ill -health, all combined 
to prevent the completion of any more of his literary projects. 
A few days before his death he ordered all his manuscripts to 
be burnt, with the exception of a few essays, which may still 
be read. They consist of a History of Astronomy, a History 
of Ancient Physics, a History of Ancient Logic and Meta 
physics, an Essay on the Imitative Arts, on certain English 
and Italian verses, and on the External Senses. The destroyed 
manuscripts are supposed to have comprised the lectures on 
Rhetoric, read at Edinburgh forty-two years before, and the 
lectures on Natural Theology and on Jurisprudence, which 
formed part of his lectures at Glasgow. The additions which 
he made to the Moral Sentiments, in the last winter of his life, 
he lived to see published before his death. 

Of the Theory of Moral Sentiments Sir James Mackintosh 
says : " Perhaps there is no ethical work since Cicero s Offices, 
of which an abridgment enables the reader so inadequately to 
estimate the merit, as the Theory of Moral Sentiments. This 
is not chiefly owing to the beauty of diction, as in the case of 
Cicero, but to the variety of explanations of life and manners 
which embellish the book more than they illuminate the 


theory. Yet, on the other hand, it must be owned that, for 
philosophical purposes, few books more need abridgment; for 
the most careful reader frequently loses sight of principles 
buried under illustrations. The naturally copious and flowing 
style of the author is generally redundant, and the repetition 
of certain formularies of the system is, in the later editions, 
so frequent as to be wearisome, and sometimes ludicrous." 

The justice of this criticism has been the guiding principle 
in the attempt made in the following chapters to give an ac 
count of Adam Smith s system of moral philosophy, the aim 
having been to avoid sacrificing the main theory to the super 
abundance of illustration which somewhat obscures it in the 
original, while at the same time doing justice to the minor 
subjects treated of, which, though they have little or nothing 
to do with Adam Smith s leading principles, yet form a dis 
tinctive feature in his work, and are in many respects the 
most interesting part of it; for critics who have rejected 
the Theory as a whole, have been uniformly loud in their 
praises of its minor details and illustrations. Brown, for 
instance, who has been the most successful perhaps of all the 
adverse critics of the Theory, speaks of it as presenting in 
these respects "a model of philosophic beauty.-" Jouffroy, 
too, allows that the book is one of the most useful in moral 
science, because Adam Smith, " deceived as he undoubtedly 
was as to the principle of morality/ brought to light and 
analyzed so many of the facts of human nature. Dugald 
Stewart and Mackintosh both say much the same thing; so 
that it is evident no account of Adam Smith s work can be 
complete which omits from consideration all the collateral 
inquiries he pursues or all the illustrations he draws, either 
from history or from his imagination. To preserve, as far as 
possible, the proportion which these collateral inquiries bear 
to one another and to the main theory, as well as to retain 



what is most characteristic of the original in point of illus 
tration and style, having- been therefore the end in view, it 
lias been found best to alter the arrangement in some degree, 
and to divide the whole into chapters, the relations of which 
to the divisions of the original will be best understood by a 
brief reference to the structure of the latter. 

Adam Smith divides his work into seven Parts, which pre 
cede one another in the following order : 

I. Of the Propriety of Action. 

TI. Of Merit and Demerit ; or the objects of Reward and 

III. Of the Foundation of our judgments concerning our 
own Sentiments and Conduct, and of the Sense of Duty. 

IV. Of the Effect of Utility upon the sentiment of Appro 

V. Of the influence of Custom and Fashion upon the 
sentiments of Moral Approbation and Disapprobation. 

VI. Of the character of Virtue. 

VII. Of systems of Moral Philosophy. 

The excellence of this arrangement, however, is consi 
derably marred by the division of these Parts into Sections, 
and by the frequent further subdivison of the Sections them 
selves into Chapters. An instance will illustrate how detri 
mental this is to the clearness of the main argument. The 
first three Parts exhaust the main theory, or that doctrine of 
Sympathy, which is Adam Smith s own special creation, and on 
which his rank as amoral philosopher depends; the other four 
Parts having only to do with it incidentally or by acci 
dent. But in following the first three Parts in which the 
doctrine of Sympathy is expounded, we come across sections 
which also are only connected incidentally with the leading 
argument, and are really branches off the main line. Thus in 
the Part devoted to the explanation of our ideas of Propriety 


in Action there occurs a section on the effect of prosperity or 
adversity in influencing- our judgment; in the Part treating 
of Merit and Demerit there is a section on the influence of 
fortune or accident on our sentiments of men s merit or the 
contrary; and there is, lastly, a distinct Part (Part V.) 
allotted to the consideration of the influence of Custom and 
Fashion on our sentiments of moral approbation or disappro 
bation. These subjects are obviously so nearly allied, that they 
might all have been treated together, apart from the doctrine 
of sympathy of which they are quite independent; and ac 
cordingly in the sequel the dissert itions concerning them in 
the original are collected into a single chapter, the fifth, on 
the influence of Prosperity and Adversity, Chance and Custom, 
on our moral sentiments. 

Consistently with the principles already explained, the order 
of the original has been followed as closely as possible. The 
second, third, and fourth chapters comprise Parts I. and II. 
Part V., and the sections relating to the same subject in Parts 
1. and II., make up the fifth chapter. Then Part III. is divided 
for clearness sake into two chapters, explaining the author s 
Theory of Conscience and Theory of Moral Principles; and the 
end of these two chapters, the sixth and seventh, concludes 
the most important half of Adam Smith s treatise. 

Part VI., on the Character of Virtue, which forms so large 
a division in the original, and which was only added to the 
sixth edition, corresponds with chapter IX., under the same 
title. Part IV., on the effect of Utility on our moral senti 
ments, forms chapter XII., in which all that is said on the sub 
ject in different passages is brought together. Part VII., or 
Systems of Moral Philosophy, helps in the thirteenth chapter to 
throw into clear light the relation of Adam Smith s theory 
to other theories of moral philosophy. The three chapters on 
the relation of religion to morality, on the theory of happi- 

c 2 


ness, and on final causes in ethics, correspond with no similar 
divisions in the original, but are severally collected from 
different passages in the book, which, scattered through the 
work, impress upon it a distinctive character, and constitute the 
chief part of its colouring. The last chapter of all serves to 
illustrate the historical importance of Adam Smith s work by 
showing the large part which it fills in the criticisms of sub 
sequent writers. 

An accidental coincidence between Adam Smith s theory 
and a passage in Polybius has unnecessarily been considered 
the original source of the Theory of Moral Sentiments. The 
very same passage is referred to by Hume, as showing that 
Polybius, like many other ancient moralists, traced our ideas 
of morality to a selfish origin. Yet there is nothing Adam 
Smith resented more strongly than any identification of his 
theory with the selfish system of morality. The coincidence 
is therefore probably accidental ; but the passage is worth 
quoting, as containing in a few lines the central idea of the 
doctrine about to be considered. Polybius is speaking of the 
displeasure felt by people for those who, instead of making 
suitable returns of gratitude and assistance for their parents, 
injure them by words or actions ; and he proceeds to say that 
(i man, who among all the various kinds of animals is alone 
endowed with the faculty of reason, cannot, like the rest, pass 
over such actions, but will make reflection on what he sees ; 
and comparing likewise the future with the present, will not 
fail to express his indignation at this injurious treatment, to 
which, as he foresees, he may also at some time be exposed. 
Thus, again, when any one who has been succoured by another 
in time of danger, instead of showing the like kindness to this 
benefactor, endeavours at any time to destroy or hurt him ; 
it is certain that all men must be shocked by such ingra 
titude, through sympathy with the resentment of their neiffh- 


botir j and from an apprehension also that the case may be 
their own. And from hence arises, in the mind of every man, 
a certain notion of the nature and force of duty, in which con 
sists both the beginning and end of justice. In like manner, the 
man who, in defence of others is seen to throw himself the fore 
most into every danger, never fails to obtain the loudest acclama 
tions of applause and veneration from the multitude ; while he 
who shows a different conduct is pursued with censure and 
reproach. And thus it is that the people begin to discern the 
nature of things honourable and base, and in what consists 
the difference between them ; and to perceive that the former, 
on account of the advantage that attends them, are to be 
admired and imitated, and the latter to be detested and 




To explain the origin of our ideas of right and wrong, and to 
find for them, if possible, a solid basis of authority, apart 
from their coincidence with the dogmas of theology, was the 
problem of moral philosophy which chiefly occupied the specu 
lation of the last century, and to which Adam Smith s Theory 
of Moral Sentiments was one of the most important contri 
butions. His theory, like all others, must he understood as 
an answer to the question : How do we come to regard certain 
actions or states of mind with approval and to condemn their 
contraries, and on what grounds can we justify our judgments 
in such matters and hold them to accord universally with the 
moral judgments of mankind ? 

But in order to understand Adam Smith s answer to this 
question, and his position in the history of thought, it is 
necessary to refer briefly to the theories of his predecessors 
down to the time when he took up the thread of the speculation 
and offered his solution of the problems they had dealt with. 

From the time when such problems first became popular in 
England, two main currents of thought may be detected run 
ning side by side in mutual antagonism to one another ; and 
whilst according to the teaching of the one school the ulli- 
rnate standard of morality was the interest of the individual 
himself or the community he belonged to, the aim of the oppo 
site school was to find some basis for morality which should 


make it less dependent on changes of circumstance and give to 
its maxims the authority of propositions that should hold true 
of all times and places. 

The names of Locke, Hobbes, Mandeville, and Hume, are 
associated with the former school; those of Clarke, Price, 
Lord Shaftesbury, Bishop Butler, and Hutcheson, with the 
latter ; and the difference between them is generally ex 
pressed by classing the former together as the Utilitarian, 
Selfish, or Sceptical School, and the latter as the school of 
Intuitional ists. 

The doctrine of Hobbes, that morality was identical with 
the positive commands and prohibitions of the lawgiver, and 
that the law was thus the real ultimate source and standard 
of all right and wrong, gave rise to several systems which 
sought in different ways to find for our moral sentiments a 
less variable and unstable foundation than was implied by 
such an hypothesis. It was in opposition to such a theory that 
Clarke and Price, and other advocates of the so-called Rational 
or Intellectual system, attributed our perception of moral dis 
tinctions to intuitions of our intellect, so that the truths of 
morality might appear, like those of mathematics, eternal and 
immutable, independent of peculiarities of time and place, and 
| with an existence apart from any particular man or country, 
| just as the definitions of geometry are independent of any 
particular straight lines or triangles. To deny, for example, 
that a man should do for others what he would wish done for 
himself was, according to Clarke, equivalent to a contention 
that, though two and three are equal to five, yet five is not 
equal to two and three. 

But the same foundation for an immutable morality that 
Clarke sought for in the human intellect, others sought for in 
a peculiar instinct of our nature. Thus Lord Shaftesbury 
postulated the existence of a moral sense, sufficient of itself to 


make us eschew vice and follow after virtue; and this moral 
sense, or primitive instinct for good, was implanted in us by 
nature, and carried its own authority with it. It judged of 
actions by reference to a certain harmony between our affec 
tions, and this harmony had a real existence, independent of 
all fashion and caprice, like harmony in music. As symmetry 
and proportion were founded in nature, howsoever barbarous 
might be men s tastes in the arts, so, in morals, an equally 
real harmony always presented a fixed standard for our 

This idea of a Moral Sense as the source and standard of 
our moral sentiments was so far developed by Hutcheson, that 
the Moral Sense theory of ethics- had been more generally 
connected with his name than with that of its real originator. 
Hutcheson argued that as we have external senses which per 
ceive sounds and colours, so we have internal senses which per 
ceive moral excellence and the contrary. This moral sense had 
its analogues in our sense of beauty and harmony, our sympa 
thetic sense, our sense of honour, of decency, and so forth. It 
was a primitive faculty of our nature, a factor incapable of 
resolution into simpler elements. It could not, for instance, 
be resolved into a perception of utility, for bad actions were 
often as useful as good ones arid yet failed to meet with appro 
bation, nor could it be explained as a mode of: sympathy, for 
we might morally approve even of the virtues which our 
enemies manifested. 

Bishop Butler, like his contemporary, Hutcheson, also 
followed Lord Shaftesbury in seeking in our natural instincts 
the origin of our moral ideas, Conscience with him taking the 
place of the Moral Sense, from its being possessed, as he 
thought, of a more authoritative character. Conscience, ac 
cording to Butler, was a faculty natural to man, in virtue. 
of which he was a moral agent; a faculty or principle of 


the human heart, in kind and nature supreme over all others, 
and bearing" its own authority for being so. Using 1 language 
about it, which we meet again in the Theory of Adam Smith, 
be spoke of it as " God s viceroy/ " the voice of God within 
us/ "the guide assigned to us by the Author of our nature/ 
The obligation to obey it therefore rested in the fact of its 
being the law of our nature. It could no more be doubted 
that shame was given us to prevent our doing wrong than that 
our eyes were given us to see with. 

It \vtts at this point that Adam Smith offered his solution of 
the difficulty. For call it Conscience, Moral Sense, or what 
you will, such expressions are evidently only re-statements of 
the problem to be explained. To call the fact of moral appro 
bation by such terms was simply to give it other names; and 
to say that our conscience or moral sense admitted of no 
analysis was equivalent to saying that our moral sentiments 
admitted of no explanation. Adam Smith s theory must 
therefore be understood as an attempt to explain what the 
Intuitionalist school really gave up as inexplicable ; and it 
represents the reaction against that a priori method which 
they had employed in dealing with moral problems. In that 
reaction, and in his appeal to the facts of experience, Adam 
Smith followed the lead of both Hartley and Hume. Ten 
years before him, the former, in his Observations on Man, had 
sought to explain the existence of the moral sense, by tracing 
it back to its lowest terms in the pleasures and pains of simple 
sensation, and marking its growth in the gradual association 
of our ideas. And Hume, a few years later, sought to discover 
" the universal principle from which all censure or approba 
tion was ultimately derived " by the experimental method of 
inquiry ; by comparing, that is, a number of instances of 
qualities held estimable on the one hand and qualities held 
blameable on the other, and observing what was the common 


element of each. From such an inquiry he inferred that those 
acts were good which were useful and those bad which were 
injurious, and that the fact of their being- useful or injurious 
was the cause of their goodness or badness. 

Thus it will be seen that the question of chief interest in 
Adam Smith s time was widely different from that which had 
divided the schools of antiquity. The aim or chief good of 
life which chiefly occupied them had receded into the back 
ground ; and the controversy concerned, as Hume declared, 
" the general foundation of morals/ whether they were de 
rived from Reason or from Sentiment, whether they were 
arrived at by a chain of argument and process of reasoning or 
by a certain immediate feeling and internal sense. 

But round this central question of the origin of our feelings 
of moral approbation other questions of considerable interest 
were necessarily grouped. There was the question of the 
authority and sanction of our moral sentiments, independently 
of their origin; and there was the question of the ultimate 
standard or test of moral actions. And these questions in 
volved yet others, as for example : What was the relation of 
morality to religion ? How far did they necessarily coincide, 
and how far were they independent of each other? Was 
human nature really corrupt, and to what degree \\vre the 
ordinary sanctions of this life a sufficient safeguard for the 
existence of morality ? Did happiness or misery, good or evil, 
really predominate in ihe world; and was there such a thing 
as disinterested benevolence, or might all virtue be resolved 
into self-love and be really only vice under cloak and con 
cealment ? 

The latter alternative had been the thesis which Mamleville 
had partly made and partly found popular. In his view the 
most virtuous actions might be resolved into selfishness, and 
Bell-love was the starting-point of all morality. This became 


therefore, one of the favourite topics of speculation ; but it is 
only necessary to notice Hume s treatment of it, inasmuch as 
it supplies the first principle of Adam Smith s theory. Hume 
assumed the existence of a disinterested principle underlying- 
all our moral sentiments. He argued that "u natural prin 
ciple of benevolence," impelling us to consider the interests of 
others, was an essential part of human nature. " The very 
aspect," he said, "of happiness, joy, prosperity, gives plea 
sure ; that of pain, suffering, sorrow communicates uneasiness/ 
And this fellow-feeling with others he had refused to resolve 
into any more general principle, or to treat as other than an 
original principle of human nature. 

This phenomenon of Sympathy, or fellow-feeling, which we 
have by nature with any passion whatever of another person, 
is made by Adam Smith the cardinal point and distinctive 
feature of his theory of the origin of moral approbation ; and 
the first sentence of his treatise contains therefore not only 
his answer one of flat contradiction to Mandeville, but the 
key-note to the whole spirit of his philosophy. " Ho\v selfish 
soever," he begins, " man may be supposed, there are evi 
dently some principles in his nature which interest him in the 
fortune of others, and render their happiness necessary to him, 
though he derives nothing from it, except the pleasure of 
seeing it/ So that pity or compassion, which Ilobbes had 
explained as the consciousness of a possible misfortune to our 
selves similar to that seen to befall another, is, with Adam 
Smith, a primary, not a secondary, emotion of our nature, an 
original and not a derivative passion, and one that is purely 
disinterested in its manifestation. 

In the next chapter and the four succeeding ones we shall 
observe how on this basis of an original instinct of sympathy 
Adam Smith constructs his explanation of the origin of our 
moral ideas. "With regard to the explanations already offered 


by previous writers, he believed that they all contained some 
portion of the truth from the particular point of view taken 
by each ; and in the explanation which he himself elaborated, 
he thought that some part or other of his system embraced 
and coincided with whatever was true in the different theories 
of his predecessors. 



THE phenomena of sympathy or fellow-feeling 1 show, accord 
ing to Adam Smith, that it is one of the original passions of 
human nature. We see it in the immediate transfusion of an 
emotion from one man to another, which is antecedent to any 
knowledge on our part of the causes of another man s grief or 
joy. It is a primary factor of our constitution as human 
beings, as is shown in the instinctive withdrawal of our limbs 
from the stroke we see aimed at another. It is indeed some 
thing almost physical, as we see in the tendency of a mob to 
twist their bodies simultaneously with the movements of a 
rope-dancer, or in the tendency of some people on beholding 
sore eyes to feel a soreness in their own. 

Sympathy originates in the imagination, which alone can 
make us enter into the sensations of others. Our own senses, 
for instance, can never tell us anything of the sufferings of a 
man on the rack. It is only by imagining ourselves in his 
position, by changing places with him in fancy, by thinking 
what our own sensations would be in the same plight, that 
we come to feel what he endures, and to shudder at the mere 
thought of the agonies he feels. But an analogous emotion 
springs up, whatever may be the nature of the passion, in the 
person principally affected by it ; and whether it be joy or 
grief, gratitude or resentment, that another feels, we equally 
enter as it were into his body , and in some degree become 

3 o ADAM r.MITH. 

the same person with him. The emotion of a spectator 
always corresponds to what, by bringing the case of another 
home to himself, he imagines should be that other s senti 

But although sympathy is thus an instantaneous emotion, 
and the expression of grief or joy in the looks or gestures of 
another affect us with some degree of a similar emotion, from 
their suggestion of a general idea of his bad or good fortune, 
there are some passions with whose, expression no sympathy 
arises till their exciting cause is known. Such a passion is 
anger, for instance. When we witness the signs of anger in a 
man we more readily sympathize with the fear or resentment 
of those endangered by it than with the provoked man him 
self. The general idea of provocation excites no sympathy 
with his anger, for we cannot make his passion our own till 
we know the cause of his provocation. Even our sympathy 
with joy or grief is very imperfect, till we know the cause of 
it : in fact, sympathy arises not so much from the view of any 
passion as from that of the situation which excites it. Hence 
it is that we often feel for another what he cannot feel him 
self, that passion arising in our own breast from the mere 
imagination which even the reality fails to arouse in his. 
We sometimes, for instance, blush for the rudeness of another 
who is insensible of any fault himself, because we feel how 
ashamed we should have felt had his conduct and situation 
been ours. Our sorrow,, again, for an idiot is no reflection of 
any sentiment of his, who laughs and sings, and is unconscious 
of his misery; nor is our sympathy with the dead due to any 
other consideration than the conception of ourselves as 
deprived of all the blessings of life and yet conscious of our 
deprivation. To the change produced upon them we join our 
own consciousness of that change, our own sense of the loss of 
the sunlight, of human affections, and human memory, and 


then sympathize with their situation by so vividly imagiun. 
it our own. 

But whatever may be the cause of sympathy, there is no 
doubt of the pleasure which the consciousness of a concord of 
feeling produces, and of the pain which arises from a sense of 
its absence. Some have accounted for this by the principle 
of self-love, by saying- that the consciousness of our own 
weakness and our need of the assistance of others makes us to 
rejoice in their sympathy as an earnest of their assistance, and 
to grieve in their indifference as a sign of their opposition. 
But both the pleasure and pain are felt so instantaneously, and 
upon such frivolous occasions, that it is impossible to explain 
them as a refinement of self-love. For instance, we are mor 
tified if nobody laughs at our jests, and are pleased if they do; 
not from any consideration of self-interest, but from an instinc 
tive need and longing after sympathy. 

Neither can the fact, that the correspondence of the senti 
ments of others with our own is a cause of pleasure, and the 
want of it a cause of pain, be accounted for entirely by the 
additional zest W 7 hich the joy of others communicates to our 
own, or by the disappointment which the absence of it causes. 
The sympathy of others with our own joy may, indeed, enliven 
that joy, and so give us pleasure; but their sympathy with 
our grief could give us no pleasure, if it simply enlivened our 
grief. Sympathy, however, whilst it enlivens joy, alleviates 
grief, and so gives pleasure in either case, by the mere fact of 
the coincidence of mutual feeling. 

The sympathy of others being more necessary for us in grief 
than in joy, we are more desirous to communicate to others 
our disagreeable passions than our agreeable ones. " The 
agreeable passions of love and joy can satisfy and support the 
heart without any auxiliary pleasure. The bitter and painful 
emotions of grief and resentment more strongly require the 


healing consolation of sympathy." Hence we are less anxious 
that our friends should adopt our friendships than that they 
should enter into our resentments, and it makes us much more 
angry if they do not enter into our resentments than if they 
do not enter into our gratitude. 

But sympathy is pleasurable, and the absence of it dis 
tressing, not only to the person sympathized with, but to the 
person sympathizing. We are ourselves pleased if we can 
sympathize with another s success or affliction, and it pains 
us if we cannot. The conciousness of an inability to sym 
pathize with his distress, if we think his grief excessive, gives, 
us even more pain than the sympathetic sorrow which the most;! 
complete accordance with him could make us feel. 

Such are the physical and instinctive facts of sympathy 
upon which Adam Smith founds his theory of the origin of 
moral approbation and our moral ideas. Before proceeding 
with this development of his theory, it is worth noticing again^ 
its close correspondence with that of Hume, who likewise 
traced moral sentiments to a basis of physical sympathy! 
"Wherever we go," says Hume, " whatever we reflect on or 
converse about, everything still presents us with the view of 
human happiness or misery, and excites in our breast a sym-i 
pathetic movement of pleasure or uneasiness." Censure or 
applause are, then, the result of the influence of sympathy upon; 
our sentiments. If the natural effects of misery, such as tears] 
and cries and groans, never fail to inspire us with compassio^ 
and uneasiness, "can we be supposed altogether insensible or, 
indifferent towards its causes, when a malicious or treacherous 
character arid behaviour are presented to us ? " 



HAVING analyzed the facts of sympathy, and shown that the 
correspondence of the sentiments of others with our own is a 
direct cause of pleasure to us, and the want of it a cause of 
pain, Adam Smith proceeds to show that the amount of 
pleasure or pain felt by one man in the conduct or feelings of 
another is the measure of his approbation or the contrary. 
The sentiments of any one are just and proper, or the reverse, 
according as they coincide or not with the sentiments of some 
one else who observes them. His approbation varies with the 
degree in which he can sympathize with them, and perfect 
Mncord of sentiment means perfect approbation. 

Just as a man who admires the same poem or picture 
hat I do, or laughs at the same joke, allows the justice of 
uy admiration or mirth, so he, who enters into my resent 
ment, and by bringing my injuries home to himself shares 
ny feelings, cannot but thereby approve of them as just 
md proper. According as his sympathetic indignation fails 
o correspond to mine, according as his compassion falls 
hort of my grief, according, in short, to the degree of dis- 
>roportion he may perceive between my sentiments and his, 
loes he feel stronger or weaker disapproval of my feelings. 

Moral approbation admits of the same explanation as intellec- 
ual approbation. For just as to approve or disapprove of the 
pinions of others is nothing more than to observe their agree- 
aent or disagreement with our own, so to approve or disap- 



prove of their feeling s and passions is simply to mark a similar 
agreement or disagreement existing 1 between our own and theirs. 

Consequently the sentiments of each individual are the 
standard and measure of the correctness of another s, and it is 
hardly possible for us to judge of another s feelings by any 
other canon than the correspondent affection in ourselves. 
The only measure by which one man can judge of the faculty 
of another is by his own faculty of the like kind. As we 
judge of another s eyesight, hearing, or reason, by comparison 
with our own eyesight, hearing, or reason, so we can only 
judge of another s love or resentment by our own love or our 
own resentment. If, upon bringing the case of another home 
to ourselves, we find that the sentiments which it produces 
in him coincide and tally with our own, we necessarily ap- 
prove of his as proportioned and suitable to their objects, ; 
while if otherwise, we necessarily disapprove of them as \ 
extravagant and out of proportion. 

Since, then, one point of view in every moral judgment is \ 
the " suitableness" which any affection of the heart bears to I 
the cause or object which excites it, the propriety or impro- 1 
priety of the action, which results from such affection, depends I 
entirely on the concord or dissonance of the affection with j 
that felt sympathetically by a spectator. Hence that part of I 
moral approbation which consists in the sense of the Pro 
priety of a sentiment to its cause (say, of anger to its provo*| 
cation), arises simply from the perception of a coincidence! 
between the sentiment of the person primarily affected by it 
and that of the spectator who, by force of imagination, putsj 
himself in the other s place. 

Let us take, for instance, as a concrete case, the exhibition! 
of fortitude under great distress. What is the source of ourj 
approbation of it ? It is the perfect coincidence of another s 
firmness with our own insensibility to his misfortunes. By 


his making no demand on us for that higher degree of sensi 
bility which we find to our regret that we do not possess, he 
effects a, most perfect correspondence between his sentiments 
arid ours, which causes us to recognize the perfect propriety 
of his conduct. The additional element which raises our 
led ing of mere approbation into one of admiration, is the 
wonder and surprise we feel at witnessing a degree of self- 
command, far above that usually met with among mankind. 

There are, however, several facts which modify our sense of 
the propriety or impropriety of another person s sentiments 
by their concord or disagreement with our own, and which it 
is important to notice. 

First of all, it is only when the objects which excite any 
sentiment bear some direct relation to the person primarily 
affected by the sentiment or to ourselves as sympathetically 
affected by it, that any moral judgment of his sentiment arises 
on our part. For instance, "the beauty of a plain, the great 
ness of a mountain, the ornaments of a building, the expres 
sion of a picture, the composition of a discourse, the conduct 
of a third person ... all the general subjects of science and 
taste, are what we and our companions regard as havim* no 
peculiar relation to either of us/ There is no occasion for 
sympathy, or for an imaginary change of situations, in order 
to produce, with regard to such things, the most perfect har 
mony of sentiments and affect- ons. Where there is such 
harmony, we ascribe to a man good taste or judgment, but 
recognize no degree of moral propriety. 

But it is otherwise with anything which more closely affects 
us. A misfortune or injury to another is not regarded by him 
and by us from the same point of view as a poeii or picture 
fire, for the former cannot but more closely affect him. 
.Hence a correspondence of feeling is much more difficult and 
much more important with regard to matters which nearly 


concern him, than with regard to matters which concern neither 
him nor us, and are really indifferent to our actual interests. 
We can easily bear with difference of opinion in matters of 
speculation or taste; but we cease to be bearable to cne 
another, if he has no fellow-feeling for my misfortunes or 
my griefs; or if he feels either no indignation at my injuries 
or none that bears any proportion to my resentment of them. 

This correspondence of feeling, then, being at the same time 
so difficult of attainment and yet so pleasurable when at 
tained, two operations come into play : the effort on our part, 
as spectators, to enter into the sentiments and passions of the 
person principally concerned, and the effort on his part also to 
bring his sentiments into unison with ours. Whilst we strive 
to assume, in imagination, his situation, he strives to assume 
ours, and to bring down his emotions to that degree with 
which we as spectators can sympathize. Conscious as he is that 
our sympathy must naturally fall short of the violence of his 
own, and longing as he does for that relief which he can only 
derive from a complete sympathy of feeling, he seeks to obtain 
a more entire concord by lowering his passion to that 
pitch which he is sensible that we can assume. Does he feel 
resentment or jealousy, he will strive to tone it down to the 
point at which we can enter into it. And by thus being- 
led to imagine how he himself would be affected, were he only 
a spectator of his own situation, he is brought to abate the 
violence of his original passion. So that in a sort of meeting- 
point of sympathy lies the point of perfect propriety, as has 
bjen shown in the case of the propriety of fortitude. 

On this twofold tendency of our moral nature two different 
s^ts of virtues are based. On our effort to sympathize with 
the passions and feelings of others are founded the gentler 
virtues of condescension, toleration, and humanity ; whilst the 
ereriier virtues of self-denial and self-command are founded on 


our effort to attune our passions to that pitch of which others 
can approve. In a union of these two kinds of virtues in feel 
ing much for others and little for ourselves, in restraining our 
selfish and indulging our benevolent affections consists the 
highest perfection of which human nature is capable. 

But how do we pass from a perception of the propriety of 
these good qualities to a perception of their virtue, for pro 
priety and virtue mean different things ? The answer is, that 
propriety of sentiment which, when displayed in the usual 
degree, meets with our approbation merely, calls for our admi 
ration and becomes virtuous when it surprises us by an unusual 
manifestation of it. Admiration is " approbation, heightened 
by wonder and surprise." " Virtue is excellence, something 
uncommonly great and beautiful, which rises far above what 
is vulgar and ordinary." There is no virtue in the ordinary 
display of the moral qualities, just as in the ordinary degree of 
the intellectual qualities there are no abilities. For sensibility 
to be accounted humanity it must exceed what is possessed by 
the "rude vulgar of mankind ;" and, in like manner, for self- 
command to amount to the virtue of fortitude, it must be 
much more than the weakest of mortals is capable of 

There are, in fact, two different standards by which we often 
measure the degree of praise or blame due to any action, one 
consisting in the idea of complete propriety or perfection, in 
comparison with which all human action must ever aDDear 
blameable, and the other consisting in that approach to such 
perfection of which the majority of men are capable. Just 
in the same way as a work of art may appear very beautiful 
when judged by the standard of ordinary perfection, ami 
appear full of faults when judged by the standard of absolute 
perfection, so a moral action or sentiment may frequently 
deserve applause that falls short of an ideal virtue. 


It having thus been shown that the propriety of any senti 
ment lies in a meeting-point between two different sympathies, 
or in a sort of compromise between two different aspects of the 
same passion, it is evident that such propriety must lie in a 
certain mediocrity or mean state bet ween two extremes, or in just 
that amount of pass-ion into which an impartial spectator can 
enter. That grief or resentment, for example, is proper which 
errs neither on the side of excess or of defect, which is neither 
too much nor too little. The impartial spectator, being unable 
either to enter into an excess of resentment or to sympathize. 
with its deficiency, blames the one extreme by calling it " fury/ 
and the other by calling it " want of spirit." 

On this point it is noticeable that Adam Smith s theory of 
Propriety agrees, as he says himself, "pretty exactly " with 
Aristotle s definition of Virtue, as consisting in a mean or 
Meo-or^s between two extremes of excess or defect. For in-* 
stance, courage, according to Aristotle, lies in the mean state 
between the opposite vices of cowardice and rashness. Fruga 
lity is a similar avoidance of both avarice and prodigality, and 
magnanimity consists in avoiding the extremes of either arro 
gance or pusillanimity. And as also coincident in every respccfci 
with his own theory of Propriety, Adam Smith claims Plato s 
account of virtue given in the Republic, where it is shown to* 
consist in that state of mind in which every faculty confines 
itself to its proper sphere without encroaching on that of any 
other, and performs its proper office with exactly that degree 
of strength which by nature belongs to it. 

But it is obvious that the mean state or point of propriety 
must be different in different passions, lying nearer to the 
excess in some and nearer to the defect in others. And it will 
be found that the decency or indecency of giving expression to 
our passions varies exactly in proportion to the general dispo 
sition of mankind to sympathize with them. 


To illustrate the application of this principle, Adam Smith 
divides all human passions into five different classes. These 
are the Passions which take their origin from the body, those 
which take their origin from a particular turn of the imagina 
tion, the unsocial Passions, the social Passions, and the selfish 
Passions. And whatever doubts may be felt as to the truth of 
Adam Smith s general theory of the origin of moral appro 
bation, there is no doubt of the interest which attaches to his 
account of the influence of our sympathies in conditioning the 
nature of our moral sentiments. 

1. To begin with the passions which have their origin from 
the body. The bodily passions, such as hunger and thirst, 
being purely personal, fail to excite any general sympathy, 
and in proportion to the impossibility of such sympathy is the 
impropriety or indecency of any strong expression of them. 
The real origin of our dislike to such passions when we witness 
them in others, the real reason why any strong expressions of 
them are so disagreeable, is not the fact that such passions 
are those which we share in common with the brutes (for we 
also share with them natural affection and gratitude), but 
simply the fact that we cannot enter into them, that they are 
insufficient to command our sympathies. 

With the passions which arise from the imngination \t is 
otherwise than with passions which originate from the body. 
For instance, a disappointment in love or ambition calls forth 
more sympathy than the greatest bodily evil, for our imagina 
tion lends itself more readily to sympathize with the misfor 
tunes affecting the imaginations of others, than is possible 
in the case of the sufferings of their bodies. Our imagi 
nation moulds itself more easily upon the imngination of 
another than our bodily frame can be affected by what affects his. 
Thus we can readily sympathize with a man who has lost his 
fortune, for he only suffers in his imagination, not in his body ; 


and we can fancy, just as he does, the loss of dignity, the 
neglect of his friends, the contempt from his enemies, the 
dependence, want, and misery which he himself foresees in 
store for him. The loss of a leg is a more real calamity thau 
the loss of a -mistress; but whilst it would be ridiculous to 
found a tragedy on the former loss, the latter misfortune has 
given rise to many a fine play. Mere pain never calls forth 
any lively sympathy, and for that reason there were no greater 
breaches of decorum committed in the plays of the Greeks, 
than in the attempt to excite compassion by the representation 
of physical agonies, as in the cries of Philoctetes, 1 or the tor 
tures of Hippolytus and Hercules. It is on this little sym- 
pathy which we feel with bodily pain that is founded the 
propriety of constancy and patience in its endurance. 

2. Where, however, a passion takes its origin from a parti 
cular turn of tJ/e imagination, the imagination of others, not 
having acquired that particular turn, cannot sympathize with 
the passion, and so finds it in some measure ridiculous. This 
is particularly the case with the passion of love. We may 
sympathize with our friend s resentment, if he has been in 
jured, or enter into his gratitude, if he has received a benefit; 
but if he is in love, however reasonable we may think it, " the 
passion appears to everybody, but the man who feels it, entirely 
dispropcrtioned to the value of the object; and love, though 
it is pardoned in a certain age, because we know it is natural, 
is always laughed at because we cannot enter into it. All 
serious and strong expressions of it appear ridiculous to a third 
person ; and though a lover may be good company to his mis- 
tress, he is so to nobody else. He himself is sensible of this ; and, 
as long as he continues in his sober senses, endeavours to treat 
his own passion with raillery and ridicule. It is the only style 
1 Lessing, in his Laocoan, iv. 3, criticizes Adam Smith s remarks on 
this subject. 


in which we care to hear of it, because it is the only style in 
which we ourselves are disposed to talk of it." 

Our philosopher however admits, that though we cannot 
properly enter into the attachment of the lover, we readily 
sympathize with his expectations of happiness. Though his 
passion cannot interest us, his situation of mingled hope and 
fear interests us, just as in the description of a sea voyage it 
is not the hunger of the crew which interests us but the dis- 
trers which it occasions them. When love is interesting on 
the stage, it is so simply from the distress it occasions. A 
scene of two lovers, in perfect security, expressing their 
mutual fondness for one another, would excite laughter and 
not sympathy. Such ti scene is never endured but from con 
cern for the dangers and difficulties foreseen in the sequel, or 
from interest in the secondary passions fear, shame, and 
despair which are associated with love as a situation, and 
with which alone we can really sympathize. 

3. In the third place come the unsocial passions, such as 
hatred and resentment, with all their modifications. They 
also are founded on the imagination, but have to be consider 
ably modified before they touch that point of propriety with 
which an impartial spectator can sympathize. For these 
passions give rise to a double sympathy, or rather divide our 
sympathy between the person who feels them and the person 
who is the object of them. Though we may sympathize with 
him who has received a provocation, w r e also sympathize with 
his adversary, if he becomes the object of undue resentment. 
We enter into the situation of both, and the fear we fed 
with the one moderates the resentment we feel with the other. 
Hence for resentment to attain the mean of propriety, it must 
be more reduced from its natural degree than almost any 
other passion ; and the greater restraint a man puts on his 
anger, the more will mankind, who have a very strong sense 


of the injuries done to another, enter into and Lear with his 

These unsocial passions are, however, necessary parts of 
human nature, and as on the one hand we cannot sympathize 
with excessive indignation, so on the other hand we blame 
and despise a man " who tamely sits still and submits to 
insults," from our inability to comprehend his insensibility 
and want of spirit. These passions are therefore useful to theJ 
individual, as serving 1 to protect him from insult and injury ; 
but there is still something disagreeable in them which makes 
their appearance in others the natural object of our aversion. 
It is so even when they are most justly provoked. Hence 
they are the only passions, the mere expression of which does 
not command our sympathies till we know the cause. The 
voice of misery, or the sight of gladness, at once communi 
cates to us corresponding sentiments ; but the tones of hatred 
or resentment inspire us naturally with fear and aversion. 
For that reason the music, which imitates such passions, is not 
the most agreeable, its periods being, unlike those which 
express joy or grief or love, "irregular, sometimes very short, 
sometimes very long, and distinguished by no regular 

For all these reasons it is very difficult to adjust resentment 
to the point of propriety demanded by the sympathy of 
others. The provocation must be such that we should incur 
contempt for not resenting it ; and smaller offences are better 
neglected. We should resent more from a sense that mankind 
expect it of us than from the impulse of the passion itself. 
There is no passion concerning whose indulgence we should 
more carefully consider the sentiments of the cool and impar 
tial spectator. Magnanimity, or a regard to maintain our 
own rank and dignity, can alone ennoble its expression ; and 
we should show,, from our whole manner, that passion has not 


extinguished our humanity, and that, if we yield to revenge, 
j we do so with reluctance and from necessity. 

4. With regard to the social passions, such as generosity, 
humanity, kindness, compassion, or friendship, the facts are 
quite different. Not only is the mere expression of these 
sentiments agreeable, but they are made doubly agreeable by 
a division of the spectator s sympathies between the person 
who feels them and the person who is the object of them. 
We enter with pleasure into the satisfaction of both, into the 
agreeable emotions of the man who is generous or compas 
sionate, and into the agreeable emotions of the man who 
receives the benefit of his generosity or compassion. 

Hence in these passions the point of propriety lies nearer 
to the excess than to the defect, just as in the opposite 
passions it lay nearer to the defect. " There is something 1 
agreeable even in the weakness of friendship and humanity," 
and if we blame the too tender mother, the too indulgent 
father, or the too generous friend, it is always with sympathy 
and kindness, and with no feeling of hatred or aversion. 

5. Between the social and the unsocial passions the selfish 
passions occupy a middle place. These are joy and grief for 
our own personal good or bad fortune. Since no opposite 
sympathy can ever interest the spectator against them, their 
excessive expression is never so disagreeable as excessive 
resentment ; and for the reason that no double sympathy can 
ever interest us for them, they are never so agreeable as 
proper humanity and benevolence. 

We are, Adam Smith thinks, naturally disposed to sympa 
thize more with our neighbours small joys than with their 
great ones, and more with their great sorrows than with their 
small ones. A man raised suddenly to a much higher position 
may be sure that the congratulations of his best friends are 
not perfectly sincere. If he has any judgment, he is sensible 


of this, and,, instead of appearing- elated, endeavours to smother 
his joy, and keep down his elevation of mind. He affects the 
same plainness of dress, and the same modesty of behaviour,-: 
r which became him before, and redoubles his attentions to his 
former friends. So his conduct may meet with our approval, 
for "we expect, it seems, that he should have more sympathy 
with our envy and aversion to his happiness than we have 
with his happiness/" 

With the smaller joys of life it is different. The ability of 
the spectators to sympathize with these places the point of 
propriety in their indulgence much higher. We readily 
sympathize with habitual cheerfulness, which spreads itself, 
as it were, by infection. Hence it is hardly possible to 
express too much satisfaction in the little occurrences of 
common life, in the company of yesterday evening 1 , in thej 
entertainment generally, in what was said or done, " and in 
all those frivolous nothings which fill up the void of human 

It is otherwise with grief, for while small vexations excite 
no sympathy, deep affliction calls for the greatest. A man 
will meet with little sympathy, who is hurt if his cook or 
butler have failed in the least article of their duty ; who is^ 
vexed if his brother hummed a tune all the time he was telling 
a story ; who is put out of humour by the badness of the 
weather when in the country, by the badness of the roads when 
upon a journey, or by want of company and dulness when in 
town. Grief is painful to ourselves or to others, and we should 
endeavour either not to conceive it at all about trifles, or to 
shake it off if we do. There is a certain " malice in mankind 
which not only prevents all sympathy with little uneasinesses, 
but renders them in some measure diverting." 

But though we all take delight in raillery, and in the small 
vexations which occur to our companions, our sympathy with 


fthem in case of deep distress is very strong- and very sincere, 
r If you labour under any signal calamity; if by some extra- 
|ordinary misfortune you are fallen into poverty, into diseases, 
into disgrace and disappointment . . . you may generally 
depend upon the sincerest sympathy of all your friends, and, 
as far as interest and honour will permit, upon their kindest 
assistance too. Bat if your misfortune is not of this dreadful 
kind, if you have only been a little baulked in your ambition, 
if you have only been jilted by your mistress, or are only 
henpecked by your wife, lay your account with the raillery of 
all your acquaintance. " 




THE sense of the propriety or impropriety of a moral action or 
sentiment is, according to Adam Smith, only one side of the 
fact of moral approbation, a sense of their merit or demerit 
constituting 1 the other side. An action or sentiment is proper 
or improper in relation to its cause, or the motive which 
excites it, whilst it is meritorious or the contrary in relation 
to its effect, or in accordance with its beneficial or hurtful 

It is important to notice this distinction, for it is a protest, 
as Adam Smith himself declares, against the theories of Dr. 
Hutcheson and Hume, who, he complains, had considered too 
much the tendency of affections, their good or bad results, 
whilst neglecting the relation in which they stood to their 
causes. This was to overlook the facts of common life, since 
a person s conduct and sentiments are generally regarded 
under both these aspects, a man receiving blame for excess of 
love, or grief, or resentment, not only by reason of the ruinous 
effects they tend to produce, but also on account of the little 
occasion that was given for them. It is the want of propor 
tion between a passion and its cause, as well as the sense of 
its disastrous effects, which make up the whole character of 
moral disapprobation. Whilst praise or blame are attached to 
the first aspect of an action or sentiment, a stronger feeling of 
sympathy or antipathy attaches itself to either in connexion 


with their effects, a feeling that they deserve reward or punish 
ment, a feeling in other words of their merit or demerit. 

As gratitude is the feeling which most directly prompts us 
to reward another man, and resentment that which most 
directly prompts us to punish him, an action will call for 
reward or punishment according as it is the object of either of 
these feelings. The measure, therefore, of the merit or demerit 
of any action will be the feeling of gratitude or resentment it 

But here again the principle of sympathy must come into 
play, to decide on the rightfulness of the gratitude or resent 
ment. An action can only seem meritorious or the contrary, 
as deserving of reward or punishment, if it is the proper and 
right object of gratitude or resentment ; and only that grati 
tude or resentment can be proper which commands the 
sympathy of the impartial spectator. That man s action 
deserves reward as meritorious who to somebody is the object 
of a gratitude which every human heart is disposed to beat 
time to, whilst, his action seems to deserve punishment as bad 
who to somebody is the object of a resentment which every 
reasonable man can sympathize with and adopt. According 
as everybody who hears of any action would wish to see it 
rewarded or punished may it fairly be accounted meritorious 
or the reverse. 

In regarding, then, the beneficial or hurtful tendency of 
actions, our sense of their merit or demerit, due to sympathy 
with the gratitude or the resentment they respectively excite, 
appears to arise in the following way. 

Sympathizing as we do with the joy of others in prosperity, 
we also join them in the satisfaction with which they regard 
the cause of their good fortune. If the cause has been a man, 
this is more especially the case. "VVe regard him in the same 
engaging light in which we imagine he must appear to the 


object of his bounty, whilst our sympathy with the joy of the 
latter inspires us also with a rejection of the same gratitude 
he feels. 

In the same manner we sympathize not only with the 
distress or sorrow of another, but with the aversion he feels!: 
towards the cause of it. When we see one man oppressed ori 
injured by another, our sympathy with the sufferer only! 
animates our fellow-feeling- with his resentment against his 
oppressor. So we even enter into the imaginary resentment 
of the slain, and by an illusive sympathy with that resent 
ment which we know he would feel, were he alive, exact < 
vengeance from the criminal who murdered him. 

But although our sympathy with the beneficial results of 
an act may thus lead us to join in the gratitude it occasions,, 
and so to regard it as meritorious or deserving of reward, this 
is only, as has been said, one side or aspect o complete moral 
approbation. To constitute the latter, a sense of the pro 
priety of an action must be joined to a sense of its merit; and 
an action is only then really good when we can sympathize 
with the motives of the agent as well as with the gratitude 
his conduct produces. Wherever we cannot enter into the 
affections of the agent, wherever we cannot recognize any 
propriety in the motives which influenced him, w i ail to 
sympathize with the gratitude of the person he has befriended. 
"Where, for instance, the greatest benefits have been conferred: 
from the most trivial motives, as where a man gives an estate 
to another simplv because his name or his surname happen toil 
be the same as his own, little gratitude seems due ; and con 
sequently the action, though beneficial in its tendency, since 
it fails to command our complete sympathy, fails to command 
our complete approbation. 

So on the other hand, however hurtful in their tendency a. 
man s actions or intentions may be, if we sympathize with his 



motives, that is, if we look upon him as in the right, we can 
feel no sympathy with the resentment of the person in 
juriously affected by him. If he suffers no more than our own 
sympathetic indignation would have prompted us to inflict 
upon him, we have no fellow-feeling with his suffering, and 
consequently no sense of the demerit of the action he regards 
with resentment. It would be impossible, for instance, to 
sympathize with the resentment expressed by a murderer 
against his judge. So that to constitute the sentiment of 
complete moral disapprobation, there must be impropriety of 
motive on the part of the agent as well as a hurtful result to 
some one else ; or, in other words, for an action to be pro 
nounced by our sympathetic imagination completely bad, it 
must be both improper in its motive and injurious in its result. 
It is not enough for it to be simply injurious. 

It results therefore from this analysis, that a complete 
sense of the merit of an action, or the feeling of perfect 
moral approbation, is really "a compounded sentiment/ made 
up of two distinct sympathetic emotions, namely, of a direct 
sympathy with the sentiments of the agent, and an indirect 
sympathy with the gratitude of those who receive the benefit 
of his actions. Take our sense of the good desert of a par 
ticular character in history Scipio, Timoleon, or Aristides. 
In imagination we become those very persons, and, by a direct 
sympathy with them, enter into their designs, and feel the 
same generous sentiments that they felt. But we also by an 
indirect sympathy feel the benefit of their great actions, and 
enter into the gratitude of those who experienced them. The 
sympathetic emotions of gratitude and love, which we thus 
feel when we bring home to our own breast the situation of 
those originally concerned, account for our whole sense of the 
merit of such actions, and for our desire of their meeting with 
a fitting recompence. 


In the same way a complete sense of the demerit of an action 

is a compounded sentiment made up of two distinct emotions; 

of a direct antipathy to the sentiments of the agent, and an 

indirect sympathy with the resentment of the sufferer. We 

feel a direct antipathy to the detestable sentiments which 

actuated a Borgia or a Nero, while we sympathize indirectly 

with the resentment of those they afflicted. Our sense of the 

atrocity of their conduct, and our delight in hearing of its 

punishment in short, our whole feeling of ill desert, and of 

the justice of inflicting evil on the person who is guilty of it, 

and of making him grieve in his turn arises from the sym- ; 

pathetic indignation which boils up in our breast whenever 

we thoroughly bring home to ourselves the case of the sufferer. 

Nor is it any degradation of our sense of the demerit of 

actions to ascribe it to our sympathy with the resentment of 

another. Resentment is in every respect the counterpart of 

gratitude, and if our sense of merit arises from our sympathy 

with the one, our sense of demerit may well arise from our 

sympathy with the other. Resentment, too, as a principle of 

human nature, is only evil when it appears in excess as 

revenge ; and as it is excessive a hundred times for once that 

it is moderate, we are apt to consider it altogether detestable, 

because in its ordinary manifestation it is so. But it is not 

disapproved of when properly humbled, and entirely brought 

down to the level of the sympathetic indignation of the 

spectator. When we as bystanders entertain an animosity 

corresponding to that of the sufferer, when his resentment in 

no respect exceeds our own, when no word nor gesture escapes 

him that denotes an emotion more violent than we can shaiv, 

and when he never aims at inflicting a punishment severer 

than that we should rejoice to see inflicted or would inflict 

ourselves, it is impossible that we should not entirely approve 

of his sentiments. 


It appears then in Adam Smith s theory, that the element 
of morality in actions only really arises from reference to their 
tendency. The sentiment or affection of the heart from which 
all action results may in relation to its cause or motive be 
regarded as unsuitable or disproportionate, according- as it 
exceeds or falls short of that mean point with which the 
general observer can sympathize. It may be thus approved 
or disapproved as proper or improper, but it is not applauded 
or condemned as moral or immoral. An anger which is out 
of proportion to the cause of its provocation, a state of joy or 
sorrow out of keeping with their origin, a generosity or bene 
volence that seem excessive, are blamed not as immoral, but 
as out of harmony with the feelings of a spectator. So with 
reference to the bodily passions, it is the office of temperance 
to confine them within those limits " which grace, which pro 
priety, which delicacy, and modesty require," (not within 
those which morality require). It is only when regard is paid 
to the effects which flow from different actions, that a stronger 
feeling appears, a feeling not merely of propriety or im 
propriety, but of their merit or demerit, or in other words, of 
their moral worth or the contrary. 

It is only actions of a beneficent tendency, which proceed 
from proper motives, that are thus meritorious, for such 
actions alone seem to deserve a reward, from the gratitude 
they command from a spectator through sympathy. And it 
is only actions of a hurtful tendency, which proceed from im 
proper motives, that seem really wicked, for they alone seem 
to deserve a punishment, from the resentment they inspire a 
spectator with by sympathy. 

Adam Smith illustrates his theory that the wrongfulness or 
demerit of actions depends on our sense of their deserving to 
be punished by the two virtues of beneficence and justice. 
The mere want of beneficence, the neglect to do the good 

E 2 


expected of one, may give rise to feelings of dislike and dis 
approbation, but as it does no real positive evil, it provokes 
no feeling of sympathetic resentment. Take a case of the 
blackest ingratitude, where a man fails to recompense his 
benefactor, when the latter stands in great need of his assist 
ance. Every impartial spectator rejects all fellow-feeling 
with the selfishness of his motives, and he is the proper object 
of the highest disapprobation. Still since he does no positive 
hurt, but only neglects to do the good he might, he is the 
object of hatred, not of resentment, two passions which differ 
in this respect, that whilst the former is called forth by im 
propriety of sentiment and behaviour, the latter is only 
provoked by actions which tend to do real and positive hurt to 
some particular persons. Ingratitude therefore cannot be 
punished. It is improper, and meets with the disapprobation 
of the spectator, but it is not wrong or immoral, in the sense 
in which it would be, if it went a step further, and raised a 
feeling of resentment by actual liurtfulness of tendency 
against somebody. 

The proper degree of beneficence, moreover, as that which 
ordinary experience leads us to expect, and also makes the 
measure of our praise or blame, is in itself neither praiseworthy 
nor blameable. As it is only the defect of ordinary bene 
ficence which incurs our blame, so it is only the excess of it 
which deserves our praise. A father, or son, or brother, who 
behaves to the correspondent relation neither better nor worse 
than the average of mankind do, seems to deserve neither 
praise nor blame. His conduct, though it may attain that 
point at which we recognize its propriety and so command 
our approbation, commands nothing more. It is only when 
we are surprised by unexpected, though proper kindness, or 
by unexpected and improper unkindness, that it attains the 
point of being praiseworthy or the reverse. 


Beneficence, when it thus attains a high degree, when it 
becomes productive of the greatest good, at once becomes the 
object of the liveliest gratitude, appears to be deserving of 
the highest reward, and consequently appears as meritorious 
and praiseworthy. 

The virtue of justice differs from that of beneficence in 
that the violation of it, by doing real and positive hurt to 
some particular persons, from motives that are disapproved 
of, is the natural object of resentment, and calls in conse 
quence for punishment. Resentment was given to us " by 
nature for defence, and for defence only. It is the safeguard 
of justice and the security of innocence. It prompts us to 
beat off the mischief which is attempted to be done to us, and 
to retaliate that which is already done, that the offender may be 
made to repent of his injustice, and that others, through fear of 
the like punishment, may be terrified from being guilty of the 
like offence." As mankind generally approve of the violence 
employed to avenge the hurt which is done by injustice, so 
they much more approve of that which is employed to pre 
vent and beat off the injury, and to restrain the offender from 
hurting his neighbour. Even the person^ guilty of intending 
injustice feels that force may be used against him, both by 
the person he is about to injure, or by others, either to 
obstruct the execution of his crime, or to punish him when 
he has executed it. 

This fact accounts for the great distinction between justice 
and all the other social virtues, that we feel a higher obliga 
tion to act according to justice than according to friendship, 
charity, or generosity; and that, while the practice of the 
latter virtues seems to be left in some measure to our own 
choice, we feel ourselves to be " in a peculiar manner tied, 
bound, and obliged to the observation of justice." For we 
feel that force may, with the utmost propriety, and with the 


approbation of mankind, be made use of to compel us to 
observe the rules of the one, but not to follow the precepts of 
the others. 

It is this feeling-, then, of the legitimate use of force and 
punishment which makes us view with so much stronger a 
sense of disapprobation actions which are unjust that is, 
injurious to others than actions which are merely breaches 
of that propriety which we like to see observed in the various 
relationships that connect men together. A father who fails 
in the ordinary degree of parental affection to a son, or a son 
who is wanting in filial respect for his father, or a man who 
shuts up his heart against compassion, incur, indeed, blame; 
but not that superior degree of blame which relates to actions 
of a positively hurtful tendency. 

But though this superior form of discipprobation attaches 
itself to acts of injustice, just as a superior form of approba 
tion attaches itself to actions of great beneficence, there is no 
more merit in the observance of justice than there is demerit 
in the neglect of beneficence. " There is, no doubt, a pro 
priety in the practice of justice, and it merits upon that 
account all the approbation which is due to propriety. But 
as it does no real positive good, it is entitled to very little 
gratitude. Mere justice is, upon most occasions, but a nega 
tive virtue, and only hinders us from hurting our neighbour. 
The man who barely abstains from violating either the person 
or the estate or the reputation of his neighbours, has surely 
very little positive merit. . . . "VVe may often fulfil all the 
rules of justice by sitting still and doing nothing." As before 
explained, the sense of the merit of an action is different from 
the sense of its propriety, and unless an action has both 
these characteristics, it does not really satisfy the conditions 
of morality. 

In proportion, therefore, to the resentment naturally felt by 


a sufferer from injustice is the sympathetic indignation of the 
spectator, and the sense of guilt in the agent. But the re 
sentment itself, being proportioned to the evil done by an act, 
the demerit of an act may be measured by the evil it causes. 
Death being the greatest evil one man can do to another, 
and consequently incurring the highest indignation from those 
connected with the slain man, takes rank as the worst of all 
crimes. Injuries to a man s property and possessions being 
less hurtful to him than an injury to his life or person, theft 
and robbery rank next to murder in atrocity. And as it is a 
smaller evil to be disappointed of what \ve have only in ex 
pectation than to be deprived of what we have in possession, 
breach of contract is a less heinous crime than one which 
attacks a man s actual property. 




IN the estimation of Dugald Stewart, the most valuable con 
tribution of Adam Smith to the improvement of moral science 
is his attempt to account for the irregularity of our moral 
sentiments, and for their liability to be modified by other con 
siderations, very different from the propriety or impropriety 
of the affections of the agent, or from their beneficial or 
hurtful tendency. Adam Smith was, he thinks, the first 
philosopher to appreciate thoroughly the importance of the 
difficulty, which is equally great in every theory of the origin 
of our moral sentiments; namely, that our actual moral senti 
ments of approbation, or the contrary, are greatly modified 
by matters extraneous to the intention of the agent ; as, for 
example, by the influence on the act itself of quite fortuitous 
or accidental circumstances. 

There are, first of all, the effects of prosperity and adversity 
on the moral judgments of men with regard to the propriety 
of action, whereby it is easier to obtain approbation in the 
one condition than it is in the other. 

In equal degrees of merit there is scarcely any one who 
does not more respect the rich and great than the poor and 
humble; and, on the other hand, an equal amount of vice 
and folly is regarded with less aversion and contempt in the 
former than it is in the latter. How is this to be explained? 


and what is the origin of this perversion of moral senti 

The real explanation of it is to be sought in the fact of our 
sympathetic emotions, which, as they enter more vividly into 
the joys than into the sorrows of others, feel more pleasure in 
the condition of the wealthy than in that of the poor. It is 
agreeable to sympathize with joy, and painful to enter into 
grief; so that, where there is no envy in the case, our pro 
pensity to sympathize with joy is much stronger than our 
propensity to sympathize with sorrow; and our fellow-feeling 
for the agreeable emotion approaches nearer to its original 
intensity than our fellow-feeling for the painful emotion of 
another person. It is for this reason that we are more 
ashamed to weep than to laugh before company, though \ve 
may often have as real occasion to do the one as the other : 
we always feel that the spectators are more likely to go along 
with us in the agreeable than in the painful emotion. Hence 
our disposition to admire the rich and powerful, and to despise 
or neglect the poor and lowly, arises from our association of 
joy and pleasure with the condition of the former, and of pain 
and distress with that of the latter. 

The condition of the former, in the delusive eo]ours of our 
imagination, seems to be almost the abstract idea of a perfect 
and happy state. Hence we feel a peculiar satisfaction with 
the satisfaction we attribute to them. We favour all their 
inclinations, and forward all their wishes. We are eager 
to assist them in completing a system of happiness that 
approaches so near to perfection. 

It is from the command which wealth thus has over the 
sympathetic and agreeable sentiments of mankind that leads 
to so eager a pursuit and parade of it, and to so strong an 
aversion to, and concealment of, poverty. To what purpose 
is all the toil of the world for wealth, power, and pre-eini- 


nence ? The only advantage really looked to from it is " to 
be observed, to be attended to, to be taken notice of with 
sympathy, complacency, and approbation;" and the rich man; 
glories more in his riches, because they naturally draw upon 
him the attention of the world, than for any of the other 
advantages connected with them. And for the same reason 
the poor man is ashamed of his poverty, for though he may 
be as well supplied as the rich man with the necessities of 
life, he is mortified at being placed out of the sight of man 
kind; at being treated with neglect, and at being an object of 
the antipathy rather than of the sympathy of his fellows. 

.Rank and distinction are therefore coveted, as setting us in 
a situation most in view of general, sympathy and attention. 
"And thus, place that great object which divides the wives of 
aldermen is the end of half the labours of human life, and is the 
cause of all the tumult and bustle, all the rapine and injustice, 
which avarice and ambition have introduced into the world." 

And thus, from our natural disposition to admire the rich 
and powerful, a different standard of judgment arises about 
the propriety of their conduct than that employed about the 
behaviour of other men. A single transgression of the rules 
of temperance and propriety by a common man is generally 
more resented than their constant and avowed neglect by a 
man of fashion. In the superior stations of life, the road to 
virtue and that to fortune are not always the same, as they 
are generally in the middling and inferior stations. In the 
latter stations of life success nearly always depends on the 
favour and good opinion of equals and neighbours, and these 
can seldom be obtained without a tolerably regular conduct. 
In them, therefore, "we may generally expect a considerable 
degree of virtue ; and fortunately for the good morals of 
society, these are the situations of by far the greater part of 


Not only however has prosperity or adversity great iu- 
luence on our moral sentiments, leading- us to see a propriety 
n a certain course of behaviour in the one condition which 
e are apt to condemn as improper in the other, but the 
>raise or blame we attach to any action depends to a great 
xtent on the effect upon it of fortune or accident. Although 
verybody allows that the merit or demerit of actions is still 
iie same, whatever their unforeseen consequences may be, yet, 
vhen we come to particular cases, it is clear that our senti 
ments of merit or demerit are very much affected by the 
ctual consequences which happen to proceed from any action, 
nd that our sense of either of them is thereby enhanced or 

Every action consists of three parts, some one of which 
aust constitute the basis of whatever praise or blame we 
ttribute to it. These three parts are : the intention or af- 
eetion of the heart, from which the action proceeds ; the 
ixternal movement of the body which this affection causes ; and 
he good or bad consequences which actually flow from it. 
It is evident that the movement of the body, being often the 
same in the most innocent as in the most blameable actions 
as in the case of shooting at a bird and shooting at a man 
cannot be the source of praise or blame. Neither can the 
accidental consequences of an action, which depend on fortune, 
not on the agent. The only consequences for which the latter 
is responsible are those in some way connected with his in 
tention; so that it is to the intention or affection of the heart, 
to the propriety or impropriety, to the beneficence or hurt- 
fulness of the design, that all praise or blame, all approbation 
or disapprobation of any kind, must ultimately belong. 

The problem then to be explained is the fact that our 
sense of a man s merit or demerit is at all influenced by re 
sults which lie beyond his control, and that we moderate our 


praise or blame of his conduct according- as his good or ba 
intention fails or not of its intended benefit or injury. Th< 
explanation is as follows. 

The passions of gratitude and resentment, on which depenc 
our feeling of the merit or dement of actions, are ultimately 
based on the bodily sensation of pleasure and pain. They an 
excited primarily by whatever produces pleasure or pain, ever 
by inanimate objects. " We are angry for a moment ever 
with the stone that hurts us. A child beats it, a dog barb 
at it, a choleric man is apt to curse it." We should fee! 
guilty of a sort of inhumanity, if we neglected to avenge oui 
friend by the destruction of the instrument that had acci- 
dently caused his death. So it is with gratitude. A sailoi! 
who mended his fire with the plank that had saved him from! 
shipwreck would seem guilty of an unnatural act, for we 
should expect him to preserve it with care and affection. So 
we conceive something like a real love and affection for at 
snuff-box, or pen-knife, or a stick, to which we have long been! 
accustomed. "The house which we have long lived in, the 
tree whose verdure and shade we have long enjoyed, are both! 
looked upon with a sort of respect which seems due to suclii 
benefactors. The decay of the one, or the ruin of the other, j 
affects us with a kind of melancholy, though we should ) 
sustain no loss by it." 

Nevertheless to be the proper object of gratitude and re 
sentment, a thing must not only be the cause of pleasure and 
pain, but itself capable of feeling them in return. Animals | 
therefore are less improper objects of gratitude and resent 
ment than inanimate things. " The dog that bites, the ox 
that gores, are both of them punished. If they have been the ; 
causes of the death of any person, neither the public, nor the 
relations of the slain, can be satisfied, unless they are put to 
death in their turn/ And on the other hand, animals that 


have done a great service, are regarded with much gratitude; 
and we are shocked with the ingratitude of the officer, in the 
Turkish Spy, who stabbed the horse which had carried him 
across an arm of the sea, lest it should ever distinguish some 
other person by a similar feat. 

But something more is still necessary to the complete 
gratification of gratitude and resentment than the mere capa 
bility for feeling pleasure or pain in return for pain or pleasure 
caused. The latter must have been caused by design, and 
there must be a consciousness of design in the return. The 
object of resentment is chiefly not so much to make our enemy 
feel pain in his turn, as to make him conscious that he feels it 
ipon account of his past conduct, and to make him repent of 
hat conduct. And the chief object of gratitude is not only 
o make our benefactor feel pleasure in his turr., but to make 
)im conscious that he meets with that reward on account 
)f his past conduct, and to make him pleased with that 

Hence three different qualifications are necessary to render 
janything the complete and proper object of gratitude or re- 
sentment. It must first of all be the cause of pleasure or pain ; 
it must secondly be capable of feeling pleasure or pain; and 
it must thirdly produce pleasure or pain from a design, ap 
proved of in the one case or disapproved of in the otheit 

Since then the productiveness of pleasure or pain is the 
primary exciting cause of gratitude or resentment, though the 
intentions of any person should be ever so proper and bene 
ficent, or ever so improper and malevolent, yet, if he has 
failed in producing the good or evil he intended, less gratitude 
or resentment seems due to him, or in other words, less merit 
or^ demerit seems to attach to him, because the pleasure or 
pain, the exciting causes of gratitude or resentment, are in 
either case wanting. And so, where in a man s intentions 


there has been no laudable benevolence or blamcable malice, 
but his actions have nevertheless done great good or great 
evil, then some gratitude or resentment will attach to him, 
because their exciting causes have been present in either case. 
But since the consequences of a man s actions rest altogether 
with fortune, our sentiments of merit or demerit depend to a 
great extent upon her influence on events, upon her control 
of the good or bad, the pleasurable or painful results, which 
flow from our actions. 

Thus the irregularity of our moral sentiments concerning 
the merit or demerit of actions depends ultimately on the 
accidental amount of pleasure or pain they produce, since 
these are the primary exciting causes of our gratitude or 
resentment. Having explained the cause of the phenomenon, 
it remains to illustrate the effects. 

Even the impartial spectator feels in some measure a 
difference of merit in a man s conduct according as his good 
intentions have produced or not the results intended by him, 
although they may only have been defeated by accident. It 
is indeed common to say, that we are equally obliged to the 
man who has endeavoured to serve us, as to the man who 
really has served us; but this saying, "like all other fine 
speeches, must be understood with a grain of allowance/ 
When all other circumstances are equal, there will always be, 
even in the best and noblest mind, some difference of affection 
in favour of the friend who carries out his good intention, as 
against the friend who fails to do so. 

And as the merit of an unsuccessful attempt to do good is 
diminished by its miscarriage, so is the demerit of an un 
successful attempt to do evil. Except in the case of treason, 
the conception of which is in many countries punished as 
severely as its commission, the mere design to commit a crime 
is scarcely ever punished as heavily as its actual perpetration. 


In hardly any country is the man, who fires a pistol at his 
enemy but misses him, punished with death, though there is 
the same degree of depravity in the criminal design as in the 
criminal action. "The resentment of mankind, however, 
runs so high against this crime, their terror for the man who 
shows himself capable of committing it is so great, that the 
mere attempt to commit it ought in all countries to be capital. 
The attempt to commit smaller crimes is almost always 
punished very lightly, and sometimes is not punished at all. 
The thief, whose hand has been caught in his neighbour s 
wcket before he had taken anything out of it, is punished 
vith ignominy only. If he had got time to take away a 
landkerchief, he would have been put to death/ 1 The state 
)f the law only reflects the natural feelings of individuals, 
<vho feel less resentment when a man has failed in executing 
he mischief he intended than when he has actually done them 
n injury. 

For the same reason, a man, who has been saved purely by 
ccident from the commission of a crime he intended, though 
ie is conscious that his real guilt, that of his heart, remains 
l he same, considers himself as less deserving of resentment 
md punishment; and thus all the sense of his guilt is either 
diminished or destroyed by the mere fact of fortune having 
avoured him. 

Again, as Fortune influences our moral sentiments by lessen- 
ng the good or evil, the pleasure or pain, intended by our 
actions, so does she increase our sense of their merit or demerit, 
)eyond what their mere intention would justify, when thev 
lappen to give rise to extraordinary pleasure or pain. Even 

It is remarkable, as characteristic of the difference of feeling between 
A.dam Smith s time and our own, that he should have mentioned this fnct 
n the criminal law of his time, without the slightest comment of cU- 


when an intention deserves neither praise nor blame, we are J 
conscious of a shade of merit or demerit, according to its agree 
able or disagreeable effects on us. We feel a transitory grati 
tude to the bearer of good tidings, and a transitory resentment 
to the innocent author of our sorrow. And though we think it 
barbarous in Tigranes, king of Armenia, to have struck off the 
head of a man for being the first to announce the approach of 
an enemy, yet we think it reasonable that, by the custom of 
all courts, the officer who first brings the news of a victory 
should be entitled to considerable preferments. 

When the negligence of one man causes damage to another, 
even though his negligence should be no more than a -want of 
extreme circumspection, the law often insists on compen 
sation. In Rome there was a law which compelled any one 
who, by reason of his horse taking fright and becoming 
unmanageable, rode over another man s slave, to compensate 
the loss. The man himself who thus unintentionally hurts 
another shows some sense of his own demerit by at least 
offering an apology. Yet why should he make an apology 
more than any one else ? It is because he is aware that the 
impartial spectator will feel some sympathy with the natural, 
but unjust, resentment of the person he has accidentally 

But the negligence displa} 7 ed in any action may be so great 
as to call not merely for blame and censure, but for actual 
punishment. For we may so far enter into the resentment felt 
by one man on account of an unintended injury done to him 
by another, as to approve of his inflicting a punishment on the 
offender which would have seemed in excess of the demerit of 
his offence had no unlucky consequences ensued. For instance, 
though nothing would appear more shocking to our natural 
sense of equity than to execute a man merely for having care 
lessly thrown a stone into the street without hurting anybody, 


yet, if the stone happened to kill anybody, so great would be 
the effect of this accident on our moral sentiments that, though 
the man s folly and inhumanity would not be greater in one 
case than in the other, we should not consider the severest 
punishment too hard for him. Gross negligence is, there 
fore, in law almost the same as malicious design. Lata cu/jja 
propc dolum est. 

But our moral sentiments are considerably affected, not only 
by the fact of the prosperity or adversity of the person whose 
conduct we judge, and by the influence of fortune or accident 
on the result of his intentions, but they are also greatly 
modified by those two great principles of Custom and Fashion, 
which have caused so wide a difference of opinion about what 
is blameable or praiseworthy to prevail in different ages and 
nations. For the virtues of the savage state are different 
from those of the civilized statp. the virtues of one profession 
are different from those of another, and those again which we 
admire in youth are different from those we look for in old 

This fact is due to the influence of custom., or of fashion, 
which is a species of custom, as the custom of persons of high 
rank or character. For both these affect our moral sentiments, 
albeit in a less degree, yet in exactly the same way that they 
affect our ideas and feelings about beauty in all objects sub 
mitted to our observation. 

The influence of custom on our ideas of beauty is very great. 
For whenever two objects have been seen in frequent conjunc 
tion together, the imagination acquires a habit of passing 
easily from the one to the other; and thus, from the mere 
habit of expecting to see one when we see the other, though 
there should be no real beauty in their union, we are conscious 
of an impropriety when they chance to be separated. If even 
a suit of clothes is without some insignificant bat usual orna- 


mentj such as a button, we are in some measure displeased by 
its absence. 

The fashion of things changes with a rapidity proportioned 
to the durableness of their material. The modes of- furniture 
change less rapidly than those of dress, because furniture is 
generally more durable; but in five or six years it generally 
undergoes a complete revolution, and every man sees its fashion 
change in many different ways even in his own lifetime. But 
the productions of such arts as music, poetry, or architecture, 
being much more lasting, the fashion or custom, which prevails 
no less over them than over whatever else is the object of taste, 
may cojitinue unchanged for a much longer time. A Imildino- 
may endure for ages, a beautiful -air may be handed down 
through generations, a poem may last as long as the world, 
and thus they may ail set the fashion of their particular style 
or taste much longer than the design of a f articular mode of 
dress or furniture. It is only because of the greater per 
manence of their fashion, which prevents our having much 
experience of any change in them, that makes it less easy for 
us to recognize that the rules we think ought to be observed 
in each of the fine arts are no more founded on reason and the 
nature of things than they are in the matter of our furniture 
and dress. 

In architecture, for instance, no reason can be assigned 
beyond habit and custom for the propriety of attaching to 
each of the five orders their peculiar ornaments. The eye, 
having been used to associate a certain ornamentation with a 
certain order, would be offended at missing their conjunction; 
but it is inconceivable that, prior to established custom, five 
hundred other forms should not have suited those proportions 
equally well. 

It is the same in poetry. The ancients thought that a 
certain species of verse was by nature appropriated to a par- 


ticular species of writing, according to the sentiment or 
character intended to be described. One kind of verse was 
fit for grave and another for gay themes, nor could either be 
interchanged without the greatest impropriety. Yet that 
which is the verse of burlesque in English is the heroic verse 
in French, simply because " custom has made the one nation 
associate the ideas of gravity, sublimity, and seriousness with 
that measure which the other has connected with whatever is 
gay, flippant, and ludicrous." 

Custom influences our judgment no less with regard to the 
beauty of natural objects; and the proportions which we 
admire in one kind of animal are quite different from those \ve 
admire in another. Every class of things has a beauty of its 
own, distinct from that of every other species. 

Adam Smith stops short, however, of adopting the theory, 
FO ably advocated in the last century by the Jesuit Buffier, 
and followed by Sir Joshua Reynolds,, that custom is the sole 
principle of beauty, and that the beauty of every object con 
sists simply in that form and colour which is most usual in 
ever} particular class of things. According to Burner, in each 
species of creatures, that form was most beautiful which bore 
the strongest character of the general fabric of its species, and 
had the strongest resemblance to the greater number of the 
individuals with which it was classed. Hence the most cus 
tomary form was the most beautiful, and much practice was 
needed to judge of the beauty of distinct species of things, or 
to know wherein the middle or most usual form consisted. 
Hence, too, different ideas of beauty existed in different 
countries, where difference of climate produced difference of 
type. Adam Smith so far agrees with this doctrine as to 
acknowledge that there is scarcely any external form so beau 
tiful as to please, if quite contrary to custom, nor any so 
deformed as not to be agreeable, if uniformly supported by it; 


but he also argues that, independently of custom, we are 
pleased by the appearance of the utility of any form by its 
fitness for the purposes for which it was intended. Certain 
colours, moreover, are more agreeable than others, even the 
first time they are beheld by us ; and though he does not lay 
the same stress on smoothness as Burke did, who held that 
nothing was beautiful that was not smooth, he also admits 
that a smooth surface is naturally more agreeable than a rough 

The influence of custom and fashion upon our ideas of beauty 
generally being so great as has been explained, what is their 
influence upon our ideas of beauty of conduct ? To this the 
answer is, that their influence is perfectly similar in kind, 
though not so great, or rather less potent, over morals than it 
is over anything else. Although there is no form of external 
objects to which custom will not reconcile us, nor fashion 
render agreeable to us, the characters or the conduct of a Nero 
or a Claudius are what no custom can ever make agreeable, or 
other than the objects of our hatred or derision; for the senti 
ments of moral approbation and disapprobation are founded on 
the strongest passions of human nature, and, though they can 
be warpt, they can never be perverted. 

Just as custom diminishes our sense of the impropriety of 
things which we are accustomed to see together, as in the case 
of absurdity of dress, so familiarity from youth upwards with 
violence, falsehood, and injustice takes away all sense of the 
enormity of such conduct; and, on the other hand, when 
custom and fashion coincide with the principles of right and 
wrong, they enhance our moral ideas and increase our abhor 
rence for everything evil. "Those who have been educated 
in what is really good company not in what is commonly 
called such who have been accustomed to see nothing in the 
persons whom they esteemed and lived with but justice. 


modesty, humanity and good order, are more shocked with 
whatever seems to be inconsistent with the rules which those 
virtues prescribe." 

Custom affords an explanation of the different ideas of good 
conduct prevalent in different degrees of civilization. For 
every age and country look upon that degree of each quality 
which is most usual in those among themselves who are most 
esteemed as the golden mean of that particular talent or 
virtue. Their sentiments concerning the degree of each 
quality that deserves praise or blame vary according to the 
degree which is most common in their own country and times ; 
thus, that degree of politeness which might be thought 
effeminate adulation in Russia might be regarded as barbarous 
rudeness in France. 

In general, the style of manners prevalent in any nation is 
that which is most suitable to its situation. That which is 
most suitable being, then, that which is naturally most com 
mon, different standards arise with regard to the general 
propriety of behaviour. A savage, in continual danger, or 
exposed to frequent want, acquires a hardiness of character, an 
insensibility to the sufferings of himself or others, which is 
most suitable to the circumstances of his situation, and which 
affords a very different standard of self-command than that 
which is either usual or necessary in civilized life. The 
general security and happiness which prevail in ages of cul 
ture, by affording little exercise to contempt of danger, or to 
the endurance of pain or hunger, enable the virtues which are 
founded on humanity to be more cultivated than those which 
are founded on self-denial; so that to complain when in pain, 
to grieve in distress, to be overcome by love or anger, are not 
regarded as weaknesses, as they would be in savage life, nor 
as affecting the essential parts of a man s character. 

In the different professions and ages of life the same iuflu- 


ence of custom may be traced. In each rank and profession 
we expect a degree of those manners which experience has 
taught us to look for in them. As in each species of natural 
objects we are pleased with the conformity to the general type, 
so "in each species of men we are pleased, " if they have neither 
too much nor too little of the character which usually accom 
panies their particular condition and situation." Our appro 
bation of a certain kind of military character is founded entirely 
on habit ; for we are taught by custom to annex to the mili 
tary profession "the character of gaiety, levity, and sprightly 
freedom, as well as of some degree of dissipation." Whatever 
behaviour we have been accustomed to see in any order ot 
men, comes to be so associated with -that order, that whenever 
we see the one we expect to see the other, and are pleased or 
disappointed according as we see it or not. Nevertheless, 
there may exist a propriety of professional behaviour, inde 
pendent of the custom which leads us to expect it ; and wo 
i eel that, apart from all custom, there is a propriety in the 
gravity of manners which custom has allotted to the profession 
of a clergyman. 

In the same way different manners are assigned to the dif 
ferent periods which mark human life. In youth we look 
for that sensibility, gaiety, and vivacity which experience 
teaches us to expect at that age; and at the extreme of life, a 
certain gravity and sedateness is the character which custom 
teaches us is both most natural and most respectable. 

But nevertheless it is necessary not to exaggerate the effects 
of custom and fashion on our moral sentiments ; for it is more 
concerning the propriety or impropriety of particular usages 
than about things of the greatest importance that their in 
fluence is most apt to cause perversion of judgment. "We 
expect truth and justice from an old man as well as from a 
young, from a clergyman as well as from an officer; and it is 


in matters of small moment only that we look for the distin 
guishing- marks of their respective characters.-" No society 
could subsist a moment if custom could exercise such perver 
sion over our moral sentiments, with regard to the general 
stj le of conduct and behaviour, as it exercises with regard to 
the propriety of particular usages. Uninterrupted custom 
prevented the philosophers of Athens recognizing the evil of 
infanticide ; and to say that a thing is commonly done is daily 
offered as an apology for what in itself is the most unjust and 
unreasonable conduct. 




THE theory of Hutcheson, that there exists in mankind an 
inward moral sense concerned with the direct perception of 
moral qualities in actions just as the sense of hearing- or seeing* 
is concerned with the direct perception of sounds or objects, 
or the theory of Shaftesbury that what we call conscience is 
a primary principle of human nature irresoluble into other 
facts, is very different from the theory of Adam Smith, who 
refers our moral perceptivity to the workings of the instinct 
of sympathy. 

Having accounted for our moral judgments of the actions 
of others by bringing them to the test of our power to sym 
pathize with them, he proceeds to explain our moral judgments 
concerning our own acts by a sort of reflex application & of the 
same principle of sympathy. Our sense of duty, our feeling 
of conscience, arises simply from the application to our own 
conduct of the judgments we have learned to pass upon others. 
So that there really exists no moral faculty which is not 
originally borrowed from without. 

In the same manner as we approve or disapprove of another 
man s conduct, according as we feel that, when we bring his 
case home to ourselves, we can sympathize or not with hi! mo 
tives ; so we approve or disapprove of our own conduct accord 
ing as we feel that, by making our case in imagination another 


man s, lie can sympathize or not with our motives. The only 
way by which we can form any judgment about our own 
sentiments and motives is by removing ourselves from our own 
natural station, and by viewing them at a certain distance 
from us ; a proceeding only possible by endeavouring to view 
them with the eyes of other people, or as they are likely to 
view them. All our judgment, therefore, concerning ourselves 
must bear some secret reference either to what are or to what 
we think ought to be the judgment of others. We imagine 
ourselves the impartial spectator of our own conduct, and 
j according as we, from that situation, enter or not into the 
motives which influenced us, do we approve or condemn 

We do not therefore start with a moral consciousness by 
which we learn to judge of others, but from our judgments 
about others we come to have a moral consciousness of our 
selves. Our first moral criticisms are exercised upon the 
characters and conduct of other people, and by observing that 
these command either our praise or blame, and that we our 
selves affect them in the same way, we become anxious in turn 
to receive their praise and to avoid their censure. So we 
imagine what effect our own conduct would have upon us, 
were M 7 e our own impartial spectators, such a method being 
the only looking-glass by which we can scrutinize, with the 
eyes of other people, the propriety of our own conduct. 

Accordingly our sense o personal morality is exactly analo 
gous to our sense of personal beauty. Our first ideas of beauty 
and ugliness are derived from the appearance of others, not 
from our own. But as we are aware that other people exercise 
upon us the same criticism we exercise upon them, we become 
desirous to know how far our figure deserves their blame or 
approbation. So we endeavour by the help of a looking-glass 
to view ourselves at the distance and with the eyes of other 


people, and are pleased or displeased with the result, according 
as we feel they will be affected by our appearance. 

But it is evident that we are only anxious about our own 
beauty or ugliness on account of its effect upon others ; and 
that, had we no connexion with society, we should be alto 
gether indifferent about either. So it is with morality. If a 
human creature could grow up to manhood in some solitary 
place, without any communication with his own kind, ff he 
could no more think of his own character, of the propriety or 
demerit of his own sentiments, of the beauty or deformity of 
his own mind, than of the beauty or deformity of his own 
face." Society is the mirror by which he is enabled to see all 
these qualities in himself. In the countenance and behaviour 
of those he lives with, which always mark when they enter 
into or disapprove of his sentiments, he first views the pro 
priety or impropriety of his own passions, and the beauty or 
depravity of his own mind. 

The consciousness of merit, the feeling of self-approbation, 
admits therefore of easy explanation. Virtue is amiable and 
meritorious, by reference to the sentiments of other men, by 
reason of its exciting certain sentiments in them ; and the 
consciousness that it is the object of their favourable regards 
is the source of that inward tranquillity and self-satisfaction 
which attends it, just as the sense of incurring opposite senti 
ments is the source of the torments of vice. If we have dbne 
a generous action from proper motives, and survey it in the 
light in which the indifferent spectator will survey it, we 
applaud ourselves by sympathy with the approbation of this 
supposed impartial judge, whilst, by a reflex sympathy with 
the gratitude paid to ourselves, we are conscious of having 
behaved meritoriously, of having made ourselves worthy of 
the most favourable regards of our fellow-men. 

Remorse, on the other hand, arises from the opposite senti- 


merits j and shame is due to the reflection of the sentiments 
our conduct will raise in other men. We again regard our 
selves from their point of view, and so by sympathizing with 
the hatred which they must entertain for our conduct, we 
become the object of our own blame and hatred. We enter 
into the resentment naturally excited by our own acts, and 
anticipate with fear the punishment by which such resentment 
may express itself. This remorse is, of all the sentiments 
which can enter the human breast, the most dreadful; u it is 
made up of shame from the sense of the impropriety of past 
conduct; of grief for the effects of it; of pity for those who 
suffer by it; and of the dread and terror of punishment from 
the consciousness of the justly provoked resentment of all 
rational creatures." 

In this consciousness of the accordance or discordance of 
our conduct with the feelings of others consists then all the 
pleasure of a good conscience or of self-approbation, or all the 
pain of remorse or self-condemnation. The one is based on 
iGiir love of praise, which the comparison of our own conduct 
jwith that of others naturally evolves in us, and the other on 
jour aversion to blame, which arises in the same way. 

But if a good or bad conscience consisted simply in knowing 
ourselves to-be the objects of praise or blame, we might ap 
prove or condemn ourselves irrespective of the correspondence 
of external opinion with our real merit or demerit. It is not, 
therefore, mere praise or blame that we desire or dread, but 
Ipraise-worthiness or blame-worthiness ; that is to say, to be 
jthat thing, which, though it should be praised or blamed by 
nobody, is the proper object of those mental states. We desire 
the praise not merely of the spectator, but of the impartial 
and well-informed spectator. 

Adam Smith devotes considerable argument to the origin 
and explanation of this principle of our moral nature, seeking 


in this way to raise the account he gives of conscience to a 
higher level than it could attain as a mere reflex from the 
sympathies of others about ourselves. As from the love or 
admiration we entertain for the characters of others, we come 
to desire to have similar sentiments entertained about our 
selves, we should have no more satisfaction from a love or 
admiration bestowed on us undeservedly than a woman who 
paints her face would derive any vanity from compliments paid 
to her complexion. Praises bestowed on us either for actions 
we have not performed or for motives which have not influ 
enced us, are praises bestowed in realit}^ on another person, not 
on ourselves, and consequently give us no sort of satisfaction. 
But for the same reason that groundless praise can give us 
no solid joy, the mere absence of praise deducts nothing from 
the pleasure of praise-worthiness. Though no approbation 
should ever reach us, we are pleased to have rendered ourselves 
the proper objects of approbation ; and in the same way we 
are mortified at justly incurring blame, though no blame should 
ever actually be attached to us. We view our conduct not 
always as the spectator actually does view it, but as he would 
view it if he knew all the circumstances. We feel self-appro- 
bation or the reverse, by sympathy with sentiments which do 
not indeed actually take place, but which only the ignorance 
of the public prevents from taking place, which we know are 
the natural effects of our conduct, which our imagination 
strongly connects with it, and which we conceive therefore 
as properly belonging to it. The satisfaction we feel with the 
approbation which we should receive and enjoy, were every 
thing known, resembles very much the satisfaction which men 
feel who sacrifice their lives to anticipate in imagination the 
praise that will only be bestowed on them when dead, the 
praise which they would receive and enjoy, were they themselves 
to live to be conscious of it. 


Hence self- approbation,, though originally founded on the 
imaginary approbation of other men, becomes at last inde 
pendent of such confirmation, and the sense of the perfect 
propriety of our own conduct comes to need no external 
testimony to assure us of it. But the love of self-approbation, 
which is in fact the same as the love of virtue, is still founded 
on an implied reference to the verdict of persons external to 
ourselves, and thus the " still small voice " of conscience 
resolves itself into the acclamations of mankind. 

Adam Smith, in accordance with a leading principle of his 
system, the importance of which will be noticed in a subse 
quent chapter, traces in this desire on our part for praise- 
worthiness as apart from our desire of praise, an intention of 
Nature for the good of society. For though in forming man 
for society, she endowed him with an original desire to please 
and an original aversion to offend his fellows, and, by making 
him to feel pleasure in their favourable, and pain in their un 
favourable regards, taught him to love their approbation, and 
to dislike their disapproval, she yet saw that this mere love 
of the one, or dislike of the other, would not alone have ren 
dered him fit for society. Since the mere desire for approba 
tion could only have made him wish to appear to be fit for 
society, co.uld only have prompted him to the affectation of 
virtue, and to the concealment of vice; she endowed him not 
only with the desire of being approved of, but with the desire 
of being what ought to be approved of, or of being what he 
himself approves of in other men. So she made him anxious 
to be really fit for society, and so she sought to inspire him 
with the real love of virtue and a real abhorrence of vice. 

In the same way that we are thus taught to wish to be the 
objects of love and admiration are we taught to wish not to 
be the objects of hatred and contempt. We droad blame- 
worthiness, or being really blameworthy, irrespective of all 


actual blame that may accrue to us. The most perfect 
assurance that no eye has seen our action, does not prevent us 
from viewing it as the impartial spectator would have re 
garded it, could he have been present. We feel the shame 
we should be exposed to if our actions became generally 
known ; and our imagination anticipates the contempt and 
derision from which we are only saved by the ignorance ot 
our fellows. But if we have committed not merely an im 
propriety, which is an object of simple disapprobation, but a 
heinous crime, which excites strong resentment, then, though 
we might be assured that no man would ever know it, and 
though we might believe that there was no God who would 
ever punish it, we should still feel enough agony and remorse, 
as the natural objects of human hatred and punishment, to 
have the whole of our lives embittered. So great, indeed, 
are these pangs of conscience, that even men of the worst 
characters, who in their crimes have avoided even the suspi 
cion of guilt, have been driven, by disclosing what could 
never have been detected, to reconcile themselves to the 
natural sentiments of mankind. So completely, even in per 
sons of no sensibility, does the horror of blame-worthiness 
exceed the dread of actual blame. 

The fact, Adam Smith thinks, calls for explanation, that 
while most men of ordinary capacity despise unmerited praise, 
even men of the soundest judgment are mortified by un 
merited reproach. For, however conscious a man may be of 
his own innocence, the imputation seems often, even in his 
own imagination, to throw a shadow of disgrace over his 
character, and if he is brought to suffer the extreme, punish 
ment of human resentment, religion alone can afford him any 
effectual comfort, by teaching him of an approbation, higher 
and more important than that of humanity. Why, then, is 
unjust censure so much less indifferent than unmerited praise? 


The answer is, that the pain of the one is so much more 
pungent than the pleasure of the other. A man of sensibility- 
is more humiliated by just censure than he is elevated by 
just applause. And it is much easier to rid oneself by denial, 
of the slight pleasure of unmerited praise, than of the pain ot 
unjust reproach. Though nobody doubts any one s veracity 
when he disclaims some merit ascribed to him, it is at once 
doubted if he denies some crime which rumour lays to his 

When we are perfectly satisfied with every part of our 
own conduct, the judgment of others is of less importance to 
us than when we are in any doubt of the propriety of our 
actions ; and the opinion of others, their approbation or the 
contrary, is a most serious matter to us, when we are uneasy 
as to the justice of our resentment or the propriety of any 
other passion. And, as a rule, the agreement or disagree 
ment of the judgments of other people with our own varies in 
importance for us exactly in proportion to the uncertainty we 
feel of the propriety or accuracy of our own sentiments or 
judgments. Hence it is that poets and authors are so much 
more anxious about public opinion than mathematicians or 
men of science. The discoveries of the latter, admitting by 
nature of nearly perfect proof, render the opinion of the 
public a matter of indifference; but in the fine arts, where 
excellence can only be determined by a certain nicety of 
taste, and the decision is more uncertain, the favourable 
judgments of friends and the public are as delightful as their 
unfavourable judgments are mortifying. The sensibility of 
poets especially is due to this cause; and we may instance 
the sensibility of Racine, who used to tell his son that the 
most paltry criticisms had always given him more pain than 
the highest eulogy had ever given him pleasure : or that of 
Gray, who was so mudi hurt by a foolish parody of two of 


his finest odes, that he never afterwards attempted anything j 

It may happen that the two principles of desiring praise | 
and desiring* pralseworthiness are blended together, and it 
must often remain unknown to a man himself, and always to 
other people, how far he did a praiseworthy action for its own 
sake, or for the love of praise; how far he desired to deserve, 
or only to obtain, the approbation of others. There are very 
few men who are satisfied with their own consciousness of 
having attained those qualities, or performed those actions, 
which they think praiseworthy in others, and who do not 
wish their consciousness of praiseworthiness to be corroborated 
by the actual praise of other men. Some men care more for 
the actual praise, others for the real praiseworthiness. It is 
therefore needless to agree with those " splenetic philo- i 
sophers " (Mandeville is intended) who impute to the love of 
praise, or what they call vanity, every action which may be 
ascribed to a desire of praiseworthiness. 

From this distinction between our desire for praise and our 
desire for praiseworthiness, Adam Smith arrives at the result, 
that there are, so to speak, two distinct tribunals of morality. 
The approbation or disapprobation of mankind is the first 
source of personal self-approbation or the contrary. But 
though man has been thus constituted the immediate judge 
of mankind, he has been made so only in the first instance: 
" and an appeal lies from his sentence to a much higher 
tribunal, to the tribunal of their own consciences, to that of 
the supposed impartial and well-informed spectator, to that of | 
the man within the breast, the great judge and arbiter of 
their conduct." Two sorts of approbation are thus supposed, 
that of the ordinary spectator, and that of the well-informed 
one ; or, as it may be otherwise put, of the man without and 
the man within the breast. Whilst the jurisdiction of the i 


former is founded altogether in the desire of actual praise, 
and the aversion to actual blame, that of the latter is founded 
altogether in the desire of really possessing those qualities, 
or performing those actions which we love and admire in 
other people, and in avoiding those qualities and those 
actions which, in other people, arouse our hatred or con 

If Conscience, then, which may be defined as "the testi 
mony of the supposed impartial spectator of the breast," 
originates in the way described, whence has it that very 
great influence and authority which belong to it ? and how 
does it happen that it is only by consulting it that we can 
see what relates to ourselves in its true light, or make any 
proper comparison between our own interests and those of 
other people ? 

The answer is, By our power of assuming in imagination 
another situation. It is with the eye of the mind as with 
the eye of the body. Just as a large landscape seems smaller 
than the window which looks out on it, and we only learn by 
habit and experience to judge of the relative magnitude of 
objects by transporting ourselves in imagination to a different 
station, from whence we can judge of their real proportions, 
so it is necessary for the mind to change its position before 
we can ever regard our own selfish interests in their due 
relation to the interests of others. We have to view our in 
terests and another s, " neither from our own place nor from 
his, neither with our own eyes nor yet with his, but from the 
place and with the eyes of a third person, who has no parti 
cular connexion with either, and who judges with impartiality 
between us." By habit and experience we come to do this 
so easily, that the mental process is scarcely perceptible to 
us, by which we correct the natural inequality of our senti 
ments. V r e learn both the moral lesson, and the lesson in 



vision, so thoroughly, as no longer to be sensible that it has 
been a lesson at all. 

" It is reason , principle, conscience, the inhabitant of the 
breast, the man within, the great judge and arbiter of our 
conduct," who alone can correct the natural misrepresenta 
tions of self-love, who shows us the propriety of generosity 
and the deformity of injustice, the propriety of resigning our 
own greatest interests for the yet greater interests of others, and 
the deformity of doing the smallest injury to another in order 
to obtain the greatest benefit to ourselves. But for this 
correction of self-love by conscience, the destruction of the 
empire of China by an earthquake would disturb a man s 
sleep less than the loss of his own little finger, and to prevent 
so paltry a misfortune to himself he would be willing to 
sacrifice the lives of a hundred millions of his brethren, pro 
vided he had never seen them. It is not the love of our 
neighbour, still less the love of mankind, which would ever 
prompt us to self-sacrifice. It is a stronger love, a more 
powerful affection, " the love of what is honourable and noble, 
of the grandeur, and dignity, and superiority of our own 

The sense of duty in its various forms is the result of the 
commands of conscience, which thus exists within us as the 
reflection of external approbation. "When the happiness or 
misery of others depends on our conduct, conscience, or " the 
man within," immediately calls to us that if we prefer our 
selves to them, or the interest of one to the interest of many, 
we render ourselves the proper object of the contempt and 
resentment of our fellows. 

The control of our passive feelings, of our natural preference \ 
for our own interests and our natural indifference to those of j 
others, can only be acquired by a regard to the sentiments j 
of the real or supposed spectator of our conduct. This is the I 


discipline ordained by nature for the acquisition of the virtue 
of self-command as well as of all other virtues. The whole of 
life is an education in the acquisition of self-command. A 
child, as soon as it mixes with its equals at school, wishes 
naturally to gain their favour and avoid their contempt ; and 
it is taught by a regard to its own safety to moderate its anger 
and other passions to the degree with which its play -fellows 
are likely to be pleased. From that time forth, the exercise 
of discipline over its feelings becomes the practice of its life. 

Only the man who has been thoroughly bred in the great 
school of self-command, the bustle and business of the world, 
maintains perfect control over his passive feelings upon all 
occasions. He has never dared to forget for one moment the 
judgment likely to be passed by the impartial spectator upon 
his sentiments and conduct, nor suffered the man within the 
breast to be absent for one moment from his attention. With 
the eyes of this great inmate he has been accustomed to 
regard all that relates to himself. From his having been 
under the constant necessity of moulding, or trying to mould, 
his conduct and feelings in accordance with those of this 
spectator, the habit has become perfectly familiar to him; and 
he almost identifies himself with, he almost becomes himself 
that impartial spectator ; he hardly ever feels but as that 
great arbiter of his conduct directs. 

But with most men conscience, which is founded on the 
approbation of an imaginary spectator, requires often to be 
aroused by contact with a real one. " The man within the 
breast, the abstract and ideal spectator of our sentiments and 
conduct, requires often to be awakened and put in mind of his 
duty by the presence of the real spectator." In other words, 
conscience requires to be kept fresh by contact with the 
world ; solitude leads us to overrate the good actions we may 
have done or the injuries we may have suffered, and causes us 

G 2 


to be too much dejected in adversity as well as too much 
elated in prosperity. 

Nevertheless if the actual spectator is not impartial like 
the distant one of imagination or reality, the rectitude of our 
judgments concerning our own conduct is liable to be much 
perverted ; and this fact accounts for many anomalies of our 
moral sentiments. 

Take, for instance, the conduct of two different nations to 
one another. Neutral nations, the only indifferent and im 
partial spectators of their conduct, are so far off as to be almost 
out of sight. The citizen of either nation pays little regard 
to the sentiments of foreign countries, but only seeks to 
obtain the approbation of his own fellow-citizens, which he can 
never do better than by enraging and offending the enemies 
they have in common. Thus the partial spectator is at hand, 
the impartial one at a distance. Hence the total disregard 
in the life of nations of the rules of morality in force in 
private life. " In war and negotiation the laws of justice are 
very seldom observed. Truth and fair dealing are almost 
totally disregarded. Treaties are violated ; and the violation, 
if some advantage is gained by it, sheds scarce any dishonour 
upon the violator. The ambassador who dupes the minister 
of a foreign nation is admired and applauded." The same 
conduct which in private transactions would make a man be 
loved and esteemed, in public transactions would load him with 
contempt and detestation. Not only are the laws of nations 
violated without dishonour, but they are themselves laid down 
with very little regard to the plainest rules of justice. It is 
in the most perfect conformity with what are called the laws 
of nations that the goods of peaceable citizens should be 
liable to seizure on land and sea, that their lands should be 
laid waste, their homes burnt, and they themselves either 
murdered or taken into captivity. 



Nor is the conduct of hostile parties, civil or eccclesiastical, 
more restrained by the power of conscience than that of 
hostile nations to one another. The laws of faction pay even 
less regard to the rules of justice than the laws of nations do. 
Though it has never been doubted whether faith ought to be 
kept with public enemies, it has often been furiously debated 
whether faith ought to be kept with rebels and heretics. Yet 
rebels and heretics are only those who, when things have 
come to a certain degree of violence, have the misfortune to 
belong to the weaker party. The impartial spectator is never 
at a greater distance than amidst the rage and violence of 
contending parties. For them it may be said that " such a 
spectator scarce exists anywhere in the universe. Even to 
the great judge of the universe they impute all their own 
prejudices, and often view that Divine Being as animated by 
all their own vindictive and implacable passions." Those 
who might act as the real controllers of such passions are too 
few to have any influence, being excluded by their own 
candour from the confidence of either party, and on that 
account condemned to be the weakest, though they may be 
the wisest men of their community, lor " a true party man 
hates and despises candour ; and in reality there is no vice 
which could so effectually disqualify him for the trade of a 
party man as that single virtue." 

But even when the real and impartial spectator is not at a 
great distance, but close at hand, our own sellish passions 
may be so strong as entirely to distort the judgment of the 
(t man within the breast." We endeavour to view our own 
conduct in the light in which the impartial spectator would 
view it, both when we are about to act and when we have 
acted. On both occasions our views are apt to be partial, but 
they are more especially partial when it is most important 
that they should be otherwise. 


This is the explanation of the moral phenomenon of self- 
deceit, and accounts for the otherwise remarkable fact, that 
our conscience in spite of its great authority and the great 
sanctions by which its voice is enforced, is so often prevented 
from acting with efficacy. When we are about to act, the 
eagerness of passion seldom allows us to consider what we are 
doing with the candour of an indifferent person. Our view 
of things is discoloured, even when we try to place ourselves 
in the situation of another and to regard our own interests 
from his point of view. We are constantly forced back by 
the fury of our passions to our own position, where everything 
seems magnified and misrepresented by self-love, whilst we 
catch but momentary glimpses of the view of the impartial 

When we have acted, we can indeed enter more coolly into 
the sentiments of the indifferent spectator, and regard our 
own actions with his impartiality. We are then able to 
identify ourselves with the ideal man within the breast and 
view in our own character our own conduct and situation with 
the severe eyes of the most impartial spectator. But even our 
judgment is seldom quite candid. It is so disagreeable to 
think ill of ourselves, that we often purposely turn away our 
view from those circumstances which might render our judg 
ment unfavourable. Rather than see our own behaviour in a 
disagreeable light, we often endeavour to exasperate anew 
those unjust passions which at first misled us ; we awaken 
artificially our old hatreds and irritate afresh our almost 
forgotten resentments ; and we thus persevere in injustice 
merely because we were unjust, and because we are ashamed 
and afraid to see that we were so. 

And this partiality of mankind with regard to the propriety 
of their own conduct, both at the time of action and alter it, 
is, our author thinks, one of the chief objections to the hypo- 


thesis of the existence of a moral sense, and consequently an 
additional argument in favour of his own theory of the pheno 
mena of self-approbation. If it was by a peculiar faculty, liko 
the moral sense, that men judged of their own conduct it 
they were endowed with a particular power of perception 
which distinguished the beauty and deformity of passions and 
affections surely this faculty would judge with more accuracy 
concerning their own passions, which are more nearly exposed 
to their view, than concerning those of other men, which arc 
necessarily of more distant observation. But it is notorious 
that men generally judge more justly of others than they ever 
do about themselves. 




CLOSELY connected in Adam Smith s theory with his account 
of the growth of conscience is his account of the growth of 
those general moral principles we find current in the world. 
He regards these as a provision of Nature on our behalf, in 
tended to counteract the perverting influences of self-love and 
the fatal weakness of self-deceit. They arise in the following 

Continual observations on the conduct of others lead us i 
gradually to form to ourselves certain general rules as to what | 
it is fit and proper to do or to avoid. If some of their actions ! 
shock all our natural sentiments, and we hear other people j 
express like detestation of them, we are then satisfied that we | 
view them aright. We resolve therefore never to be guilty of 
the like offences, nor to make ourselves the objects of the 
general disapprobation they incur. Thus we arrive at a general 
rule, that all such actions are to be avoided, as tending to 
make us odious, contemptible, or punishable. Other actions, 
on the contrary, call forth our approbation, and the expressions 
of the same approval by others confirm us in the justice of 
our opinion. The eagerness of everybody to honour and re 
ward them excite in us all those sentiments for which we have 
by nature the strongest desire the love, the gratitude, the 
admiration of mankind. We thus become ambitious of per- 


forming- the like, and thereby arrive at another general rule, 
that all such actions are good for us to do. 

These general rules of morality, therefore, are ultimately 
founded on experience of what, in particular instances, our 
moral faculties approve of or condemn. They are not moral 
intuitions, or major premisses of conduct supplied to us by 
nature. We do not start with a general rule, and approve or 
disapprove of particular actions according as they conform or 
not to this general rule, but we form the general rule from 
experience of the approval or disapproval bestowed on par 
ticular actions. At the first sight of an inhuman murder, 
detestation of the crime would arise, irrespective of a reflec 
tion, that one of the most sacred rules of conduct prohibited 
the taking away another man s life, that this particular murder 
was a violation o that rule, and consequently that it was 
blameworthy. The detestation would arise instantaneously, 
and antecedent to our formation of any such general rule. 
The general rule would be formed afterwards upon the detesta 
tion we felt at such an action, at the thought of this and every 
other particular action of the same kind. 

So when we read in history or elsewhere of either generous 
or base actions, our admiration for the one and our contempt 
for the other does not arise from the consideration that there 
are certain general rules which declare all actions of the one 
kind admirable and all of the other contemptible. Those rules 
are all formed from our experience of the effects naturally 
produced on us by all actions of one kind or the other. 

Again, an amiable, a respectable, or a horrible action natu 
rally excites for the person who performs them the love, the 
respect, or the horror of the spectator. The general rules, 
which determine what actions are or are not the objects of 
those different sentiments, can only be formed by observing 
what actions severally excite them. 


When once these moral principles, or general rules, have 
been formed, and established by the concurrent voice of all 
mankind, they are often appealed to as the standards of judg. 
ment, when we seek to apportion their due degree of praiea or 
blame to particular actions. From their being cited on all 
such occasions as the ultimate foundations of what is just and 
unjust, many eminent authors have been misled, and have 
drawn up their systems as if they supposed " that the original 
judgments of mankind, with regard to right and wrong, were 
formed, like the decisions of a court of judicatory, by con 
sidering first the general rule, and then, secondly, whether the 
particular action under consideration fell properly within its 

To pass now from the formation of such general rules to 
their function in practical ethics. They are most useful in 
correcting the misrepresentations of things which self-love is 
ever ready to suggest to us. Though founded on experience, 
they are none the less girt round with a sacred and unim 
peachable authority. Take a man inclined to furious resent 
ment, and ready to think that the death of his enemy is a 
small compensation for his provocation. From his observations 
on the conduct of others he has learned how horrible such 
revenges always appear, and has formed to himself a general 
rule, to abstain from them on all occasions. This rule pre 
serves its authority with him under his temptation, when he 
might otherwise believe that his fury was just, and such as 
every impartial spectator would approve. The reverence for 
the rule, impressed upon him by past experience, checks the 
impetuosity^of his passion, and helps him to correct the too 
partial views which self-love might suggest as proper in his 
situation. Even should he after all give way to his passion, 
he is terrified, at the moment of so doing, by the thought that 
he is violating a rule which he has never seen infringed with- 


>ut the strongest expressions of disapprobation, or the evil 
XHisequences of punishment. 

That sense of duty, that feeling of the obligatoriness of the 
ules of morality, which is so important a principle in human 
ife, and the only principle capable of governing- the bulk of 
mankind, is none other than an acquired reverence for these 
general principles of conduct, arrived at in the manner de 
scribed. This acquired reverence often serves as a substitute 
for the sense of the propriety or impropriety of a particular 
course of conduct. For many men live through their lives 
without ever incurring much blame, who yet may never feel 
the sentiment upon which our approbation of their conduct is 
founded, but act merely from a regard for what they see are 
the established rules of behaviour. For instance, a man who 
has received great benefits from another may feel very little 
gratitude in his heart, and yet act in every way as if he did 
so, without any selfish or blameable motive, but simply from 
reverence for the established rule of duty. Or a wife, who 
may not feel any tender regard for her husband, may also act 
as if she did, from mere regard to a sense of the duly of such 
conduct. And though such a friend or such a wife are doubt 
less not the best of their kind, they are perhaps the second 
best, and will be restrained from any decided dereliction from 
their duty. Though "the coarse clay of which the bulk of 
mankind are formed, cannot be wrought to such perfection" 
as to act on all occasions with the most delicate propriety, 
there is scarcely anybody who may not by education, disci 
pline, and example, be so impressed with a regard to general 
rules of conduct, as to act nearly always with tolerable decency, 
and to avoid through the whole of his life any considerable 
degree of blame. 

Were it not indeed for this sense of duty, this sacred regard 

for general rules, there is no one on whose conduct much rcli- 


ance could be placed. The difference between a man of prin 
ciple and a worthless fellow is chiefly the difference between 
a man who adheres resolutely to his maxims of conduct and 
the man who acts " variously and accidentally as humour, 
inclination, or interest chance to be uppermost. " Even the 
duties of ordinary politeness, which are not difficult to ob 
serve, depend very often for their observance more on regard 
for the general rule than on the actual feeling of the moment; 
and if these slight duties would, without such regard, be so 
readily violated, how slight, without a similar regard, would 
be the observance of the duties of justice, truth, fidelity, and 
chastity, for*the violation of which so many strong motives 
might exist, and on the tolerable keeping of which the very 
existence of human society depends.! 

The obligatoriness of the rules of morality being thus first ! 
impressed upon us by nature, and afterwards confirmed by | 
reasoning and philosophy, comes to be still further enhanced i 
by the consideration that the said rules are the laws of God, i 
who will reward or punish their observance or violation. 

For whatever theory we may prefer of the origin of our 
moral faculties, there can be no doubt, Adam Smith argues, 
but "that they were given us for the direction of our conduct 
in this life." Our moral faculties " carry along with them 
the most evident badges of this authority, which denote that 
they were set up within us to be the supreme arbiters of all 
our actions, to superintend all our senses, passions, and appe 
tites, and to judge how far each of them was either to be in 
dulged or restrained." Our moral faculties are not on a level 
in this respect with the other faculties and appetites of our 
nature, for no other faculty or principle of action judges of 
any other. Love, for instance, does not judge of love, nor 
resentment of resentment. These two passions may be oppo 
site to one another, but they do not approve or disapprove of 


one another. It belongs to our moral faculties to judge 
in this way of the other principles of our nature. What is 
agreeable to our moral faculties is fit, and right, and proper 
to be done ; what is disagreeable to them is the contrary. 
The sentiments which they approve of are graceful and be 
coming ; the contrary ungraceful and unbecoming. The very 
words right, wrong, fit, improper, graceful, unbecoming 
mean only what pleases or displeases our moral faculties." 

Since, then, they " were plainly intended to be the governing 
principles of human nature, the rules which they prescribe are 
to be regarded as the commands and laws of the Deity, pro 
mulgated by those vicegerents which He has thus set up 
within us." These " vicegerents of God within us " never 
fail to punish the violation of the rules of morality by the 
torments of inward shame and self-condemnation, whilst they 
always reward obedience to them with tranquillity and self- 

Having thus added the force of a religious sanction to the 
authority of moral rules, and accounted for the feeling of 
obligation in morality, from the physical basis of the pain or 
pleasure of an instinctive antipathy or sympathy, the philo 
sopher arrives at the question, How far our actions ought to 
arise chiefly or entirely from a sense of duty or a regard to 
general rules, and how far any other sentiment ought to 
concur and have a principal influence. If a mere regard for 
duty is the motive of most men, how far may their conduct 
be regarded as right ? 

The answer to this question depends on two circumstances, 
which may be considered in succession. 

First, it depends on the natural agreeableness or deformity 
of the affection of the mind which prompts us to any action, 
whether the action should proceed rather from that affection 
than from a regard to the general rule. Actions to which the 


social or benevolent affections prompt us should proceed as 
much from the affections or passions themselves as from any 
regard to the general rules of conduct. To repay a kindness 
from a cold sense of duty, and from no personal affection to 
one s benefactor, is scarcely pleasing to the latter. As a father 
may justly complain of a son, who, though he fail in none 
of the offices of filial duty, yet manifests no affectionate 
reverence for his parent, so a son expects from his father some 
thing more than the mere performance of the duties of his 

The contrary maxim applies to the malevolent and unsocial 
passions. If we ought to reward from gratitude and gene 
rosity, without any reflections on the propriety of rewarding, 
we ought always to punish with reluctance, and more from a 
sense of the propriety of punishing than from a mere dispo 
sition to revenge. 

Where the selfish passions are concerned, we should attend 
to general rules in the pursuit of the lesser objects of private 
interest, but feel more passion for the objects themselves when 
they are of transcendent importance to us. The parsimony, 
for instance, of a tradesman should not proceed from a desire of 
the particular threepence he will save by it to-day, nor his 
attendance in his shop from a passion for the particular 
tenpence he will gain by it, but from a regard to the general 
rule which prescribes severe economy as the guiding principle 
of his life. To be anxious, or to lay a plot to gain or save a 
single shilling, would degrade him in the eyes of all his neigh 
bours. But the more important objects of self-interest should 
be pursued with more concern for the things themselves and 
for their own sake ; and a man would justly be regarded as 
mean-spirited who cared nothing about his election to Par 
liament or about the conquest of a province. 

Secondly, it depends upon the exactness or inexactness of 


the general rules themselves, how far our conduct ought to 
proceed entirely from a regard to them. 

The general rules of almost all the virtues, which determine 
what are the duties of prudence, charity, generosity, gratitude, 
or friendship, admit of so many modifications and exceptions, 
that it is hardly possible to regulate our conduct entirely from 
regard to them. Even the rule of gratitude, plain as it seems 
to be, that it behoves us to make a return of equal, or, if pos 
sible, superior value to the benefit received from another, gives 
rise to numberless questions, whenever we seek to apply it to 
particular cases. For instance, if your friend lent you money 
in your distress, ought you to lend him money in his? and, 
if so, how much ? and when ? and for how long a time ? No 
definite answer can be given to such questions. And even 
still more vague are the rules which indicate the duties of 
friendship, hospitality, humanity, and generosity. 

Justice, indeed, is the only virtue of which the general rules 
determine exactly every external action required by it. If, 
for instance, you owe a man ten pounds, justice requires that 
you should pay him precisely that sum. The whole nature of 
your action is prescribed and fixed. The most sacred regard, 
therefore, is due to the rules of justice, and the actions it re 
quires are never more properly performed than from a regard 
to the general rules themselves. In the practice of the other 
virtues, our conduct should be directed rather by a certain 
idea of propriety, by a certain taste for a particular kind of 
behaviour, than by any regard to a precise rule or maxim ; 
and we should consider more the end and foundation of the 
rule than the rule itself. But it is otherwise with justice, 
where we should attend more to the rule itself than to its 
end. Though the end of the rules of justice is to hinder us 
from hurting our neighbour, it would still be ;v crime to 
violate them, although we might pretend, with some show 


of reason, that this particular violation could do him no 

The rules of justice, and those of the other virtues, may 
therefore be compared in this way. The rules of justice are- 
like the rules of grammar, those of the other virtues like the 
rules laid down by critics for the attainment of elegance in 
composition. Whilst the former are precise and accurate, 
the latter are vague and indeterminate, and present us rather 
with a general idea of perfection to be aimed at than any cer 
tain directions for acquiring it. As a man may be taught to 
write grammatically by rule, so perhaps may he be taught to 
act justly. But as there are no rules which will lead a man 
infallibly to elegance in composition, so there are none by 
which we can be taught to act on all occasions with prudence, 
magnanimity, or beneficence. 

Lastly, in reference to moral principles, may be considered 
the case of their liability to perversion by a mistaken idea of 
them. There may be a most earnest desire so to act as to 
deserve approbation, and yet an erroneous conscience or a 
wrong sense of duty may lead to a course of conduct with 
which it is impossible for mankind to sympathize. " False 
notions of religion are almost the only causes which can occa 
sion any very gross perversion of our natural sentiments in 
this way; and that principle which gives the greatest autho 
rity to the rules of duty, is alone capable of distorting them 
in any considerable degree. In all other cases common 
sense is sufficient to direct us, if not to the most ex 
quisite propriety of conduct, yet to something which is not 
very far from it ; and, provided we are desirous in earnest to 
do well, our behaviour will always, upon the whole, be praise 
worthy." All men are agreed that the first rule of duty is to 
obey the will of God, but it is concerning the particular com 
mandments imposed by that will that they difier so widely; 


and crimes committed from a sense of religious duty are not 
regarded with the indignation felt for ordinary crimes. The 
sorrow we feel for Seid and Palmira in Voltaire s play of 
Mahomet, when they are driven by a sense of religious duty to 
murder an old man whom they honoured and esteemed, is the 
same sorrow that we should feel for all men in a similar way 
misled by religion. 




THE relation which, in Adam Smith s system, religion bears 
to ethics has been already indicated in the last chapter. 
Although he regards morality as quite independent of religion, 
as intelligible and possible without it, religion nevertheless 
stands out visibly in the background of his theory, and is 
appealed to as a strong support of virtuous conduct, and as 
lending additional sanctity to the authority of moral rules. 

These moral rules, though sufficiently sanctioned by the 
same feelings of human approbation or disapprobation which 
originally gave rise to them, derive an additional sanction 
rom natural religion. It was too important for the happiness 
of mankind, that the natural sense of duty should thus be 
enforced by the terrors of religion, " for nature to leave it 
dependent upon the slowness and uncertainty of philosophical 

This identification therefore of the rules of morality with 
the rules of religion was first impressed upon mankind by 
nature, and then afterwards confirmed by philosophy. 
Naturally led as men everywhere are, and were, to ascribe to i 
those beings, which in any countrv happen to be the objects 
of religious fear, all their own sentiments and passions, it | 
could not but arise, that as they ascribed to them those | 
passions which do least honour to our own species such as j 
lust, avarice, envy, or revenge they should also ascribe to j 


them those qualities which are the great ornaments of 
humanity the love of virtue and beneficence, and the hatred 
cf vice and injustice. The injured man would call on Jupiter 
to witness his wrong", never doubting but that it would be 
beheld by him with the same indignation that would actuate 
the meanest of mankind against it; whilst the man, who did 
the wrong, transferred to the same omnipresent and irresistible 
being the resentment he was also conscious of in mankind. 
These natural hopes, and fears, and suspicions, were pro 
pagated by sympathy, and confirmed by education ; and the 
gods were universally represented and believed to be the 
rewarders of humanity and mercy, and the avengers of perfidy 
and injustice. And thus religion, even in its rudest form, 
gave a sanction to the ruY S of morality, long before the age 
of artificial reasoning and philosophy." 

Reasoning, when applied, confirmed the original antici 
pations of nature. For from the recognition of the fact, 
already noticed, that our moral faculties were intended to be 
the governing principles of our nature, it became clear that 
the rules they foirnulated, in compliance with such an in 
tention, might be regarded as the laws of the Deity, who set 
up those moral faculties as His " vicegerents within us." 

Another consideration confirms this reasoning. As by 
obeying the rules prescribed to us by our moral faculties, we 
pursue the most effectual means for promoting the happiness 
of mankind, and as the happiness of mankind seems to be the 
original purpose intended by the Author of Nature, it is 
evident that by obeying the moral rules we in some sense co 
operate with the Deity, and advance, as far as is in em 
power, the plan of Providence. As also by acting otherwise 
we obstruct in some measure His scheme, we declare ourselves 
in some measure the enemies of God, so we are naturally 
eucouraired to look for His favour and reward in the one 


n 2 


case, and to dread His vengeance and punishment in the 

Moreover, although virtue and vice, as far as they can be 
either rewarded or punished by the sentiments and opinions 
of mankind, meet even here, according- to the common course 
of things, with their deserts, we are compelled by the best 
principles of our nature, by our love of virtue and our 
abhorrence of vice and injustice, to look to a future life for 
the rectification of occasional results of virtue or vice which 
shock all our natural sentiments of justice. The indignation 
we feel when we see violence and artifice prevail over sincerity 
and justice, the sorrow we feel for the sufferings of the 
innocent, the resentment we feel and often cannot satisfy 
against the oppressor, all prompt us to hope "that the great 
Author of our nature will Himself execute hereafter, what all 
the principles which He has given us for the direction of our 
conduct prompt us to attempt even here ; that He will com 
plete the plan which He Himself has thus taught us to begin; 
and will, in a life to come, render to every one according to 
the works which he has performed in this world/ 

When, therefore, the general rules of morality which deter 
mine the merit or demerit of actions come thus to be regarded, 
says Adam Smith, as the laws of an all-powerful Being, who 
watches over our conduct, and who, in a life to come, will 
reward the observance and punish the breach of them, they 
necessarily acquire a new sacredness. The sense of propriety, 
which dictates obedience to the will of the Deity as the 
supreme rule of our conduct, is confirmed by the strongest 
motives of self-interest. For it is an idea, well capable of 
restraining the most headstrong passions, that however much 
we may escape the observation or the punishment of man 
kind, we can never escape the observation nor the punishment 
of God. 


It is on account of the additional sanction which religion 
thus confers upon the rules of morality that so great con 
fidence is generally placed in the probity of those who seem 
deeply impressed with a sense of religion. They seem to act 
under an additional tie to those which regulate the conduct 
of others. For regard to the propriety of action and to re 
putation, regard to the applause of his own breast as well as 
to that of others, are motives which have the same influence 
over the religious man as over the man of the world; but 
the former acts under another restraint, that of future 
recompense, and accordingly greater trust "is reposed in hi.s 

Nor is this greater trust unreasonably placed in him. For 
" wherever the natural principles of religion are not corrupted 
by the factious and party zeal of some worthless cabal ; where- 
ever the first duty which it requires is to fulfil all the 
obligations of morality; wherever men are not taught to 
regard frivolous observances as more immediate duties of 
religion than acts of justice and beneficence; and to imagine, 
that by sacrifices, and ceremonies, and vain supplications, 
they can bargain with the Deity for fraud, and perfidy, and 
violence, the world undoubtedly judges right in this respect, 
and justly places a double confidence in the rectitude of the 
religious man s behaviour." 

At the same time Adam Smith resents strongly the doctrine 
that religious principles are the only laudable motives of 
action, the doctrine, " that we ought neither to reward from 
gratitude nor j unish from resentment, that we ought neither 
to protect the helplessness of our children, nor afford support 
to the infirmities of our parents, from natural affection; but 
that we ought to do all things from the love of the Deity, and 
from a desire only to render ourselves agreeable to Him, and 
to direct our conduct according to His will/ It should not 


be the sole motive and principle of our conduct in the per 
formance of our various duties that God has commanded us 
to perform them, though that it should be our ruling- and 
governing- principle is the precept of philosophy and common 
sense no less than it is of Christianity. 

In the same way that Adam Smith regards religion as an 
additional sanction to the natural rules of morality, does 
he regard it as the only effectual consolation in the case of a 
man unjustly condemned by the world for a crime of which 
lie is innocent. To such an one, that humble philosophy 
which confines its view to this life can afford but little com 
fort. Deprived of everything that could make either life or 
death respectable, condemned to death and to everlasting 
infamy, the view of another world, where his innocence will be 
declared and his virtue rewarded, can alone compensate him 
for the misery of his situation. 

"Our happiness in this life is thus, upon many occasions, 
dependent upon the humble hope and expectation of a life to 
come a hope and expectation deeply rooted in human nature, 
which can alone support its lofty ideas of its own dignity, can 
alone illumine the dreary prospect of its continually approach 
ing mortality, and maintain its cheerfulness under all the 
heaviest calamities to which, from the disorders of this life, 
it may sometimes be exposed. That there is a world to come, 

.where exact justice will be done to every man is a 

doctrine, in every respect so venerable, so comfortable to the 
weakness, so flattering to the grandeur of human nature, that 
the virtuous man who has the misfortune to doubt of it can 
not possibly avoid wishing most earnestly and anxiously to 
believe it." 

This doctrine, Adam Smith thinks, could never have fallen 
into disrepute, had not a doctrine been asserted of a future 
distribution of rewards and punishments, at total variance with 


.ill our moral sentiments. The preference of assiduous flattery 
to merit or service, which is regarded as the greatest reproach 
even to the weakness of earthly sovereigns, is often ascribed tc 
divine perfection ; "and the duties of devotion, the public and 
private worship of the Deity, have been represented, even by 
men of virtue and abilities, as the sole virtues which can either 
entitle to reward, or exempt from punishment, in the life to 

There is the same absurdity in the notion, which had even 
its advocate in a philosopher like Massillon, that one hour 
or day spent in the mortifications of a monastery has more merit 
in the eye of God than a whole life spent honourably in 
the profession of a soldier. Such a doctrine is surely con 
trary to all our moral sentiments, and the principles by 
which we have been taught by nature to regulate our admi 
ration or contempt. " It is this spirit, however, which, while 
it has reserved the celestial regions for monks and friars, or 
for those whose conduct or conversation resembled those of 
monks and friars, has condemned to the infernal all the 
heroes, all the statesmen and lawyers, all the poets and 
philosophers of former ages; all those who have invented, 
improved, or excelled in the arts which contribute to the 
subsistence, to the conveniency, or to the ornament of life ; 
all the great protectors, instructors, and benefactors of man 
kind; all those to whom our natural sense of praise worthi 
ness forces us to ascribe the highest merit and the most 
exalted virtue. Can we wonder that so strange an applica 
tion of this most respectable doctrine should sometimes have 
exposed it to derision and contempt?" 

Although, then, Adam Smith considers that reason corro 
borates the teaching of natural religion regarding the ex 
istence of God and the life hereafter, he nowhere recognizes 
any moral obligation in the belief of one or the other; and 


they occupy in his system a very similar position to that 
which they occupy in Kant s, who treats the belief in the 
existence of God and in immortality as Postulates of the 
Practical Ileason, that is to say, as assumptions morally 
necessary, however incapable of speculative proof. Adam 
Smith, however, does not approach either subject at all from 
the speculative side, but confines himself entirely to the 
moral basis of both, to the arguments in their favour which 
the moral phenomena of life afford, such as have been already 

But besides the argument in favour of the existence of God 
derived from our moral sentiments, the only argument he 
employs is derived, not from the logical inconceivability of 
a contrary belief, but from the incompatibility of such a con 
trary belief with the happiness of the man so believing. A 
man of universal benevolence or boundless goodwill can enjov 
no solid happiness unless he is convinced that all the inhabi 
tants of the universe are under the immediate care of that all- 
wise Being, who directs all the movements of nature, and who 
is compelled, by His own unalterable perfections, to maintain 
in it at all times the greatest possible quantity of happiness. 
To a man of universal benevolence, " the very suspicion of a 
fatherless world must be the most melancholy of all reflections ; 
from the thought that all the unknown regions of infinite and 
incomprehensible space may be filled with nothing but endless 
misery and wretchedness. All the splendour of the highest 
prosperity can never enlighten the gloom with which so dread 
ful an idea must necessarily overshadow the imagination ; nor, 
in a wise and virtuous man, can all the sorrow of the most 
afflicting adversity ever dry up the joy which necessarily 
springs from the habitual and thorough conviction of the 
truth of the contrary system/ 

It was a well-known doctrine of the Stoic philosophy, that 


a man should resign all his wishes and interests with perfect 
confidence to the benevolent wisdom which directs the universe, 
and should seek his happiness chiefly in the contemplation of 
the perfection of the universal system. With this conception 
of resignation Adam Smith very closely agrees, in his descrip 
tion of the sentiments which become the wise and virtuous 
man with regard to his relation to the great sum of things. 
Just as he should be willing to sacrifice his own interest to 
that of his own order, and that of his own order again to 
that of his country, so he should be willing to sacrifice all 
those inferior interests " to the greater interest of the universe, 
to the interest of that great society of all sensible and intel 
ligent beings, of which God Himself is the immediate ad 
ministrator and director. If he is deeply impressed with the 
habitual and thorough conviction that this benevolent and 
all-wise Being can admit into the system of His government 
no partial evil which is not necessary for the universal good, 
he must consider all the misfortunes which may befall him 
self, his friends, his society, or his country, as necessary for 
the prosperity of the universe, and therefore as what he 
ought not only to submit to with resignation, but as what 
he himself, if he had known all the connexions and depen 
dencies of things, ought sincerely and devoutly to have wished 

A wise man should be capable of doing what a good soldier 
is always ready to do. For the latter, when ordered by his 
general, will march with alacrity to the forlorn station, knowing 
that he would not have been sent there but for the safety of 
the whole army and the success of the war, and he will cheer 
fully sacrifice his own little system to the welfare of a greater. 
But "no conductor of an army can deserve more unlimited 
trust, more ardent and zealous affection, than the great Con 
ductor of the universe. In the greatest public as well as 
private disasters, a wise man ought to consider that he himself, 


his friends and countrymen, have only been ordered upon the 
forlorn station of the universe; that had it not been necessary 
for the good of the whole, they would not have been so ordered ; 
and that it is their duty, not only with humble resignation 
to submit to this allotment, but to endeavour to embrace it 
with alacrity and joy." 

To the question, how far a man should seek his highest 
happiness in the contemplation of the system of the universe; 
or, in other words, whether the contemplative or the prac 
tical life is the higher and better, Adarn Smith replies 
hesitatingly in favour of the latter. The most sublime object 
of human contemplation is " the idea of that Divine Being, 
whose benevolence and wisdom have from all eternity contrived 
and conducted the immense machine of the universe, so as at 
all times to produce the greatest possible quantity of hap 
piness." A man believed to be chiefly occupied in this sub 
lime contemplation seldom fails of the highest veneration; 
and even though his life should be altogether contemplative, 
is often regarded with a sort of religious respect far higher 
than is generally bestowed on the most useful and active 
citizen. Marcus Antoninus has, perhaps, received more ad 
miration for his meditations on this subject than for all the 
different transactions of his just and beneficent reign. 

Nevertheless, the care of the universe not being the concern 
of man, but only the care of his own happiness, or that of his 
family, friends, or country, he can never be justified in 
neglecting the more humble department of affairs because he 
is engaged in the contemplation of the higher. He must not 
lay himself open to the charge which was brought against 
Marcus Antoninus, that whilst he was occupied in contem 
plating the prosperity of the universe he neglected that of the 
Roman empire. " The most sublime speculation of the con 
templative philosopher can scarce compensate the neglect of 
the smallest active dutv." 



THE science of ethics, according to Adam Smith, deals mainly 
with two principal questions, the first concerning 1 the nature 
of moral approbation, or the origin of our feelings of right 
and wrong, and the second concerning the nature of virtue, 
or the moral elements of which virtue consists. The first 
question is that to which the answer has already been given ; 
the second question to which the answer yet remains to be 
given, is " What is the tone of temper, and tenor of conduct, 
which constitutes the excellent and praiseworthy character, 
the character which is the natural object of esteem, honour, 
and approbation ? " Does virtue consist in benevolence, as 
some have maintained, or is it but a form of self-love, as 
others have maintained ; or does it consist in some relation of 
the benevolent and selfish affections to one another ? 

The general answer which Adam Smith makes to this 
question is, that virtue consists in a certain relation to one 
another of our selfish and unselfish affections, not exclusively 
in a predominance of either of them. " The man of the most 
perfect virtue," he says, "the man whom we naturally love and 
revere the most, is he who joins, to the most perfect command 
of his own original and selfish feelings, the most exquisite sensi 
bility both to the original and sympathetic feelings of others." 
It is the man who unites the gentler virtues of humanity and 
sensibility with the severer virtues of self-control and self-denial. 
" To feel much for others, and little for ourselves, to restrain 


our selfish, and to indulge our benevolent affections, consti 
tutes the perfection of humanity." 

Consequently any man s character for virtue must depend 
upon those two different aspects of his conduct which regard 
both himself and others ; and a character completely virtuous 
will consist in a combination of those qualities which have a 
beneficial effect alike on an individual s own happiness as on 
that of his fellow-men. These qualities are Prudence, Justice 
and Beneficence j and " the man who acts according- to the 
rules of perfect prudence, of strict justice, and of proper 
benevolence, may be said to be perfectly virtuous/ 

1. The quality of Prudence is that side of a man s character 
which concerns only his own happiness, and it has for its 
object the care of his perconal health, fortune, rank, and repu 
tation. The first lessons in this virtue are taught us "by the 
voice of nature herself," who directs us by the appetites of 
hunger and thirst, and by agreeable or disagreeable sensations, 
to provide for our bodily preservation and health. As we 
grow older we learn that only by proper care and foresight 
with respect to our external fortune can we ensure the means 
of satisfying our natural appetites, and we are further led to 
a desire of the advantages of fortune by experience that 
chiefly on their possession or supposed possession depends 
that credit and rank among our equals which is perhaps the 
strongest of all our desires. Security therefore of health, 
fortune, and rank, constitutes the principal object of Prudence. 

This outline of the subject-matter of Prudence, Adam 
Smith proceeds to fill up with a sketch of the character of the 
Prudent Man, which modelled, as it appears to be, on 
Aristotle s delineation of imaginary types of the different 
virtues, is so characteristic an illustration of our author s style 
and thought, that it is best presented to the reader in the 
following extracts from the original : 


" The prudent man always studies seriously and earnestly to 
understand whatever he professes to understand and not 
merely to persuade other people that he understands it ; and 
though his talents may not always be very brilliant, they are 
always perfectly genuine. He neither endeavours to impose 
upon you by the cunning" devices of an artful impostor, nor 
by the arrogant airs of an assuming pedant, nor by the con 
fident assertions of a superficial and impudent pretender ; he 
is not ostentatious even of the abilities he really possesses. 
His conversation is simple and modest, and he is averse to all 
the quackish arts by which other people so frequently thrust 
themselves into public notice 

"The prudent man is always sincere, and feels horror at the 
very thought of exposing himself to the disgrace which attends 
upon the detection of falsehood. But though always sincere, 
he is not always frank and open ; and though he never tells 
anything but the truth, he does not always think himself 
bound, when not properly called upon, to tell the whole truth. 
As he is cautious in his actions, so he is reserved in his speech, 
and never rashly or unnecessarily obtrudes his opinion con 
cerning either things or persons. 

" The prudent man, though not always distinguished by 
the most exquisite sensibility, is always very capable of friend 
ship. But his friendship is not that ardent and passionate 
but too often transitory affection which appears so delicious 
to the generosity of youth and inexperience. It is a sedate, 
but steady and faithful attachment to a few well-chosen com 
panions ; in the choice of whom he is not guided by the giddy 
admiration of shining accomplishments, but by the sober 
esteem of modesty, discretion, and good conduct. But though 
capable of friendship, he is not always much disposed to 
general sociality. He rarely frequents, and more rarely 
figures in, those convivial societies which are distinguished for 


the jollity and gaiety of their conversation. Their way of 
life might too often interfere with the regularity of his tem 
perance, might interrupt the steadiness of his industry, or breal^ 
in upon the strictness of his frugality. 

" But though his conversation may not always be very 
sprightly or diverting, it is always perfectly inoffensive. He 
hates the thought of J)eing guilty of any petulance or rtide- 
ness; he never assumes impertinently over anybody, and 
upon all occasions is willing to place himself rather below than 
above his equals. Both in his conduct and conversation he is 
an exact observer of decency, and respects with an almost 
religious scrupulosity all the established decorums and cere 
monials of society 

" The man who lives within his- income is naturally con 
tented with his situation, which by continual though small 
accumulations is growing better and better every day. lie is 
enabled gradually to relax both in the rigour of his parsimony 
and in the severity of his application ; . . . He has no 
anxiety to change so comfortable a situation, and does not go 
in quest of new enterprises and adventures which might 
endanger, but could not well increase, the secure tranquillity 
which he actually enjoys. If he enters into any new projects, 
they are likely to be well concerted and well prepared. He 
can never be hurried or driven into them by any necessity, 
but has always time and leisure to deliberate soberly and 
coolly concerning what are likely to be their consequences. 

" The prudent man is not willing to subject himself to any 
responsibility which his duty does not impose upon him. He 
is not a bustler in business where he has no concern ; is not a 
meddler in other people s affairs ; is not a professed counsellor 
or adviser, who obtrudes his advice where nobody is asking it ; 
he confines himself as much as his duty will permit to his own 
affairs, and has no taste for that foolish importance which 


many people wish to derive from appearing to have some 
influence in the management of those of other people he is 
averse to enter into any party disputes, hates faction, and is 
not always very forward to listen to the voice even of noble 
and great amhition. When distinctly called upon he will not 
decline the service of his country; but he will not cabal in 
order to force himself into it, and would be much better 
pleased that the public business were well managed by some 
other person than that he himself should have the trouble and 
incur the responsibility of managing it. In the bottom of his 
heart he would prefer the undisturbed enjoyment of secure 
tranquillity, not only to all the vain splendour of successful 
ambition, but to the real and solid glory of performing the 
greatest and most magnanimous actions." 

Such is Adam Smith s account of the character of the 
Prudent Man, a character which he himself admits commands 
rather a cold esteem than any very ardent love or admiration, 
lie distinguishes it from 1lu,t higher form of prudence which 
belongs to the great general, statesman, or legislator, and which 
is the application or wise and judicious conduct to greater and 
nobler purposes than the mere objects of personal interest. 
This superior prudence necessarily supposes the utmost per 
fection of all the intellectual and all the moral vinues; it is 
the most perfect wisdom combined with the most perlect 
| virtue ; it is the best head joined to the best heart. 

2. Justice and Benevolence the disposition either to refrain 
from injuring our neighbour, or else to benefit him are the 
j two qualities of a virtuous character which affect the happi 
ness of other people. A sacred and religious regard not to 
hurt or disturb the happiness of others, even in cases where 
no law can protect them, constitutes the character of the 
perfectly innocent and just man, and is a character which can 
scarcely fail to be accompanied by many other virtues, such 


as great feeling- for others, great humanity, and great benevo 
lence. But whilst benevolence is a positive moral factor, 
justice is only a negative one; benevolence, therefore, requires 
the greater consideration of the two. 

3. Benevolence comprises all the good offices which we owe 
to our family, our friends, our country, and our fellow- 
creatures. This is the order in which the world is recom 
mended to our beneficent affections by Nature, who has 
strictly proportioned the strength of our benevolence to the 
degree in which it is necessary or likely to be useful. 

Thus evary man is first and principally recommended to 
his own care, being better able to take care of himself than 
of any other person. After himself, the members of his own 
family, those who usually live in the same house with him 
his parents, children, or brothers and sisters are naturally the 
objects of his warmest affections. The earliest friendships 
are those among brothers and sisters, whose power for giving 
pleasure or pain to one another renders their good agreement 
so much the more necessary for the happiness of the family. 
The sympathy between more distant relations, being less 
necessary, is proportionately weaker. 

Here, again, may be noticed the influence of custom over 
our moral sentiments. Affection is really habitual sympathy; 
and, from our general experience that the state of habitual 
sympathy in which near relations stand to one another pro 
duces a certain affection between them, we expect always to 
find such affection, and are shocked when we fail to do so. 
Hence the general rule is established, from a great number of 
instances, that persons related to one another in a certain 
degree ought to be affected towards one another in a certain, 
manner, and that the highest impropriety exists in the absence 
of any such affection between them. 

This disposition to accommodate and assimilate our senti- 


nents and principles to those of persons we live with or see 
>ften a disposition which arises from the obvious convenience 
>f such a general agreement leads us to expect to find friend- 
hip subsisting between colleagues in office, partners in trade, 
>r even between persons living in the same neighbourhood. 
There are certain small good offices which are universally 
egarded as due to a neighbour in preference to any other 
icrson; and a certain friendliness is expected of neighbours, 
rorn the mere fact of the sympathy naturally associated with 
iving in the same locality. 

But these sort of attachments, which the Romans expressed 

>y the word nccessitndo, as if to denote that they arose from 

he necessity of the situation, are inferior to those friendships 

vhich are founded not merely on a sympathy, rendered 

i. ibitual for the sake of convenience, but on a natural sym- 

athy and approbation of a man s good conduct. Such 

riendship can subsist only among the good. " Men of virtue 

nly can feel that entire confidence in the conduct and be- 

wviourof one another, which can at all times assure them that 

hey can never either offend or be offended by one another. 

Vice is always capricious, virtue only is regular and orderly. 

.lie attachment which is founded upon the love of virtue, as 

t is certainly of all attachments the most virtuous, so it is 

ikewise the happiest, as well as the most permanent and 

ecure. Such friendships need not be confined to a single 

person, but may safely embrace all the wise and virtuous 

with whom we have been long and intimately acquainted, 

and upon whose wisdom and virtue we can, upon that account, 

entirely depend/ 

And the same principles which direct the order of our 
benevolent affections towards individuals, likewise direct their 
order towards societies, recommending to them before all 
| others those to which they can be of most importance. Oar 



native country is the largest society upon which our good or 
bad conduct can have much influence. It is that to which 
alone our good-will can be directed with effect. Accordingly, 
it is by nature most strongly recommended to us, as compre 
hending not only our own personal safety and prosperity, but 
that of our children, our parents, our relations, and friends. 
It iff thus endeared to us by all our private benevolent, as well 
as by our selfish affections. Hence its prosperity and glory 
seem to reflect some sort of honour upon ourselves, and "when 
we compare it with other societies of the same kind, we are 
proud of its superiority, and mortified, in some degree, if it 
appears in any respect below them/ 

But it is necessary to distinguish the love of our own 
country from a foolish dislike to every other one. " The love 
of our own nation often disposes us to view, with the most 
malignant jealousy and envy, the prosperity and aggrandize-; 
ment of any other neighbouring nation. Independent andj 
neighbouring nations, having no common superior to decide 
their disputes, all live in continual dread and suspicion of one 
another. Each sovereign, expecting little justice from his[ 
neighbours, is disposed to treat them with as little as he 
expects from them. The regard for the laws of nations, or 
for those rul^s winch independent states profess or pretend to 
think themselves bound to observe in their dealings with one 
another, is often very little more than mere pretence and pro 
fession. From the smallest interest, upon the slightest 
provocation, we see those rules every day either evaded or 
directly violated without shame or remorse. Each nation! 
foresees, or imagines it foresees, its own subjugation in the : 
increasing power and aggrandizement of any of its neigh-i 
"hours; and the mean principle of national prejudice is often 
founded on the noble one of the love of our own country.! 
. . . France and England may each of them have some 


reason to dread the increase of the naval and military power 
of the other; but for either of them to envy the internal 
happiness and prosperity of the other, the cultivation of its 
lands, the advancement of its manufactures, the increase of 
its commerce, the security and number of its ports and har 
bours, its proficiency in all the liberal arts and sciences, is 
surely beneath the dignity of two such great nations. These 
are the real improvements of the world we live in. Mankind 
are benefited, human nature is ennobled by them. In such 
improvements each nation ought not only to endeavour itself 
to excel, but, from the love of mankind, to promote, instead 
)f obstructing, the excellence of its neighbours. These are 
all proper objects of national emulation, not of national 
prejudice or envy/ 

This passage is of interest as coming from the future author 
of the Wealth of Nations, the future founder of the doctrine of 
free trade; and of historical interest, as reflecting cultivated 
opinion at a time when England was just in the middle of the 
Seven years war, is the remark that the most extensive 
public benevolence is that of the statesmen who project or 
form alliances between neighbouring or not very distant 
nations, "for the preservation either of what is called the 
balance of power, or of the general peace and tranquillity of 
the states within the circle of their negotiations/ 

But the ordinary love of our country involves two things : 
a certain reverence for the form of government actually 
established, and an earnest desire to render the condition of 
our fellow-citizens as safe, respectable, and happy, as possible. 
It is only in times of public discontent and faction that these 
two principles may draw different ways, and lead to doubt 
whether a change in the constitution might not be most con 
ducive to the general happiness. In such times, the leaders 
of the discontented party often propose " to new-model the 


constitution, and to alter, in some of its most essential parts, 
that system of government under which the subjects of a great 
empire have enjoyed perhaps peace, security, and even glory, 
during the course of several centuries together." And it may 
require the highest effort of political wisdom to determine 
when a real patriot ought to support and try to re-establish 
the authority of the old system, and when he ought to give 
way to the more daring, but oiten dangerous, spirit of 

Nothing, indeed, is more fatal to the good order of society 
than the policy of "a man of system," who is so enamoured 
of his own ideal plan of government as to be unable to suffer 
the smallest deviation from any part of it, and who insists 
upon establishing, and establishing all at once, and in spite of 
all opposition, whatever his idea may seem to require. Such 
a man erects his own judgment into the supreme standard of 
right and wrong, and fancies himself the only wise and| 
worthy man in the commonwealth. " It is upon this account j 
that of all political speculators sovereign princes are by far 
the most dangerous. This arrogance is perfectly familiar to 
them. They entertain no doubt of the immense superiority 
of their own judgment .... and consider the state as made 
lor themselves, not themselves for the state." 

It is otherwise with the real patriot, with the man whose 
public spirit is prompted altogether by humanity and bene 
volence. He " will respect the established powers and privi 
leges even of individuals, and still more those of the great 
orders and societies into which the state is divided. Thou 
he should consider some of them as in some measure abusive, 
he will content himself with moderating, what he often cannon 
annihilate without great violence. When he cannot conquer| 
the rooted prejudices of the people by reason and persuasion, 
he will not attempt to subdue them by force, but will 


eligiously observe what by Cicero is justly called the divine 
naxim of Plato, never to use violence to his country, no more 
ban to his parents. He will accommodate, as well as he can, 
is public arrangements to the confirmed habits and prejudices 
f the people; and will remedy, as well as he can, the incon- 
eniences which may flow from the want of those regulations 
r-hich the people are adverse to submit to. When he cannot 
stablish the right, he will not disdain to ameliorate the 
rrong; but, like Solon, where he cannot establish the bost 
Astern of laws, he will endeavour to establish the best that 

people can bear." 

.But although Prudence, Justice, and Benevolence comprise 
II the qualities and actions which go to make up the highest 
irtue, another quality, that of Self-Command, is also neces- 
ry, in order that we may not be misled by our own passions 
violate the rules of the other three virtues. The most 
erfect knowledge, unless supported by the most per- 

ect self-command, will not of itself enable us to do our 
The two sets of passions which it is necessary to command 

re those which, like fear and anger, it is difficult to control 
ven for a moment, or those which, like the love of ease, 
ieasure, applause, or other selfish gratifications, may be 
sstrained indeed often for a moment, but often prevail in the 
>ng run, by reason of their continual solicitations. The 
>mmand of the first set of passions constitutes what the 

ncient moralists denominated fortitude, or strength of mind; 

hat of the other set what they called temperance, decency, 

Self-command therefore is a union of the qualities of forti- 

ude and temperance; and independently of the beauty it 

enves from utility, as enabling us to act according to the 

ictates of prudence, justice, and benevolence, it has a beautv 


of its own, and deserves for its own sake alone some degree of 
our admiration and esteem. 

For self-command is not only itself a great virtue, but it is 
the chief source of the lustre of all the other virtues. Thus 
the character of the most exalted wisdom and virtue is that of 
a man who acts with the greatest coolness in extreme dangers 
and difficulties, who observes religiously the sacred rules of 
justice, in spite of the temptation by his strongest interests or 
by the grossest injuries to violate them, and who suffers not 
the benevolence of his temper to be damped by the ingratitude 
of its objects. 

The fust quality in the character of self-command is 
Courage, or the restraint of the passion of fear. The command 
of fear is more admirable than that of anger. The exertion 
displayed by a man/ who in persecution or danger suffers no 
word or gesture to escape him, which does not perfectly accord 
with the feelings of the most indifferent spectator, commands 
a high degree of admiration. Had Socrates been suffered tc 
die quietly in his bed, even his glory as a philosopher mighl 
never have attained that dazzling splendour which has ever 
been attached to him. Courage even causes some degree ol 
regard to be paid to the greatest criminals who die with firm 
ness; and the freedom from the fear of death, the great feai 
of all, is that which ennobles the profession of a soldier, afld 
bestows upon it a rank and dignity superior to that of ever) 
other profession. It is for this reason that some sort o! 
esteem is attached to characters, however worthless, who havt 
conducted with success a great warlike exploit, though under 
taken contrary to every principle of justice, and carried or 
with no regard to humanity. 

The command of the passion of anger, though it has nd 
special name like that of the passion of fear, merits on manji 
occasions much admiration. But whilst courage is always. 


admired irrespective of its motive, our approval of the com 
mand of anger depends on our sense of its dignity and 
propriety. Our whole sense of the beauty of the Philippics 
of Demosthenes or of the Catiline orations of Cicero is derived 
from the propriety with which a just indignation is expressed 
in them. This just indignation is nothing but anger re 
strained to that degree with which the impartial spectator can 
sympathize. It is because a blustering and noisy anger 
interests the spectator less for the angry man than for the 
person with whom he is angry that the nobleness of pardoning 
so often appears superior to the most perfect propriety of 
resentment. But the fact that the restraint of anger may be 
due to the presence of fear accounts for the less general 
admiration that is paid to the former than is often paid to the 
latter. The indulgence of anger seems to show a sort of 
courage and superiority to fear, and for that reason it is some 
times an object of vanity, whilst the indulgence of fear is 
never an object of a similar ostentation. 

The next quality in Self-Command is Temperance, or the 
Command of those less violent passions which appeal to our 
love of ease or pleasure. The command of these passions can 
seldom, like the command of anger or fear, be directed^ any 
bad end. Temperance and moderation, which include^ such 
virtues as industry, frugality, or chastity, are always amiable; 
but inasmuch as their exercise requires a gentler though 
steadier exertion than is necessary for the restraint of anger 
or fear, the beauty and grace which belong to them are less 
dazzling, though none the less pleasing, than the qualities 
which attend the more splendid actions of the hero, the states 
man, or the legislator. 

It has already been observed that the point of propriety, or 
degree of any passion with which an impartial spectator can 
approve, is differently situated in different passions, in some 


cases lying- nearer to the excess, and in others nearer to 
the defect. But it remains to be noticed, " that the passions 
^ which the spectator is most disposed to sympathize with, 
I and in which, upon that account, the point of propriety may 
Le said to stand high, are those of which the immediate feel- 
ing cr sensation is more or less agreeable to the person 
principally concerned; and that, on the contrary, the passions 
which the spectator is least disposed to sympathize with, 
and in which, upon that account, the point of propriety may 
be said to stand low, are those of which the immediate 
feeling or sensation is more or less disagreeable or even 
painful to the person principally concerned/ 

For instance, the disposition to the social affections, to 
humanity, kindness, natural affection, or friendship, being 
always agreeable to the person who feels them, meets with 
more sympathy in its excess than in its defect. Though we 
blame a disposition, that is too ready and indiscriminate in 
its kindness, we regard it with pity rather than with the 
dislike which we feel towards a person who is defective in 
kindness, or characterized by what is called hardness of heart. 
On the other hand, the disposition to the unsocial affections _ 
to angqr, hatred, envy, or malice as it is more agreeable to 
the person principally concerned in defect than in excess, so 
any defect of those passions approaches nearer to the point of 
propriety approved of by the spectator than any excess in 
their manifestation. Their excess renders a man wretched 
and miserable in his own mind, and hence their defect is more 
pleasing to others. Nevertheless even the defect may be ex 
cessive. The want of proper indignation is a most essential 
defect in any character, if it prevents a man from protecting 
either himself or his friends from insult or injustice. Or 
again, that defect of or freedom from envy, which, founded on 
indolence or good nature, or on an aversion to trouble or op- 


position, suffers others readily to rise far above us, as it gene 
rally leads to much regret and repentance afterwards, so it 
often gives place c< to a most malignant envy in the end, and 
to a hatred of that superiority which those who have once 
attained it may often become really entitled to, by the very 
circumstance of having attained it. In order to live com 
fortably in the world, it is upon all occasions as necessary to 
defend our dignity and rank as it is to defend our lives or our 

Sensibility to our own personal dangers, injuries, or mis 
fortunes, is more apt to offend by its excess than by its defect, 
and here again the same rule prevails, for a fretful or timid 
disposition renders a man miserable to himself as well as 
offensive to others. A cairn temper, which contentedly lavs 
its account to suffer somewhat from both the natural and 
moral evils infesting the world, is a blessing to the man him 
self, and gives ease and security to all his fellows. But such 
defect of sensibility may also be excessive, for the man who 
feels little for his own misfortunes or injuries will always feel 
less for those of other people, and be less disposed to relieve or 
resent them. 

A defect of sensibility to the pleasures and amusements of 
life is more offensive than the excess, for both to the person 
primarily affected and to the spectator a strong propensity to 
joy is more pleasing than the contrary. This propensity is 
only blamed when its indulgence is nnsuited to time or place, 
to the age or the situation of a person, and when it leads to 
the neglect of his interest or duty. But it is rather in such 
cases the weakness of the sense of propriety and duty that is 
blamed than the strength of the propensity to joy. 

Self-esteem also is more agreeable in excess than in defect, 
for it is so much more pleasant to think highly than it is to 
think meanly of ourselves. And just as we apply two different 


standards to our judgment about others, so in self-estimation 
we apply to ourselves both the standard of absolute perfection 
and that of the ordinary approximation thereto. To these 
two standards the same man often bestows a different degree" 
of attention at different times. In every man there exists an> 
idea of exact propriety and perfection ; an idea gradually 
formed from observations of himself and others, " the slow, 
gradual, and progressive work of the great demigod within 
the breast, the great judge and arbiter of conduct." It is an 
idea which, in every man, is more or less accurately drawn, 
more or less justly coloured and designed, according to the 
delicacy and care with which the observations have been 

But it is the wise and virtuous man who, having made these 
observations with the utmost care, directs his conduct chiefly 
by this ideal standard, and esteems himself rightly in consc- ; 
(pence. He feels the imperfect success of all his best endea 
vours to assimilate his conduct to that archetype of perfection, 
and remembers with humiliation the frequency of his aber- j 
ration from the exact rules of perfect propriety. And so con 
scious is he of his imperfection that, even when he judges! 
himself by the second standard of ordinary rectitude, he is 
unable to regard with contempt the still greater imperfection 
of other people. Thus his character is one of real modesty, j 
for he combines, with a very moderate estimate of his own 
merit, a full sense of the merit of others. 

The difference indeed between such a man and the ordinary 
man is the difference between the great artist who judges of 
his own works by his conception of ideal perfection and the 
lesser artist who judges of his work merely by comparison 
with the work of other artists. The poet Boileau, who used 
to say that no great man was ever completely satisfied with : 
his own work, being once assured by Santeuil, a writer, of 


Latin verses, that lie, for his own part, was completely satisfied 
with his own, replied that he was certainly the only great man 
who ever was so. Yet how much harder of attainment is the 
ideal perfection in conduct than it is in art ! For the artist 
may work undisturbed, and in full possession of all his skill 
and experience. But " the wise man must support the pro 
priety of his own conduct in health and in sickness, in success 
and in disappointment, in the hour of fatigue and drowsy 
indolence, as well as in that of the most wakened attention. 
The most sudden and unexpected assaults of difficulty and 
distress must never surprise him. The injustice of other 
people must never provoke him to injustice. The violence of 
faction must never confound him. All the hardships and 
hazards of war must never either dishearten or appal him." 

Pride and vanity are two distinct kinds of that excessive 
self-estimation which w r e blame in persons who enjoy no dis 
tinguished superiority over the common level of mankind ; 
and though the proud man is often vain, and the vain man 
proud, the two characters are easily distinguishable. 

The proud man is sincere, and in the bottom of his heart 
convinced of his own superiority. lie wishes you to view 
him in no other light than that in which, when he places him 
self in your situation, he really views himself. He only de 
mands justice. He deigns not to explain the grounds of his 
pretensions; he disdains to court esteem, and even affects to 
despise it. He is too well contented with himself to think 
that his character requires any amendment. He does not 
always feel at ease in the company of his equals, and still less 
in that of his superiors. Unable as he is to lay down his 
lofty pretensions, and overawed by such superiority, he has 
recourse to humbler company, for which he has little respect, 
and in which he finds little pleasure that of his inferiors or 
dependants. If he visits his superiors, it is to show that he 


is entitled to live with them more than from any real satisfac 
tion he derives from them. He never flatters,, and is often 
S3arcely civil to anybody. He seldom stoops to falsehood; 
but if he does, it is to lower other people, and to detract from 
that superiority which he thinks unjustly attached to them. 

The Vain man is different in nearly all these points. He is 
not sincerely convinced of the superiority he claims. Se jing 
the respect which is paid to rank and fortune, talents or virtues, 
he seeks to usurp such respect ; and by his dress and mode of 
living- proclaims a higher rank and fortune than really belong- 
to him. He is delighted with viewing himself, not in the 
light in which we should view him if we knew all that he 
knows, but in that in which he imagines that he has induced 
us to view him. Unlike the proud man, he courts the com 
pany of his superiors, enjoying the reflected splendour of 
associating with them. " lie haunts the courts of kings and 
the levees of ministers, .... he is fond of being admitted to 
the tables of the great, and still more fond of magnifying to 
other people the familiarity with which he is honoured there; 
he associates himself as much as he can with fashionable people, 
with those who are supposed to direct the public opinion 
with the witty, with the learned, with the popular ; and he 
shuns the company of his best friends, whenever the very 
uncertain current of public favour happens to run in any respect 
against them/ Nevertheless, " vanity is almost always a 
sprightly and gay, and very often a good-natured passion/ 
Even the falsehoods of the vain man are all innocent false 
hoods, meant to raise himself, not to lower other people. He 
does not, like the proud man, think his character above im 
provement ; but, in his desire of the esteem and admiration 
of others, is actuated by a, real motive to noble exertion. 
Vanity is frequently only a premature attempt to usurp glory 
before it is due; and so "the great secret of education is to 


direct vanity to proper objects/ by discouraging pretensions 
to trivial accomplishments, but not those to more important 

Both the proud and the vain man are constantly dissatisfied ; 
the one being tormented by what he considers the unjust 
superiority of other people, and the other dreading the shame 
of the detection of his groundless pretensions. So that here 
again the rule holds good; and that degree of self-estimation 
which contributes most to the happiness and contentment of 
the person himself, is likewise that which most commends 
itself to the approbation of the impartial spectator. 

It remains, then, to draw some concluding comparisons 
between the virtues of Self-command and the three primary 
virtues Prudence, Justice, and Benevolence. 

The virtues of self-command are almost entirely recommended 
to us by the sense of propriety, by regard to the sentiments 
of (he supposed impartial spectator; whilst the virtues of 
prudence, justice and benevolence, are chiefly recommended to 
us by concern for our own happiness or the happiness of other 
people. They are recommended to us primarily by our selfish 
or benevolent affections, independently of any regard us to 
what are or ought to be the sentiments of other people. Such 
regard indeed comes later to enforce their practice ; and no 
man ever trod steadily in their paths whose conduct was not 
principally directed by a regard to the sentiments of the sup 
posed impartial spectator, the great inmate of the breast and 
arbiter of our conduct. But regard for the sentiments of 
other people constitutes the very foundation of the virtues of 
self-restraint, and is the sole principle that can moderate our 
passions to that degree where the spectator will give his 

Another difference is, that while regard to the beneficial 
effects of prudence, justice, and benevolence recommend them. 


originally to the agent and afterwards to the spectator, no such 
sense of their utility adds itself to our sense of the propriety 
of the virtues of self-command. Their effects may be agree 
able or the contrary, without affecting the approbation be 
stowed on them. Valour displayed in the cause of justice is 
loved and admired, but in the cause of injustice it is still re 
garded with some approbation. In that, as in all the other 
virtues of self-command, it is the greatness and steadiness of the 
exertion, and the strong sense of propriety necessary to main 
tain that exertion, which is the source of admiration. The 
effects are often, only too little regarded. 



ALTHOUGH Adam Smith never distinctly faces the problem of 
the supreme end of life, nor asks himself whether virtue and 
morality are merely means to the attainment of happiness, or 
whether they are ends in themselves irrespective of happiness, 
he leaves little doubt that happiness really occupies in his sys 
tem very much the same place that it does in the systems ot 
professed utilitarians. But he distinguishes between happi 
ness as the natural result of virtue and happiness as the end 
or purpose of virtue; and, by satisfying- himself that it 7* the 
natural result,, he saves himself from considering whether, 
if it were not, virtue would remain in and for itself desirable 
as an end. 

"The happiness of mankind/ he says, " as well as of all 
other rational creatures, seems to have been the original 
purpose of the Author of Nature/ no other end appearing 
to be worthy of His supreme wisdom and beneficence. The 
fact therefore that we most effectually promote the happi 
ness of mankind, and so to some extent promote the great 
plan of Providence by acting according to the dictates of our 
moral faculties, is an additional reason, though not the primary 
one, for our doing so; and, conversely, the tendency of an 
opposite course of conduct to obstruct the scheme thus ordained 
for the happiness of the world, is an additional reason for ab 
staining from it. Accordingly, the ultimate sanction of our 


compliance with the rules for the promotion of human wel 
fare the ultimate sanction, that is, of virtue lies in a system 
of future rewards and punishments, by which our co-operation 
with the divine plan may be enforced. 

To this extent, therefore, Adam Smith seems to agree with 
the utilitarianism of Paley in making- the happiness of another 
world the ultimate motive for virtuous action in this. But 
although he thus appeals to religion as enforcing the sense of 
duty, he is far from regarding morality as only valuable for 
that reason. He protests against the theory that " we ought 
not to be grateful from gratitude, we ought not to be chari 
table from humanity, we ought not to be public-spirited from 
the love of our country, nor generous and just from the 
love of mankind, and that our sole motive in performing 
these duties should be a sense that God has commanded 

Hence when he speaks of the perfection and happiness of 
mankind as "the great end" aimed at by nature, it is clear 
that he intends the temporal and general welfare of the world, 
and that, though the happiness of another may be a motive to 
virtue, it is not so much the end and object of it as happiness 
in this. It is in this life, also, that virtue and happiness, vice- 
and misery, are closely associated ; and nature may be regarded 
as having purposely bestowed on every virtue and vice that 
precise reward or punishment which is best fitted either to 
encourage the one or to restrain the other. Thus the reward 
attached to industry and prudence namely, success in every 
sort of business is precisely that which is best calculated to 
encourage those virtues, just as in the same way and for the 
same reason there is attached to the practice of truth, justice, 
arid humanity, the confidence and esteem of those we live with. 
It requires indeed a very extraordinary concurrence of cir 
cumstances to defeat those natural and temporal rewards or 


punishments for virtue or vice, which have been fixed in the 
sentiments and opinions of mankind. 

Adam Smith does not then regard virtue entire! v as its own 
end, irrespective of its recompence in the increase of our hap 
piness. Still less, however, does he acknowledge the cardinal 
doctrine of the utilitarian school, that virtue derives its whole 
and sole merit from its conduciveness to the general welfare of 
humanity. He takes up a sort of middle ground between the 
Epicurean theory, that virtue is good as a means to happiness 
as the end, and the theory of the Stoics, that virtue is an end 
in itself independently of happiness. The practice of virtue, 
he would have said, is a means to happiness, and has been so 
related to it by nature; but it has, nevertheless, prior claims 
of its own, quite apart from all reference to its effect upon our 

There is little attempt on the part of our author at any 
scientific analysis of human happiness like that attempted by 
Aristotle, and in modern times by Ilutcheson or Bentham. 
But if we take Aristotle s classification of the three principal 
classes of lives as indicative of the three main ideas of human 
happiness current in the world, namely, the life of pleasure, 
the life of ambition, and the life of contemplation and know 
ledge, there is no doubt under which of these three types 
Adam Smith would have sought the nearest approximation to 
earthly felicity. 

The life of pleasure, or that ideal of life which seeks happiness 
in the gratification of sensual enjoyment, he rejects rather by im 
plication than otherwise, by not treating it as worthy of discus 
sion at all. But his rejection of the life of ambition is of more 
interest, both because he constantly recurs to it, and because 
it seems to express his own general philosophy of life and to 
contain the key to his own personal character. 

Happiness, he says, consists in tranquillity and enjoyment. 



"Without tranquillity there can no be enjoyment, and with 
tranquillity there is scarcely anything 1 but may prove a source 
of pleasure. Hence the Stoics were so far right, in that they 
maintained that as between one permanent situation and 
another there was but little difference with regard to real 
happiness ; and the great source of all human misery is our 
constant tendency to overrate the difference between such 
situations. Thus avarice overrates the difference between 
poverty and wealth, ambition that between public and private 
life, vain-glory that between obscurity and renown. (< In ease 
of body and peace of mind all the different ranks of life are 
nearly on a level, and the beggar who suns himself by the 
side of the highway possesses that security which kings are 
fighting for." 

The story, therefore, of what the favourite of the king of 
Epirus said to his master admits of general application to men in 
all the situations of human life. When Pyrrhus had recounted 
all his intended conquests, Cincas asked him, "What does 
your majesty propose to do then?" "I propose," said the 
king, " to enjoy myself with rny friends, and endeavour to be 
good company over a bottle." And the answer was, " What 
hinders your majesty from doing so now ? " 

In the highest situation we can fancy, the pleasures from 
which we propose to derive our real happiness are generally the 
same as those which, in a humbler station, we have at all 
times at hand and in our power. The poor man s son, " whom 
heaven in its anger has visited with ambition," will go 
through, in the first month of his pursuit of the pleasures of 
wealth, more fatigue of body and uneasiness of mind than he 
could have suffered through the whole of his life for the want 
of them. "Examine the records of history, recollect what 
has happened in the circle of your own experience, consider with 
attention what has been the conduct of almost all the greatly 


unfortunate, either in private or public life, whom you have 
either read of or heard of or remember, and you will find that 
the misfortunes of by far the greater part of them have arisen 
from their not knowing" when they were well, when it was 
proper for them to sit still and be contented. " 

Pope taught the same lesson better and more briefly in his 
well-known lines : 

Hope springs eternal in the human breast ; 
Man never is, but always to be, blest. 

And Horace asked Mecsenas the same question long- ago : 

Qui fit, Meccenas, ut nemo quam sibi sortem 
Sou ratio dederit, seu forsobjecerit ilia 
Contentus vivat? 

"What can be added/ asks Adam Smith, "to the happi 
ness of the man who is in health, who is out of debt, and has 
a clear conscience ? " And this condition, he maintains, is the 
ordinary condition of the greater part of mankind. Would 
you live freely, fearlessly, and independently, there is one sure 
way: "Never enter the place from whence so few have been 
able to return, never come within the circle of ambition/ The 
ove of public admiration admits of no rival nor successor in 
;he breast, and all other pleasures sicken by comparison with 
t. It is very true, as was said by llochefoucault, " Love is 
commonly succeeded by ambition, but ambition is hardly ever 
succeeded by love/ 

The following passage is perhaps the best illustration of our 
)hilosopher s view of the objects of ambition. " Power and 
lobes," he says, "are enormous and operose machines con - 
rived to produce a few trifling conveniences to the body, con- 
isting of springs the most nice and delicate, which must be 
tept in order with the most anxious attention, and which, in 
pite of all our care, are ready every moment to burst into 

K 2 


pieces, and to crush in their ruins their unfortunate possessor, i 
They are immense fabrics which it requires the labour of a life i 
to raise, which threaten every moment to overwhelm the per 
son that dwells in them, and which, while they stand, though 
they may save him from some smaller inconveniencies, can I 
protect him from none of the severer inclemencies of the season. 
They keep off the summer shower but not the winter storm, 
but leave him as much, and sometimes more, exposed than 
before to anxiety, to fear, and to sorrow ; to diseases, to danger, 
and to death." 

The question then arises, Why do we all so generally flee 
from poverty and pursue riches ? The answer is (and it is one 
of the happiest applications of the author s favourite theory, 
though it equally solves the problem of the great absence of 
contentment), from regard to the common sentiments of man 
kind ; from the greater sympathy or admiration naturally felt 
for the rich than for the poor. For being as we are more 
disposed to sympathize with joy than with sorrow, we more 
naturally enter into the agreeable emotions which accompany 
the possessor of riches, whilst we fail of much real fellow-feeling 
for the distress and misery of poverty. Sympathy with 
poverty is a sympathy of pity; sympathy with wealth a 
sympathy of admiration, a sympathy altogether more pleasur 
able than the other. The situation of wealth most sets a man 
in the view of general sympathy and attention ; and it is thej 
consciousness of this sympathetic admiration which riches! 
bring with them, not the ease or pleasure they afford, that makes 
their possession so ardently desired. It is the opposite con 
sciousness which makes all the misery of poverty ; the feeling 
of being placed away from the sight or notice of mankind, the 
feeling that a man s misery is also disagreeable to others. 
Hence it is that for every calamity or injury which affects the 
rich, the spectator feels ten times more compassion than when 


tie same things happen to other people ; thus all the innocent 
blood that was shed in the civil wars provoked less indignation 
than the death of Charles I. ; and hence the misfortunes of 
king s, like those of lovers, are the only real proper subjects of 
tragedy, for in spite of reason and experience our imagination 
attaches to these two conditions of life a happiness superior to 
that of any other. 

But this disposition of mankind to sympathize with all the 
passions of the rich and powerful has also its utility as the 
source of the distinction of ranks and of the peace and order 
of society. It is not the case, as was taught by Epicurus, that 
the tendency of riches and power to procure pleasure makes 
them desirable, and that the tendency to produce pain is the 
great evil of poverty. Riches are desirable for the general 
sympathy which goes along with them, and the absence of 
such sympathy is the evil of their want. Still less is the 
reverence of men for their superiors founded on any selfish 
expectations of benefit from their good-will. It arises rather 
from a simple admiration of the advantages of their position, 
and is primarily a disinterested sentiment. From a natural 
sympathetic admiration of their happiness, we desire to serve 
them for their own sakes, and require no other recompense 
than the vanity and honour of obliging them. 

It would equally be a mistake to suppose that the common 
deference paid to the rich is founded on any regard for the 
general utility of such submission, or for the support it gives 
to the maintenance of social order, for even when it may be 
most beneficial to oppose them, such opposition is most reluct 
antly made. The tendency to reverence them is so natural, 
that even when a people are brought to desire the punishment 
of their kings, the sorrow felt for the mortification of a 
monarch is ever ready to revive former sentiments of loyalty. 
The death of Charles I. brought about the Restoration, and 


sympathy for James II. when he was caught by the populace; 
making his escape on board ship, went very nigh to preventing 
the Revolution. 

But although this disposition to sympathize with the rich 
is conducive to the good order of society, Adam Smith admits} 
that it to a certain extent tends to corrupt moral sentiments. 
For in equal degrees of merit, the rich and great receive more 
honour than the poor and humble; and it it be " scarce 
agreeable to good morals or even to good language, to say | 
that mere wealth and greatness, abstracted from merit and 
virtue, deserve our respect/ it is certain that they almost 
always obtain it, and that they are therefore pursued as its 
natural objects. 

Hence it comes about, that " the external graces, the frivo 
lous accomplishments, of that impertinent and foolish thing, 
called a man of fashion, are commonly more admired than the 
solid and masculine virtues of a warrior, a statesman, a 
philosopher or a legislator." Not only the dress, and lan 
guage, and behaviour of the rich and great become favourable, 
but their vices and follies too, vain men giving themselves 
airs of a fashionable profligacy of which in their hearts they 
do not approve and of which perhaps they are not guilty. 
For " there are hypocrites of wealth and greatness as well as 
of religion and virtue ; and a vain man is apt to pretend to be 
what he is not in one way, as a cunning man is in the 



IN our sympathy for rank and wealth, as explained in the 
last chapter, Adam Smith sees plainly the " benevolent wisdom 
of nature/ " Nature/ he says, " has wisely judged that the 
distinction of ranks, the peace and order of society, would rest 
more securely upon the plain and palpable difference of birth 
and fortune than upon the invisible and often uncertain differ 
ence of wisdom and virtue/ And ia discussing the pervert 
ing influence of chance upon our moral sentiments, he finds 
the same justification for our admiration of Success. For 
equally with our admiration for mere wealth it is necessary for 
the stability of society. We are thereby taught to submit 
more easily to our superiors, and to regard with reverence, or 
a kind of respectful affection, that fortunate violence we can 
no longer resist. By this admiration for success, we acquiesce 
with less reluctance in the government which an irresistible 
force often imposes on us, and submit no less easily to an 
Attila or a Tamerlane than to a Crcsar or an Alexander. 

To a certain extent this conception of Nature, and recog 
nition of design, entered into the general thought of the time. 
Even Hume said, "It is wisely ordained by nature that 
private connexions should commonly prevail over universal 
views and considerations ; otherwise our affections and actions 
would be dissipated and lost for want of a proper limited 
object/ But Adam Smith more particularly adopted this 


view of things, and the assumption of Final Causes as explana 
tory of moral phenomena is one of the most striking- features 
in his philosophy ; nor does he ever weary of identifying- the 
actual facts or results of morality with the actual intention of 
nature. It seems as if the shadow of Mandeville had rested 
over his pen, and that he often wrote rather as the advocate 
ofasytem of nature which he believed to have been falsely 
impugned than as merely the analyst of our moral sentiments. 
Writing- too as he describes himself to have done, with an im 
mense landscape of lawns and woods and mountains before his 
window, it is perhaps not surprising-, that his observation of 
the physical world should have pleasantly affected his con 
templation of the moral one, and blessed him with that opti 
mistic and genial view of things, which forms so agreeable a 
feature in his Theory. 

The extent to which Adam Smith applies his doctrine of 
final causes in ethics is so remarkable, that it is worth while 
to notice the most striking examples of it. 

Our propensity to sympathize with joy being, as has been 
said, much stronger than our propensity to sympathize with 
sorrow, we more fully sympathize with our friends in their 
joys than in their sorrows. It is a fact, that however con 
scious we may be of the justice of another s lamentation, and 
however much we may reproach ourselves for our want of 
sensibility, our sympathy with the afflictions of our friends 
generally vanishes when we leave their presence. Such is the 
fact, the final cause of which is thus stated : " Nature, it 
seems, when she loaded us with our own sorrows, thought that 
they were enough, and therefore did not command us to take 
any further share in those of others than was necessary to 
prompt us to relieve them/ 

Another purpose of nature may be traced in the fact, that 
as expressions of kindness and gratitude attract our sympathy, 


those of hatred and resentment repel it. The hoarse discord 
ant voice of anger inspires us naturally with fear and aversion, 
and the symptoms of the disagreeable affections never excite, 
but often disturb, our sympathy. For, man having- been 
formed for society, " it was, it seems, the intention of nature 
that those rougher and more unamiable emotions which drive 
men from one another should be less easily and more rarely 

Our natural tendency to sympathize with the resentment of 
another has also its purpose. For instance, in the case of a 
murder, we feel for the murdered man the same resentment 
which he would feel, were he conscious himself, and into 
which we so far enter as to carry it out as his avengers ; and 
thus, with regard to the most dreadful of all crimes, has 
nature, antecedent to all reflections on the utility of punish 
ment, stamped indelibly on the human heart an immediate 
and instinctive approbation of the sacred and necessary law of 

Resentment within moderation is defensible as one of the 
original passions of our nature, and is the counterpart of 
gratitude. Nature " does not seem to have dealt so unkindly 
with us as to have endowed us with any principle which is 
wholly and in every respect evil." The very existence of 
society depending as it does on the punishment of unprovoked 
malice, man has not been left to his own reason, to discover 
that the punishment of bad actions is the proper means to pre 
serve society, but he has been endowed with an immediate and 
instinctive approbation of that very application of punishment 
which is so necessary. In this case, as in so many others, the 
economy of nature is the same, in endowing mankind with an 
instinctive desire for the means necessary for the attainment 
of one of her favourite ends. As the self-preservation of the 
individual is an end^ for which man has not been left to the 


exercise of his own reason to find out the means, but has been 
impelled to the means themselves, namely, food and drink., by 
the immediate instincts of hunger and thirst, so the preser 
vation of society is an end, to the means to which man is 
directly impelled by an instinctive desire for the punishment 
of bad actions. 

The same explanation is then applied to the fact, that bene 
ficence, or the doing good to others, as less necessary to society 
than justice, or the not doing evil to others, is not enforced 
by equally strong natural sanctions. Society is conceivable 
without the practice of beneficence, but not without that of 
justice. Without justice, society, " the peculiar and darling 
care of nature," must in a moment crumble to atoms. It is 
the main pillar which upholds the whole edifice, whilst bene 
ficence is only the ornament which embellishes it. For this 
reason stronger motives were necessary to enforce justice than 
to enforce beneficence. Therefore nature " implanted in the 
human breast that consciousness of ill-desert, those terrors of 
merited punishment which attend its violation, as the great 
safeguard of the association of mankind, to protect the weak, 
to curb the violent, and to chastise the guilty." 

In the influence of fortune over our moral sentiments, in 
our disposition to attach less praise where by accident a good 
intention has stopped short of real action, to feel less resent 
ment where a criminal design has stopped short of fulfilment, 
and to feel a stronger sense of the merit or demerit of actions 
when they chance to occasion extraordinary but unintended 
pleasure or pain, Adam Smith again traces the working of a 
final cause, and sees in this irregularity of our sentiments an 
intention on the part of Nature to promote the happiness of 
our species. For were resentment as vividly kindled by a 
mere design to injure as by an actual injury, were bad wishes 
held equivalent to bad conduct, mere thoughts and feelings 


would become the objects o punishment, and a state of uni 
versal suspicion would allow of no security even for the most 
innocent. If, on the other hand, the mere wish to serve 
another were regarded as equivalent to the actual service, an 
indolent benevolence might take the place of active well 
doing, to the detriment of those ends which are the purpose of 
man s existence. In the same way, man is taught, by that 
mere animal resentment which arises naturally against every 
injury, howsoever accidental, to respect the well-being of his 
fellows, and, by a fallacious sense of guilt, to dread injuring 
them by accident only less than he dreads to do so by 

Let us take next the manifestation of fortitude under mis 
fortune. A man s self approbation under such circumstances 
is exactly proportioned to the degree of self-command necessary 
to obtain it ; or, in other words, to the degree in which he can 
assume with regard to himself the feelings of the impartial and 
indifferent spectator. Thus a man who speaks and acts the 
moment after his leg has been shot off by a cannon-ball with 
his usual coolness, feels, as a reflex of the applause of the 
indifferent spectator, an amount of self-approbation exactly 
proportioned to the self-command he exhibits. And thus 
Nature exactly apportions her reward to the virtue of a man s 
behaviour. But it is nevertheless not fitting that the reward 
which Nature thus bestows on firmness of conduct should 
entirely compensate him for the sufferings which her laws 
inflict on him. For, if it did so, a man could have no motive 
from self-interest for avoiding accidents which cannot but 
diminish his utility both to himself and society. Nature 
therefore, " from her parental care of both, meant that he 
should anxiously avoid all such accidents. " 

This is a good illustration of the difficulties of this kind of 
reasoning in general. It will be easily seen that it raises 


more doubts than it solves. If there really is this parental 
care on the part of Nature for mankind, why are her measures 
incomplete? If the reward she bestows on fortitude did 
entirely compensate for the misfortunes it contends with, 
would not all the evil of them be destroyed? And might not 
Nature, with her parental care, have made laws which could j 
not be violated, rather than make laws whose observance 
needs the protection of misfortune? It does not solve the 
problem of moral evil, to show here and there beneficial results; 
it only makes the difficulty the greater. AY here there is so 
much good, why should there be any evil ? 

To this question Adam Smith attempts no answer, or thinks 
the problem solved by the discovery of some good side to 
everything evil. His whole system is based on the theory 
that the works of Nature " seem all intended to promote hap 
piness and guard against misery/ Against those " whining 
and melancholy moralists," who reproach us for being happy 
in the midst of all the misery of the world, he replies, not only 
that if we take the whole world on an average, there will be 
for every man in pain or misery twenty in prosperity and joy, 
and that we have no more reason to weep with the one than 
to rejoice with the twenty, but also that, if we were so con 
stituted as to feel distress for the evil we do not see, it could 
serve no other purpose than to increase misery twofold. This 
is true enough ; but it is another thing to argue from the fact 
to the purpose, and to say that it has been wisely ordained by 
Nature that we should not feel interested in the fortune of 
those whom we can neither serve nor hurt. For it is to men 
whose sympathies have been wider than the average that all 
the diminution of the world s misery has been due; and it is 
fair, if we must argue about Nature at all, to say that had she 
endowed men generally with wider sympathies than she has 
done, the misery in the world might have been still more 


reduced than it has been, and the sum-total of happiness pro 
portionately greater. 

Similar thoughts arise with respect to the following passage, 
wherein Adam Smith contends, in words that seem a fore 
taste of the Wealth of Nations, that Nature leads us inten 
tionally, by an illusion of the imagination, to the pursuit of 
riches. " It is well that Nature imposes upon us in this 
manner. It is this deception which rouses and keeps in con 
tinual motion the industry of mankind. It is this which first 
prompted them to cultivate the ground, to build houses, to 
found cities and commonwealths, and to invent and improve 
all the sciences and arts, which ennoble and embellish human 
life ; which have entirely changed the whole face of the globe, 
have turned the rude forests of nature into agreeable and 
fertile plains, and made the trackless and barren ocean a new 
fund of subsistence, and the great high road of communication 

to the different nations of the earth It is to no 

purpose that the proud and unfeeling landlord views his 
extensive fields, and, without a thought for the wants of his 
brethren, in imagination consumes himself the whole harvest 

that grows upon them The capacity of his stomach 

bears no proportion to the immensity of his desires, and will 
receive no more than that of the meanest peasant. 1 The rest 
he is obliged to distribute among those who prepare, in the 
nicest manner, that little which he himself makes use of, 
among those who fit up the palace in which this little is to be 
consumed, among those who provide and keep in order all the 
different baubles and trinkets which are employed in the 
economy of greatness ; all of whom thus derive from his 
luxury and caprice that share of the necessaries of life which 
they would in vain have expected from his humanity or his 
justice. The produce of the soil maintains at all times nearly 
Cf. Ilor. Sat. i. 45-6. 


that number of inhabitants which it is capable of maintaining 
The rich only select from the heap what is most precious and 
agreeable. They consume little more than the poor ; and in 
spite of their natural selfishness aud rapacity,, though they 
mean only their own conveniency, though the sole end which 
they propose from the labours of all the thousands whom they 
employ be the gratification of their own vain and insatiable 
desires, they divide with the poor the produce of all their 
improvements. They are led by an invisible hand to make 
nearly the same distribution of the necessaries of life which 
would have been made had the earth been divided into equal 

portions among all its inhabitants When Providence 

divided the earth among a few lordly masters, it neither 
forgot nor abandoned those who seemed to have been left out 
in the partition. These last, too, enjoy their share of all that 
it produces. In what constitutes the real happiness of human 
life, they are in no respect inferior to those who would seem 
so much above them." 

Adam Smith applies the same argument to the condition 
of children. Nature, he maintains, has for the wisest pur 
poses rendered parental tenderness in all or most men much 
stronger than filial affection. For the continuance of the 
species depends upon the former, not upon the latter ; and 
whilst the existence and preservation of a child depends alto 
gether on the care of its parents, the existence of the parents 
is quite independent of the child. In the Decalogue, though 
we are commanded to honour our fathers and mothers, there 
is no mention of love for our children, Nature having suffi 
ciently provided for that. " In the eye of Nature, it would 
seem, a child is a more important object than an old man, 
and excites a much more lively as well as a more universal 
sympathy." Thus, again, with regard to the excessive 
credulity of children, and their disposition to lelieve whatever 
they are told, " nature seems to have judged it necessary for 


their preservation that they should, for some time at least, put 
implicit confidence in those to whom the care of their child 
hood, and of the earliest and most necessary parts of their 
education, is entrusted." 

The love of our country, again, is by nature endeared to 
us, not only by all our selfish, but by all our private bene 
volent affections; for in its welfare is comprehended our own, 
a,nd that of all our friends and relations. We do not therefore 
love our country merely as a part of the great society of man 
kind, but for its own sake, and independently of other con 
siderations. "That wisdom which contrived the system of 
human affections, as well as that of every other part of nature, 
seems to have judged that the interest of the great society of 
mankind would be best promoted by directing the principal 
attention of each individual to that particular portion of it 
which was most within the sphere both of his abilities and of 
his understanding/ 

To sum up our author s application of his theory to his 
general scheme of ethics. Man, having been intended by 
nature for society, was fitted by her for that situation. 
Hence she endowed him with an original desire to please, and 
an original aversion to offend, his brethren. By teaching 
him to feel pleasure in their favourable, and pain in their un 
favourable regards, she laid, in the reward of their approba 
tion, or the punishment of their disapproval, the foundation 
of human ethics. In the respect which she has taught him 
to feel for their judgment and sentiments, she has raised in 
his mind a sense of Duty, and girt her laws for his conduct 
with the sanction of obligatory morality. And so happily 
has she adjusted the sentiments of approbation and disappro 
bation to the advantage both of the individual and of society, 
that it is precisely those qualities which are useful o** advan 
tageous to the individual himself, or to others, wfiicn are 
always accounted virtuous or the contrary. 




THE influence which Hume s philosophy exercised over that of 
Adam Smith has already been noticed with respect to the 
fundamental facts of sympathy, and the part played by them 
in the formation of our moral sentiments. But it is chiefly 
with respect to the position of Utility in moral philosophy 
that Adam Smith s theory is affected by Hume s celebrated 
Inquiry concerning tlie Principles of Morals. Not only are 
all his speculations coloured by considerations of utility, but 
he devotes a special division of his book to the "Effect of 
Utility upon the Sentiment of Approbation/ 

In Adam Smith s theory, the tendency of any affection to 
produce beneficial or hurtful results is only one part of the 
phenomenon of moral approbation, constituting our sense of 
merit or demerit, while the other part consists in our per 
ception of the propriety or impropriety of the affection to the 
object which excites it. And as the sense of the merit or 
demerit of any action or conduct is much stronger than our 
sense of the propriety or impropriety of affections ; stimu 
lating us, not merely to a passive feeling of approbation or 
the contrary, but to a desire to confer actual re ward or punish 
ment on the agent, it is evident that the greater part cf 
moral approbation consists in the perception of utility of 

So far, Adam Smith agrees with the utilitarian theory 


but he refuses altogether to assent to the doctrine, that the 
perception of the utility of virtue is its primary recommenda 
tion, or that a sense of the evil results of vice is the origin of 
our hatred against it. It is true that the tendency of virtue 
to promote, and of vice to disturb the order of society, is to 
reflect a very great beauty on the one, and a very great 
deformity on the other. But both the beauty and the de 
formity are additional to an already existent beauty and 
deformity, and a beauty and deformity inherent in the objects 
themselves. Human society may be compared to "an im 
mense machine, whose regular and harmonious movements 
produce a thousand agreeable effects. As in any other 
(beautiful and noble machine that was the production of 
human art, whatever tended to render its movements more 
smooth and easy, would derive a beauty from this effect ; and 
on the contrary, whatever tended to obstruct them, would 
displease upon that account; so virtue, which is, as it were, 
he fine polish to the wheels of society, necessarily pleases ; 
while vice, like the vile rust, which makes them jar and grate 
upon one another, is as necessarily offensive." 

According to Hume, the whole approbation of virtue may 
)e resolved into the perception of beauty which results from 
he appearance of its utility, no qualities of the mind being 
iver approved of as virtuous, or disapproved of as vicious, but 
5ueh as are either useful or agreeable to the person himself, or 
toothers, or else have a contrary tendency. Adam Smith 
fully admits the fact, that the characters of men may be fitted 
rither to promote or to disturb the happiness both of the 
ndividual himself and of the society to which he belongs, and 
hat there is a certain analogy between our approbation of a 
iseful machine and a useful course of conduct. The character of 
>radence, equity, activity, and resolution, holds out the pro- 
peut of prosperity and satisfaction both to the person himself 



and to every one connected with him ; whilst the rash, inso 
lent, slothful, or effeminate character, portends ruin to the 
individual, and misfortune to all who have anything to do 
with him. In the former character there is all the beauty 
which can belong- to the most perfect machine ever invented 
for promoting the most agreeable purpose; in the other there 
is all the deformity of an awkward and clumsy contrivance. 

But this perception of beauty in virtue, or of deformity in 
vice, though it enhances and enlivens our feelings with regard 
to both, is not the first or principal source of our approbation 
of the one, or of our dislike for the other. 

" For, in the first place, it seems impossible that the appro 
bation of virtue should be a sentiment of the same kind with 
that by which we approve of a convenient and well-contrived 
building; or, that we should have no other reason for 
praising a man than that for which we commend a chest of 

"And, secondly, it will be found, upon examination, thatj 
the usefulness of any disposition of mind is seldom the firstj 
ground of our approbation ; and that the sentiment of appro-j 
bation always involves in it a sense of propriety quite distinct! 
from the perception of utility." 

For instance, superior reason and understanding is a quality 
most useful to ourselves, as enabling us to discern the remotej 
consequences of our actions, and to foresee the advantage 01 
disadvantage likely to result from them ; bufc it is a quality! 
originally approved of as just and right, and accurate, ant] 
not merely as useful or advantageous. Self-command, alsoi 
is a virtue we quite as much approve of under the aspect oj 
propriety, as under that of utility. It is the correspondencii 
of the agent s sentiments with our own, that is the source o: 
our approbation of them ; and it is only because his pleasurj 
a week or a year hence is just as interesting or indifferent t< 


us, as spectators, as the pleasure that tempts him at this mo 
ment, that we approve of his sacrifice of present to future 
enjoyment. We approve of his acting- as if the remote object 
interested him as much as the future one, because then his 
affections correspond exactly with our own, and we recognize 
the perfect propriety of his conduct.. 

With respect again to such qualities which are most useful 

to others as humanity, justice, generosity, and public spirit 

| the esteem and approbation paid to them depends in the same 

i way on the concord between the affections of the agent and 

those of the spectator. The propriety of an act of generosity, 

as when a man sacrifices some great interest of his own to 

that of a friend or a superior, or prefers some other person to 

"limself, lies not in the consideration of the good effect of such 

m action on society at large, but in the agreement of the 

ndividual s point of view with that of the impartial spectator. 

Thus, if a man gives up his own claims to an office which had 

)een a great object of his ambition, because he imagines that 

mother man s services are better entitled to it, or if he ex- 

loscs his life to defend that of a friend which he considers of 

more importance, it is because he considers the point of view 

)f disinterested persons, who would prefer that other man or 

riend to himself, that his conduct seems clothed with that 

ippearance of propriety which constitutes the approbation 

bestowed on it. It is the accommodation of the feelings of the 

ndividual to those of the impartial bystander, which is the 

)urce of the admiration bestowed on a soldier, who throws 

iway his life to defend that of his officer, and who deserves 

ad wins applause, not from any feeling of concern for his 

)fficer, but from the adjustment of his own feelings to those 

f every one else who consider his life as nothing when 

ompared with that of his superior. 

So with regard to public spirit, the first source of out 
L 2 

, 4 3 ADAM SMITH. 

admiration of it is not founded so much on a sense of its 
utility as upon the great and exalted propriety of the actions 
to which it prompts. Take, for instance, the case of Brutus, 
leading his own sons to capital punishment for their con 
spiracy against the rising liherty of Rome. Naturally be 
ought to have felt much more for the death of his own sons 
than for all that Rome could have suffered from the want of 
the example. But he viewed them, not as a father, but as a 
Roman citizen ; that is to say, he entered so thoroughly into 
the sentiments of the impartial spectator, or of the ordinary 
Roman citizen, that even his own sons weighed as nothing in 
the balance with the smallest interest of Rome. The propriety 
of the action, or the perfect sympathy of feeling between the 
agent and the spectator, is the cause of our admiration of it. 
Its utility certainly bestows upon .it a new beauty, and so 
still further recommends it to our approbation. But such 
beauty "is chiefly perceived by men of reflection and specu 
lation, and is by no means the quality which first recom 
mends such actions to the natural sentiments of the bulk of 

Adam Smith also differs from Hume no less in his theory 
of the cause of the beauty which results from a perception of 
utility than in his theory of the place assignable to utility in 
the principle of moral approbation. According to Hume, the 
utility of any object is a source of pleasure from its suggestion 
of the conveniency it is intended to promote, from its fitness 
to produce the end intended by it. Adam Smith maintains, 
rather by way of supplement than of contradiction, that the 
fitness of a thing to produce its end, or the happy adjustment 
of means to the attainment of any convenience or pleasure is 
often more regarded than the end or convenience itself, and 
he gives several instances to illustrate the operation of tbifl 


For instance, a man coming into his room and finding- all 
the chairs in the middle, will perhaps be angry with his ser 
vant and take the trouble to place them all with their backs 
to the wall, for the sake of the greater convenience of having 
the floor free and disengaged. But it is more the arrange 
ment than the convenience which he really cares for, since to 
attain the convenience he puts himself to more trouble than 
he could have suffered from the want of it, seeing that nothing 
was easier for him than to have sat down at once on one of 
the chairs, which is probably all he does when his labour is 

The same principle applies to the pursuit of riches, under 
circumstances which imply much more trouble and vexation 
than the possession of them can ever obviate. The poor man s 
son, cursed with ambition, who admires the convenience of a, 
palace to live in, of horses to carry him, and of servants to 
wait on him, sacrifices a real tranquillity for a certain artificial 
and elegant repose he may never reach, to find at last that 
" wealth and greatness are mere trinkets of frivolous utility, 
no more adapted for procuring ease of body or tranquillity of 
mind, than the tweezer-cases of the lover of toys/ Indeed, 
there is no other real difference between them than that the 
conveniences of the one are somewhat more observable than 
those of the other. The palaces, gardens, or equipage of the 
great are objects of which the conveniency strikes every one ; 
their utility is obvious; and we readily enjoy by sympathy 
the satisfaction they are fitted to afford. But the conveniency 
of a toothpick or of a nail-cutter, being less obvious, it is less 
easy to enter into the satisfaction of their possessor. They 
are less reasonable objects of vanity than wealth and great 
ness, and less effectually gratify man s love of distinction. To 
a man who had to live alone on a desolate island, it might be 
a matter of doubt, " whether a palace, or a collection of 


such small conveniences as are commonly contained in a 
tweezer-case, would contribute most to his happiness and 

The fact that the rich and the great are so much the object 
of admiration is due not so much to any superior ease or 
pleasure they are supposed to enjoy, as to the numberless 
artificial and elegant contrivances they possess for promoting 
such ease and pleasure. The spectator does not imagine 
" that they are really happier than other people, but he 
imagines that they possess more means of happiness. And it 
is the ingenious and artful adjustment of those means to the 
end for which they were intended, that is the principal source 
of his admiration." 

Again, the sole use and end of all constitutions of govern 
ment is to promote the happiness -of those who live under 
them. But from this love of art and contrivance, we often 
come to value the means more than the end, and to be eager 
to promote the happiness of our fellows, less from any sympathy 
with their sufferings or enjoyment than from a wish to perfect 
and improve a beautiful system. Men of the greatest public 
spirit have often been men of the smallest humanity, like 
Peter the Great ; and if a public-spirited man encourages the 
mending of roads, it is not commonly from a fellow-feeling 
with carriers and waggoners so much as from a regard to the 
general beauty of order. 

This admits however of a practical application, for if you 
wish to implant public virtue in a man devoid of it, you will 
tell him in vain of the superior advantages of a well-governed 
state, of the better homes, the better clothing, or the better 
food. But if you describe the great system of government 
which procures these advantages, explaining the connexions 
and subordinations of their several parts, and their general 
subserviency to the happiness of their society ; if you show 


the possibility of introducing- such a system into his own 
country, or of removing the obstructions to it, and setting- the 
wheels of the machine of government to move with more 
harmony and smoothness, you will scarce fail to raise in him 
the desire to help to remove the obstructions, and to put in 
motion so beautiful and orderly a machine. It is less the 
results of a political system that can move him than the 
contemplation of an ingenious adjustment of means to ends. 




THE longest and perhaps the most interesting division of 
Adam Smith s treatise is that in which he reviews the relation 
of his own theory to that of other systems of moral philo 
sophy. For like all writers on the same difficult subject, he 
finds but a very partial attainment of truth in any system 
outside his own, and claims for the latter a comprehensive 
survey of all the phenomena, which his predecessors had only 
grasped singly and in detail. Every system of morality, 
every theory of the origin of our moral sentiments, has been 
derived, he thinks, from some one or other of the principles 
expounded by himself. And " as they are all of them in this 
respect founded upon natural principles, they are all of them 
in some measure in the right. But as many of them are 
derived from a partial and imperfect view of nature, there are 
many of them too in some respects in the wrong." 

I. Thus with regard, first, to the nature of Virtue, all the 
different theories, whether in ancient or in modern times, may, 
Adam Smith thinks, be reduced to three, according as they 
make it to consist in Propriety, Prudence, or Benevolence: 
or in other words, according as they place it in the proper 
government and direction of all our affections equally, whether 
selfish or social; in the judicious pursuit of our own private 
interest and happiness by the right direction of the selfish 


affections alone ; or in the disinterested pursuit of the happiness 
of others under the sole direction of the benevolent affections. 
Adam Smith s own theory differed from all these, in that 
it took account of all these three different aspects of virtue 
together, and gave no exclusive preference to any one of them. 
With Plato, Aristotle, and the Stoics, who made virtue to 
j consist in propriety of conduct, or in the suitableness of the 
motive of action to the object which excites it, or with such 
modern systems as those of Lord Shaftesbury or Clarke, who 
defined virtue as maintaining 1 a proper balance of the affections 
and passions, or as acting 1 according to the relations or to the 
truth of things, he so far agreed as to regard such propriety as 
constituting one element in our approbation of virtue ; but 
he maintained that this propriety, though an essential in 
gredient in every virtuous action, was not always the only 
one. Propriety commanded approbation, and impropriety dis 
approbation, but there were other qualities which commanded 
a higher degree of esteem or blame, and seemed to call for 
reward or punishment respectively. Such were beneficent or 
vicious actions, in which something WAS recognized besides 
mere propriety or impropriety, and raised feelings stronger 
than those of mere approval or dislike, and that was their 
tendency to produce good or bad results. Moreover, none of 
the systems which placed virtue in a propriety of affection 
gave any measure by which that propriety might be ascer 
tained, nor could such a measure be found anywhere but 
in the sympathetic feelings of the impartial and well-informed 

Plato, Aristotle, and the Stoics, only regarded, in their 
account of virtue, that part of it which consists in propriety 
of conduct. According to Plato, the soul was composed of 
three different faculties reason, passion, and appetite; and 
that higher form of justice which constitutes perfect virtue 


was nothing- more than that state of mind in which every 
faculty confined itself to its proper sphere, without encroaching 
upon that of any other, and performed its office with precisely 
that degree of strength which belonged to it. In other words, 
this justice, the last and greatest of the cardinal virtues, and 
that which comprehended all the others, meant that exact and 
perfect propriety of conduct, the nature of which has been 
already discussed. Nearly the same account o virtue was 
given by Aristotle, who defined it as the habit of moderation 
in accordance with right reason ; by which he meant a right 
affection of mind towards particular objects, as in being 
neither too much nor too little affected by objects of fear. 
And the Stoics so far coincided with Plato and Aristotle as to 
place perfect virtue, or rectitude of conduct, in a proper choice 
or rejection of different objects and circumstances according 
as they were by nature rendered more or less the objects of 
our desire or aversion. In this propriety of the mind towards 
external things consisted the life according to nature, or in 
other words, the virtuous conduct of life. 

No less incomplete than systems which placed virtue in 
propriety alone were those systems which placed it in pru 
dence, or in a prudential regard for mere personal welfare. 
Such were the systems of the Cyrenaics and Epicureans in 
ancient times, and of writers like Hobbes and Mandeville in 
modern times. According to Epicurus, the goodness or bad 
ness of anything was ultimately referable to its tendency to 
produce bodily pleasure or pain. Thus power and riches were 
desirable as good things, from their tendency to procure plea 
sure, whilst the evil of the contrary conditions lay in their 
close connexion with pain. Honour and reputation were of 
value, because the esteem of others was of so much impor 
tance to procure us pleasure and to defend us from pain. 
And in the same way the several virtues were not desirable 


simply for themselves, but only by reason of their intimate 
connexion with our greatest well-being-, ease of body and 
tranquillity of mind. Thus temperance was nothing but 
prudence with regard to pleasure, the sacrifice of a present 
enjoyment to obtain a greater one or to avoid a greater pain. 
Courage was nothing but prudence with regard to danger or 
labour, not good in itself, but only as repellent of some greater 
evil. And justice too was nothing but prudence with regard 
to our neighbours, a means calculated to procure their esteem, 
and to avoid the fear that would flow from their resentment. 
Adam Smith s first reply to this theory is, that whatever 
may be the tendency of the several virtues or vices, the sen 
timents which they excite in others are the objects of a much 
more passionate desire or aversion than all their other con 
sequences; that to be amiable and the proper object of esteem 
is of more value to us than all the ease and security which 
love or esteem can procure us : and that to be odious, or the 
proper object of contempt, or indignation is more dreadful 
I than all we can suffer in our body from hatred, contempt, or 
indignation ; and that therefore our desire of the one character 
and our aversion to the other cannot arise from regard to the 
I effects which either of them is likely to produce on the body. 
Secondly, there is one aspect of nature from which the 
Epicurean system derives its plausibility. " By the wise con 
trivance of the Author of nature, virtue is upon all ordinary 
occasions, even with regard to this life, real wisdom, and the 
surest and readiest means of obtaining both safety and advan 
tage." The success or failure of our undertakings must very 
much depend on the good or bad opinion entertained of us, 
and on the general disposition of others to assist or oppose us. 
Hence the tendency of virtue to promote our interest and of 
vice to obstruct it, undoubtedly stamps an additional beauty 
and propriety upon the one, and a fresh deformity and im- 


propriety upon the other. And thus temperance, magnani 
mity, justice and beneficence, come to be approved of, no! 
only under their proper characters, but under the additional 
character of the most real prudence and the highest wisdom : 
whilst the contrary vices come to be disapproved of, not only 
under their proper characters, but under the additional cha 
racter of the most short-sighted folly and weakness. So thai 
the conduciveness of virtue to happiness is only secondary 
and so to speak accidental to its character ; it is not its first 
recommendation to our pursuit of it. 

But if the theories which resolved virtue into propriety 01 
prudence were thus one-sided, the remaining theory that 
best represented by Hutcheson was no less so, which made 
virtue to consist solely in benevolence, or in a disinterested 
regard to the good of others or the public generally. So fail , 
indeed did Hutcheson carry this theory, that he even rejected 
as a selfish motive to virtuous action the pleasure of self- 
approbation, "the comfortable applause of our own con 
sciences," holding that it diminished the merit of anyj 
benevolent action. The principle of self-love could never be! 
virtuous in any degree, and it was merely innocent, not good,| 
when it led a man to act from a reasonable regard to hisj 
own happiness. 

Several reasons seem, indeed, at first sight, to justify thej 
identification of virtue with benevolence. It is the most! 
agreeable of all the affections. It is recommended to us by a 
double sympathy, and we feel it to be the proper object of 
gratitude and reward. Even its weakness or its excess is not! 
very disagreeable to us, as is the excess of every other 
passion. And as it throws a peculiar charm over every action 
which proceeds from it, so the want of it adds a peculiar de 
formity to actions indicative of disregard to the happiness ofj 
others. Our sense too of the merit of any action is just soj 


far increased or diminished according as we find that bene 
volence was or was not the motive of the action. If, for 
instance, an act supposed to proceed from gratitude is found 
to proceed from the hope of some fresh favour, all its merit is 
gone; and so if an action attributed to a selfish motive is 
found to have been due to a benevolent one, pur sense of its 
merit is all the more enhanced. And lastly, in all dis 
putes concerning the rectitude of conduct, the public good, 
or the tendency of actions to promote the general welfare, has 
always been the standard of reference, that being accounted 
morally good which tends to promote happiness, and that bad 
or wrong which tends to the contrary result. 

These reasons led Hutcheson to the conclusion, that an act 
was meritorious in proportion to the benevolence evidenced by 
it j hence that the virtue of an action was proportioned to the 
extent of happiness it tended to promote, so that the least 
virtuous affection was that which aimed no further than at 
the happiness of an individual, as a son, a brother, or a 
friend, whilst the most virtuous was one which embraced as 
its object the happiness of all intelligent beings. The per 
fection of virtue consisted therefore in directing all our actions 
to promote the greatest possible good, and in subjecting- all 
inferior affections to the desire of the general happiness of 

The first defect which Adam Smith finds in this theory 
of his former teacher is, that it fails to explain sufficiently our 
approbation of the inferior virtues of prudence, temperance, 
constancy, and firmness. Just as other theories erred in re 
garding solely the propriety or impropriety of conduct, and 
in disregarding its good or bad tendency, so this system erred 
by disregarding altogether the suitableness of affections to 
their exciting cause, and attending only their beneficient or 
hurtful e fleets. 


In the second place, a selfish motive is not always a badl 
one. Self-love may often be a virtuous motive to action. 
Every man is by nature first and principally recommended to 
his own care ; and because he is fitter to take care of himself 
than of any other person, it is right that he should do so. 
Regard to our own private happiness and interest may con 
stitute very laudable motives of action. The habits of 
economy, industry, discretion, attention, and application of 
thought, though cultivated from self-interested motives, are 
nevertheless praiseworthy qualities, and deserve the esteem 
and approbation of everybody. On the other hand, careless 
ness and want of economy are universally disapproved of, 
not as proceeding from a want of benevolence, but from a 
want of a proper attention to the objects of self-interest. 

And as to the standard of right and wrong being frequently 
the tendency of conduct to the welfare or disorder of society, 
it does not follow that a regard to society should be the sola 
virtuous motive of action, but only that in any competition 
it ought to cast the balance against all other motives. 

It was, again, a general defect of each of the three theories 
which defined virtue as propriety, prudence, or benevolence, that 
they tended to give a bias to the mind to some principles of i 
action beyond the proportion that is due to them. Thus the 
ancient systems, which placed virtue in propriety, insisted 
little on the soft and gentle virtues, rather regarding them as 
weaknesses to be expunged from the breast, while they laid 
chief stress on the graver virtues of self-command, fortitude, 
and courage. And the benevolent system, while encouraging 
the milder virtues in the highest degree, went so far as to 
denj the name of virtue to the more respectable qualities of 
the mind, calling them merely " moral abilities," unworthy of j 
the approbation bestowed on real virtue. Nevertheless the j 
general tendency of each of these systems was to encourage : 


the best and most laudable habits of the mind, and it were 
well for society if mankind regulated their conduct by the 
precepts of any one of them. 

This general good tendency of these three theories leads our 
author to classify by itself, and to treat in a distinct chapter, 
si system which, he says, destroys altogether the distinction 
between virtue and vice, and of which the tendency conse 
quently is wholly pernicious, and that is the system, which he 
designates as the Licentious System, expounded by Mande- 
ville in the Table of the Bees. 

Adam Smith considers that this system, ee which once made 
so much noise in the world . . . could never have imposed 
upon so great a number of persons, nor have occasioned so 
general alarm among those who are the friends of better prin 
ciples, had it not in some respects bordered upon the truth/ 

Mandeville s famous definition of the moral virtues as " the 
political offspring which flattery begot upon pride/ was 
based on the assumption that morality was not natural to 
man, but was the invention of wise men, who, by giving the 
title of noble to persons capable of self-denial and of pre 
ferring the public interest to their own, won mankind gene 
rally, through this subtle flattery, to what they chose to 
denominate virtue. Hence whatever men did from a sense of 
propriety, or from a regard to what was praiseworthy, they 
really did from a love of praise, from pride or vanity. This 
love of praise was one of the strongest of man s selfish affections, 
and the foundation of the love of honour. In conduct appa 
rently the most disinterested, this selfish motive was present. 
If a man sacrificed his own interest to that of his fellows, he 
knew that his conduct would be agreeable to their self-love, 
and that they would not fail to express their satisfaction by 
bestowing on himself the most extravagant praises. The 
pleasure he would derive from this source counterbalanced the 


interest he abandoned to procure it. Hence all public spirit, 
or preference of public to private interest was a mere cheat| 
and imposition on mankind. 

The fallacy of this system lies, according to Adam Smith, 
in a sophistical use of the word vanity in its application to a 
remote affinity that prevails between two really very different 
things. To desire praise for qualities which are not praise 
worthy in any degree, or for qualities praiseworthy in 
themselves but unpossessed by the individual concerned, 
is vanity proper ; but this frivolous desire for praise at any 
price is very different from the desire of rendering our 
selves the proper objects of honour and esteem, or of acquiring 
honour and esteem by really deserving them. The affinity 
between these very different desires, of which Mandeville 
made so much use, lay in the fact that vanity as well as 
the love of true glory aims at acquiring esteem and approba 
tion; but the difference consists in this, that the desire of the 
one is unjust and ridiculous, while that of the other is just 
and reasonable. 

There is also an affinity between the love of virtue and the 
love of true glory, which gives a certain speciousness to 
Mandeville s theory. For there is a close connexion between 
the desire of becoming what is honourable and estimable, 
which is the love of virtue, and the desire of actual honour 
and esteem, which is the love of true glory. They both have 
and herein lies their superficial resemblance to vanity some 
reference to the sentiments of others. Even in the love of 
virtue there is still some reference, if not to what is, yet to 
what in reason and propriety ought to be, the opinion of 
others. The man of the greatest magnanimity, who desires 
virtue for its own sake, and is most indifferent about the 
actual opinions of mankind, is still delighted with the thoughts 
of what those opinions ought to be, and with the conscious- 


ness that though he may neither be honoured nor applauded, 
he is yet the proper object of honour and applause. 

Another feature of Mandeville s system was to deny the 
existence of any self-denial or disinterestedness in human 
virtue of any kind. Thus wherever temperance fell short 
of the most ascetic abstinence, he treated it as gross 
luxury; and all our pretensions to self-denial were based, 
not on the conquest, but on the concealed indulgence, of our 

Here the fallacy lay in representing every passion as wholly 
vicious, which is so in any degree and in any direction. 
There are some of our passions which have no other names 
than those which mark the disagreeable and offensive degree, 
they being more apt to attract notice in this degree than in 
any other. It is not therefore to demolish the reality of such 
a virtue as temperance, to show that the same indulgence of 
pleasure which when unrestrained is regarded as blameable, is 
also present when the passion is restrained. The virtue in 
such cases consists, not in an entire insensibility to the 
objects of passion, but in the restraint of our natural desire of 

The same fallacy underlies the famous paradox that " private 
vices are public benefits," and that it is not the good, but the 
evil qualities of men, which lead to greatness. By using the 
word luxury, as it was used in the fashionable asceticism of 
his time, as in every respect evil, it was easy for Mandeville 
to show that from this evil all trade and wealth and prosperity 
flowed, and that without it no society could flourish. " If/ 
Adam Smith replies, "the love of magnificence, a taste for 
the elegant arts and improvements of human life; for 
whatever is agreeable in dress, furniture, or equipage; for 
architecture, statuary, painting, and music, is to be regarded 
as luxury, sensuality, and ostentation, even in those whoso 



situation allows, without any inconveniency, the indulgence 
of those passions, it is certain that luxury, sensuality, and 
ostentation are public benefits/ 7 If everything is to be 
reprobated as luxury which exceeds what is absolutely neces 
sary for the support of human nature, " there is vice even in 
the use of a clean shirt, or of a convenient habitation/ 
Hence the whole point of the paradox rests on a loose and 
unscientific use of the word luxury. 

II. To turn now to the other great question of ethics, to 
the nature of moral approbation, and its source in the 

As the different theories of the nature of virtue may all be 
reduced to three, so all the different theories concerning the 
origin of moral approbation may be reduced to a similar 
number. Self-love, reason, and sentiment, are the three 
different sources which have been assigned for the principle of 
moral approbation. According to some, we approve or dis 
approve of our own actions and of those of others from self- 
love only, or from some view of their tendency to our own 
happiness or disadvantage; according to others, we distin 
guish what is fit or unfit, both in actions and affections, by 
reason, or the same faculty by which we distinguish truth 
from falsehood ; and according to yet a third school, the dis 
tinction is altogether the effect of immediate sentiment and 
feeling, arising from the pleasure or disgust with which 
certain actions or affections inspire us. 

According to Adam Smith, there was again some truth in 
each of these theories, but they each fell short of that com 
pleteness of explanation which was the merit of his own 
peculiar system. 

The self-love theory, best expounded by Hobbes and Man- 
deville, reduced the principle of approbation to a remote 
perception of the tendency of conduct upon personal well- 


being- ; and the merit of virtue or demerit of vice consisted in 
their respectively serving- to support or disturb society, the 
preservation of winch was so necessary to the security of 
individual existence. 

To this our author objects, that this perception of the good 
effects of virtue enhances indeed our appreciation of it, but 
that it does not cause it. When the innumerable advan 
tages of a cultivated and social life over a savage and solitary 
one are described, and the necessity of virtue pointed out for 
the maintenance of the one, and the tendency of vice to 
reproduce the other, the reader is charmed with the noveltv 
of the observation ; "he sees plainly a new beauty in virtue 
and a new deformity in vice, which he had never taken notice 
of before; and is commonly so delighted with the discovery, 
that he seldom takes time to reflect that this political view, 
having never occurred to him in his life before, cannot possiblv 
be the ground of that approbation and disapprobation with 
whick he has always been accustomed to consider tho.-e 
lifferent qualities/ 

In the application of the self-love theory to our praise or 
blame of actions or conduct in past time as of the virtue 
of Cato or of the villany of Catiline there was only an 
imaginary, not an actual, reference to self; and in praising or 
blaming in such cases we thought of what might have hap 
pened to us, had we lived in those times, or of what might 
still happen to us if in our own times we met with 
such characters. The idea which the authors of this theory 
"were groping about,, but which they were never able to 
unfold distinctly, was that indirect sympathy which we feel 
with the gratitude or resentment of those who received the 
benefit or suffered the damage resulting from such opposite 

Is the principle of sympathy then a selfish principle? Is 
M 2 


sympathy with the sorrow or indignation of another an em 
tion founded on self-love, because it arises from bringing- t 
case of another home to oneself, and then conceiving of on< 
own feelings in the same situation ? 

The answer to this question is important, and is best giv 

in Adam Smith s own words, as he himself admits that t 

whole account of human nature which deduces all sen 

ments and affections from self-love, seems to have aris 

" from some confused misapprehension of the system of sy: 

pathy." His answer, which is as follows, will perhaps not 

thought completely satisfactory : " Though sympathy is v( 

properly said to arise from an imaginary change of situatk 

with the person principally concerned, yet this imagins 

change is not supposed to happen to me in my own pen 

and character, but in that of the person with whom I sym] 

thize. When I condole with you for the loss of your only s 

in order to enter into your grief I do not consider what I 

person of such a character and profession, should suffer if 1 1 

a son, and if that son was unfortunately to die ; but I consi 

what I should suffer if I was really you ; and I not o 

change circumstances with you, but I change persons \ 

characters. My grief, therefore, is entirely upon your accoi; 

and not in the least upon my own. It is not, therefore, in 

least selfish. How can that be regarded as a selfish passi 

which does not arise even from the imagination of anyth 

that has befallen, or that relates to myself in my own prc 

person or character, but is entirely occupied about what rel; 

to you ?" Yet if a reference to self be the fundamental fac 

sympathy, it would seem that this is equivalent to makin 

reference to self the foundation of all moral sentiment; as 

Hobbes explanation of pity, that it is grief for the cnlan 

of another, arising from the imagination of the like calar 

befalling oneself. And it is remarkable that the same pass 


of Polybius which has been thought to be an anticipation of the 
theory of sympathy, should have also been quoted by Hume, as 
showing- that Polybius referred all our sentiments of virtue to 
a selfish origin. 

Next to the theory which founded moral approbation in self- 
love, comes that which founded it in reason. This theory 
originated in the opposition to the doctrine of Hobbes, who 
made the laws of the civil magistrate the sole ultimate stan 
dards of just and unjust, of right and wrong implying the 
consequence, that there was no natural distinction between 
right and wrong, but that they were the arbitrary creations 
of law. Cudworth taught, that, antecedent to all law or 
positive institution, there was a faculty of the mind which 
distinguished moral qualities in actions and affections, and 
that this faculty was reason ; the same faculty that distin 
guished truth from falsehood, thus also distinguishing right 
from wrong. It became therefore the popular doctrine, when 
the controversy with llobbes was at its height, that the 
essence of viitue and vice did not consist in the conformity 
or nonconformity of actions with the law of a superior, 
but in their conformity or nonconformity with reason; and 
reason thus came to be considered as the original source of all 
moral approbation. 

In this theory also Adam Smith recognizes some elements 
of truth. " That virtue consists in conformity to reason is 
true in some respects ; and this faculty may very justly be 
considered as, in some sense, the source and principle of moral 
approbation and disapprobation, and of all solid judgments 
concerning right and wrong." Induction too is one of the 
operations of reason, and it is by induction and experience 
that the general rules of morality are formed. They are esta 
blished inductively, from the observation in a number of par 
ticular cases of what is pleasing or displeasing to our moral 


faculties. So it is by reason that we discover those general 
rules of justice by which we ought to regulate our actions; 
and by the same faculty we form those more indeterminate 
ideas of what is prudent, decent, generous, or noble, according 
to which we endeavour to model our conduct. And as it is by 
these general rules, so formed by an induction of reason, that 
we most regulate our moral judgments, which would be very 
variable if they depended merely upon feeling and sentiment, 
virtue may so far be said to consist in conformity to reason, 
and so far may reason be considered as the source of moral 

This admission, however, is a very different thing from the 
supposition that our first perceptions of right and wrong can 
be derived from reason. These first perceptions, upon which 
from a number of particular cases the general rules of morality 
are founded, mustbethe object of an immediate sense and feeling, 
not of reason. " It is by finding in a vast variety of instances 
that one tenor of conduct constantly pleases in a certain manner, 
and that another as constantly displeases the mind, that we 
form the general rules of morality. But reason cannot render 
any particular object either agreeable or disagreeable to the 
mind for its own sake. Reason may show that this object is 
the means of obtaining some other which is naturally either 
pleasing or displeasing, and in this manner may render it 
either agreeable er disagreeable for the sake of something else; 
but nothing can be agreeable or disagreeable for its own sake, 
which is not rendered such by immediate sense and feeling. 
If virtue, therefore, in every particular instance, necessarily 
pleases for its own sake, and if vice as certainly displeases the 
mind, it cannot be reason, but immediate sense and feeling 
which in this manner reconciles us to the one and alienates us 
from the other." 

There remained therefore the theories which made sentiment 


or feeling- the original source of moral approbation ; and the 
best exposition of this theory was that given by Hutcheson 
in his doctrine of the Moral Sense. 

If the principle of approbation was founded neither on self- 
love nor on reason, there must be some faculty of a peculiar 
kind, with which the human mind was endowed to produce 
the effect -in question. Such a faculty was the moral sense 
a particular power of perception exerted by the mind 
at the view of certain actions and affections, by which 
those that affected the mind agreeably were immediately 
stamped with the characters of right, laudable, and virtuous, 
while those that affected it otherwise were immediately 
stamped with the characters of wrong, blameable, and 

This moral sense was somewhat analogous to our external 
senses; for as external bodies, by affecting our senses in a 
certain way, seemed to possess the different qualities of sound, 
taste, smell, or colour, so the various affections of the mind, 
by touching the moral sense in a certain way, appeared to 
possess the different qualities of right or wrong, of virtue or 
of vice. The moral sense too was a reflex internal sense, as 
distinct from a direct internal sense ; that is to say, as the 
perception of beauty was a reflex sense presupposing the 
direct sense which perceived objects and colours, so the per 
ception of the beauty or deformity of passions and affections 
was a reflex sense presupposing the perception by a direct 
internal sense of the several passions and affections them 
selves. Other reflex senses of the same kind wore, a public 
sense, by which we sympathize with the happiness or misery 
of our fellows; a sense of shame and honour; and a sense 
of ridicule. 

One consequence of this analogy between the moral sense 
and the external senses, and a consequence drawn by Hutche- 


son himself, was that our moral faculties themselves could 
not be called virtuous or vicious, morally good or morally 
evil ; for the qualities of any object of sense cannot be 
applied to the sense itself. An object may have the quality 
of black or white, but the sense of seeing- is not black nor 
white; and in the same way, though an action or sentiment 
may appear good or bad, the qualities of goodness or badness 
cannot attach to the moral faculty which perceives such quali 
ties in nature. 

Adam Smith objects to this, that we do recognize some 
thing morally good in correct moral sentiments, and that we 
do consider a man worthy of moral approbation whose praise 
and blame are always accurately suited to the value or worth- 
lessness of conduct. If we saw a man " shouting with admi- 


ration and applause at a barbarous and unmerited execution, 
which some insolent tyrant had ordered," we should be surely 
justified in calling such behaviour vicious, and morally evil in 
the highest degree, though it expressed nothing but a depraved 
state of the moral faculties. There is no perversion of sen 
timent or affection we should be more averse to enter into, 
or reject with greater disapprobation, than one of this kind; 
and so far from regarding such a state of mind as merely 
strange, and not at all vicious or evil, we should rather re 
gard it " as the very last and most dreadful stage of moral 

Ts T or are the difficulties less if we found the principle of 
moral approbation, not upon any sense analogous to the 
external senses, but upon some peculiar sentiment, intended 
for such a purpose ; if we say, for instance, that as resentment 
may be called a sense of injuries, or gratitude a sense of 
benefits, so approbation and disapprobation, as feelings or 
emotions which arise in the mind on the view of different 


actions and characters, may be called a sense of right and 
wrong-, or a moral sense. 

For if approbation and disapprobation were, like gratitude 
or resentment, an emotion of a particular kind, distinct from 
every other, whatever variations either of them might undergo 
we should expect them to retain clearly marked and distin 
guishable general features ; just as in all the variations of the 
emotion of anger, it is easy to distinguish the same general 
features. With regard to approbation it is otherwise, for 
there are no common features running through all manifesta 
tions of moral approval, or the contrary. " The approbation 
with which we view a tender, delicate, and humane sentiment, 
is quite different from that with which we are struck by one 
that appears great, daring, and magnanimous. Our appro 
bation of both may, upon different occasions, be perfect and 
entire; but we are softened by the one and we are elevated 
by the other, and there is no sort of resemblance between the 
emotions wJiich they excite in us." And, in the same way, 
our horror for cruelty has no resemblance to our contempt for 
meanness of spirit. 

By his own theory Adam Smith thinks that this dif 
ference in the character of approbation is more easily explained. 
It is because the emotions of the person whom we approve 
of are different when they are humane and delicate from 
what they are when they are great and daring, and because 
our approbation arises from sympathy with these different 
emotions, that our feeling of approbation with regard to the 
one sentiment is so different from what it is with regard to 
the other. 

Moreover, not only are the different passions and affections 
of the human mind approved or disapproved as morally good 
or evil, but the approbation or disapprobation itself is marked 


with the same moral attributes v The moral sense theory 
cannot account for this fact ; and the only explanation pos 
sible is, that, in this instance at least, the coincidence or 
opposition of sentiments between the person judging and the 
person judged constitutes moral approbation or the contrary. 
When the approbation with which our neighbour regards the 
conduct of another person coincides with our own, we approve 
of his approbation as in some measure morally good ; and so, 
on the contrary, when his sentiments differ from ou.r own, we 
disapprove of them as morally wrong. 

If a peculiar sentiment, distinct from every other, were really 
the source of the principle of approbation, it is strange that 
such a sentiment " should hitherto have been so little taken 
notice of as not to ha,ve got a name in any language. The 
word moral sense is of very late formation, and cannot yet 

be considered as making part of the English tongue 

The word conscience does not immediately denote any moral 
faculty by which we approve or disapprove. Conscience sup 
poses, indeed, the existence of some such faculty, and properly 
signifies our consciousness of having acted agreeably to its 
directions. When love, hatred, joy, sorrow, gratitude, resent 
ment, with so many other passions which are all supposed to 
be the subjects of this principle, have made themselves con 
siderable enough to get them titles to know them by, is ifc 
not surprising that the sovereign of them all should hitherto 
have been so little heeded that a few philosophers excepted 
nobody has yet thought it worth while to bestow a name 
upon it?" 

In opposition then to the theory which derives moral appro 
bation from a peculiar sentiment, Adam Smith reduces it 
himself to four sources, in some respects different from one 
another. First, we sympathize with the motives of the 
a-cntj secondly, we enter into the gratitude of those who 


receive the benefit of his actions; thirdly, we observe that his 
conduct has been agreeable to the general rules by which 
those two sympathies generally act; and last of all, when we 
consider such actions as making a part of a system of 
behaviour which tends to promote the happiness either of 
the individual or of the society, they appear to derive a beauty 
from this utility not unlike that which we ascribe to any 
well-contrived machine. " 




THE result of the preceding chapter, in which the relation of 
Adam Smith s theory to other ethical theories has been 
defined, is that it is a theory in which all that is true in the 
" selfish^ system of Hobbes or Mandeville, in the " benevo 
lent" system of Hutcheson, or in the "utilitarian" system of 
Hume, is adopted and made use of, to form a system quite 
distinct from any one of them. It seeks to bridge over their 
differences, by avoiding the one-sidedness of their several 
principles, and taking a wider view of the facts of humar 
nature. It is therefore, properly speaking, an Eclectic theory, 
if by eclecticism be understood, not a mere commixture of 
different systems, but a discriminate selection of the elements 
of truth to be found in them severally. 

The ethical writers who most influenced Adam Smith were 
undoubtedly Hume and Hutcheson, in the way of agreement 
and difference that has been already indicated. Dugald 
Stewart has also drawn attention to his obligations to Butler. 1 
It would be interesting to know whether he ever read Hart 
ley s Observations on Man, a work which, published in 1749 
that is, some ten years before his own would have 
materially assisted his argument. For Adam Smith s account 
of the growth of conscience of a sense of duty, is in reality 
1 Active and Moral Powers, vol. i., p. 412. 


closely connected with the theory which explains its origin by 
the working of the laws of association. From our expe 
rience of the constant association between the acts of others 
and pleasurable or painful feelings of our own,, according as 
we sympathize or not with them, comes the desire of ourselves 
causing in others similar pleasurable, and avoiding similar 
painful, emotions or in other words, that desire of praise and 
aversion to blame which, refined and purified by reference to 
an imaginary and ideal spectator of our conduct, grows to be 
a conscientious and disinterested love of virtue and detestation 
of vice. The rules of moral conduct, formed as they are by 
generalization from particular judgments of the sympathetic 
instinct, or from a number of particular associations of plea 
surable and painful feelings with particular acts, are them 
selves directly associated with that love of praise or praise- 
worthiness which originates in our longing for the same 
sympathy from other men with regard to ourselves that we 
know to be pleasurable in the converse relation. The word 
"association" is never once used by Adam Smith, but it is 
implied at every step of his theory, and forms really as funda 
mental a feature in his reasoning as it does in that of the 
philosopher who was the first to investigate its laws in their 
application to the facts of morality. This is, perhaps, in 
ternal evidence enough that Adam Smith never saw Hartley s 
work. 2 

But the writer who, perhaps, as much as any other contri 
buted to the formation of Adam Smith s ideas, seems to have 

2 Yet in his Essay on the External Senses, of which the date is un 
certain, and in his History of Astronomy, which he certainly wrote 
before 1758, mention is made by Adam Smith of the association of ideas. 
It is probable, however, that he was acquainted with the doctrine, not 
from Hartley, but from Hume s statement of it in the Inquiry concern 
ing Human Understanding. 


been Pope, who in his Essay on Man anticipated many of 
the leading- thoughts in the Theory of Moral Sentiments. The 
points of resemblance between the poet and the philosopher 
are frequent and obvious. There is in both the same constant 
appeal to nature, and to the wisdom displayed in her laws ; 
the same reference to self-love as the basis of the social virtues 
and benevolence ; the same identification of virtue with hap 
piness ; and the same depreciation of greatness and ambition 
as conducive to human felicity. 

Adam Smith s simple theory of happiness, for instance, 
reads like a commentary on the text supplied by Pope in the 

" Reason s whole pleasure, all the joys of sense, 
Lie in three words Health, Peace, and Competence." 

Said in prose, the same teaching- is conveyed by the philo 
sopher : <( What can be added to the happiness of the man 
who is in health, who is out of debt, and has a clear con 
science ? " 

Or, to take another instance. Adam Smith s account of 
the order in which individuals are recommended by nature to 
our care is precisely the same as that given by Pope. Says 
the former : "Every man is first and principally recommended 
to his own care," and, after himself, his friends, his country, 
or mankind become by decrees the object of his sympathies 
So said Pope before him : 

" God loves from whole to parts : but human soul 
Must rise from individual to the whole. 
Self-love but serves the virtuous mind to wake, 
As the small pebble stirs the peaceful lake ; 
The centre moved, a circle straight succeeds 
Another still, and still another spreads ; 
Friend, parent, neighbour, first it will embrace ; 
His country next; and next all human race." 


To turn now from the theory itself to the criticisms upon 
it : it may perhaps be said, that if the importance of an ethical 
theory in the history of moral philosophy may be measured 
by the amount of criticism expended upon it, Adam Smith s 
Theory of Moral Sentiments must take its place immediately 
after Hume s Enquiry concerning the Principles of Morals. 
The shorter observations on it by Lord Kames and Sir James 
Mackintosh bear witness to the great interest that attached 
to it, no less than the longer criticisms of Dr. Brown, Dug-aid 
Stewart, or Jouffroy, the French moral philosopher. The 
various objections raised by these writers, all of whom have 
approached it with that impartial acuteness so characteristic of 
philosophers in regard to theories not their own, will best 
serve to illustrate what have been considered the weak points 
in the general theory proposed by Adam Smith. But in 
following the main current of such criticism, it is only fair 
that we should try in some measure to hold the scales between 
the critics and their author, and to weigh the value of the 
arguments that have been actually advanced on the one side 
and that seem capable of being advanced on the other. 

First of all, it is said that the resolution of all moral appro 
bation into sympathy really makes morality dependent on the 
mental constitution of each individual, and so sets up a 
variable standard, at the mercy of personal influences and 
local custom. Adam Smith says expressly indeed, that there 
is no other measure of moral conduct than the sympathetic 
approbation of each individual. " Every faculty in one man 
is the measure by which he judges of the like faculty in 
another ;" and as he judges of other men s power of sight or 
hearing by reference to his own, so he judges of their love, 
resentment, or other moral states, by reference to his own 
consciousness of those several affections. 

Is not this to destroy the fixed character of morality, and to 


deprive it as Protagoras, the Greek sophist, deprived it long 
ago in his similar teaching that man was the measure of all 
things of its most ennobling qualities, its eternity and immu 
tability ? Is it not to reduce the rules of morality to the level 
merely of the rules of etiquette ? Is it not to make our 
standard of conduct dependent merely on the ideas and pas 
sions of those we happen to live with ? Does it not justify 
Brown s chief objection to the system of sympathy, that it 
fixes morality "on a basis not sufficiently firm" ? 

Adam Smith s answer to this might have been, that the con 
sideration of the basis of morality lay beyond the scope of his 
inquiry, and that, if he explained the principle of moral appro 
bation by the laws of sympathy he appealed to, the facts com 
manded acceptance, whatever the consequences might be. He 
would have reasserted confidently, that no case of approbation 
occurred without a tacit reference to the sympathy of the ap 
prover ; and that the feeling, of approbation or the contrary 
always varied exactly with the degree of sympathy or anti 
pathy felt for the agent. Therefore, if as a matter of fact 
every case of such approbation implied a reference to the feel 
ings of the individual person approving, then those feelings 
were the source of moral judgment, however variable or rela 
tive morality might thus be made to appear. 

He would also have denied that the consequence of his 
theory did really in any way weaken the basis of morality, or 
deprive it of its obligatory power over our conduct. The 
assertion of such a consequence has been perhaps the most 
persistent objection raised against his system. Sir James 
Mackintosh, for instance, makes the criticism, that " the sym 
pathies have nothing more of an imperative character than 
any other emotions. They attract or repel, like other feelings, 
according to their intensity. If, then, the sympathies continue 
in mature rninds to constitute the whole of conscience, it be- 


comes utterly impossible to explain the character of command 
and supremacy, which is attested by the unanimous voice of 
mankind to belong to that faculty, and to form its essential 
distinction. " 3 But as, of all Adam Smith s critics, Jouffroy 
has been the one who has urged this argument with the 
greatest force, it will be best to follow his reasoning,, before 
considering the force of the objection. 

According to him, no more moral authority can attach to 
the instinct of sympathy than can attach to any other instinct 
of our nature. The desire of sympathy,, being simply an in 
stinct, can have no claim to prevail over the impulses of our 
other instincts, whenever they happen to come into conflict, 
than such as is founded on its possible greater strength. For 
instance,, the instinct of self-love often comes into conflict 
with, and often prevails over, the instinct of sympathy, the 
motive of self-interest well-understood being thus superior to 
our sympathetic impulses both in fact and by right. If then 
there is a superiority in the instinct of sympathy above all 
our other instincts, it must come from a judgment of reason, 
decisive of its title; but since such decision of reason implies 
a reference to some rule other and higher than instinct, our 
motive in preferring the inspirations of instinctive sympathy 
to all other impulses must be derived from this higher motive, 
or, in other words, from reason and not from instinct. Hence, 
since the sympathetic instinct bears no signs of an authority 
superior to that of other instincts, there is no real authority in 
the motive which, according to Adam Smith, impels us to 
right conduct. Instead of proving that the instinct of sym 
pathy is the true moral motive, Adam Smith describes truly 
and beautifully the characteristics of this moral motive, and 

3 Progress of Ethical Philosophy, p. 210; compare also Dugal.1 
Stewart s Active and Moral Powers, vol. i., p. 331. 



then gratuitously attributes them to the instinct of sympathy. 
But he fails to apply to rules of conduct founded upon such 
an instinct, that which is the special characteristic of the 
moral motive, namely, that it alone is obligatory alone pre 
sents us, as an end to be pursued, an end which ought to be 
pursued, as distinct from other ends suggested by other 
motives, which may be pursued or not as we please. " Among 
all possible motives, the moral motive alone appears to us as 
one that ought to govern our conduct." 

Jouffroy applies the same reasoning to Adam Smith s ex 
planation of our moral ideas, those, for example, of Right and 
Duty. For if the motive of sympathy bears with it no autho 
rity, it is evident that it cannot explain ideas both of which 
imply and involve a motive of obligation. If duty is obedience 
to rules of conduct that have been produced by sympathy, 
and these rules are only generalizations of particular judg 
ments of instinctive sympathy,, it is plain that the authority 
of these rules can be no greater than that of the judgments 
which originally gave rise to them. If it is equally a duty to 
obey the instinct as to obey the rules it gives rise to, it is 
superfluous to explain duty as a sense of the authority of 
these rules, seeing that it is already involved in the process of 
their formation. And if again it can never be a duty to obey 
the instinct, because neither its direction nor the desire of 
sympathy which impels us to follow it can ever be obligatory, 
it can none the more be a duty to obey the rules which are 
founded upon the instinct. The authority of the moral rules 
or principles of conduct stands or falls with the authority of 
the instinct ; for if the latter can enforce obligation to a cer 
tain degree, it can enforce it in all degrees; and if it cannot 
enforce it to this degree, then it cannot in any. It is 
therefore Jouffroy s conclusion, that " there is not, in the 
system of Smith, any such thing as a moral law; and it is 


incompetent to explain our ideas of duty, of right, and of all 
other such ideas as imply the fact of obligation/ 4 

The question then is, How far is such criticism well-founded ? 
How far is it relevant to the subject-matter of Adam Smith s 
treatise ? 

Adam Smith might have replied to Joufifroy s objections by 
asking whether, patting aside the question of the soundness 
of his theory of the origin of moral approbation, any theory 
that accounted for the approbation did not ijyso facto account 
for the obligation. He might have said that, if he showed 
why one course of conduct was regarded as good and another 
as bad, he implicitly showed why one course was felt to be 
right and the other to be wrong why it was felt that one 
course ought to be followed and the other course ought to be 
avoided. For the feeling of authority and obligation is in 
volved in the fact of approbation. As it has been well put 
by Brown, " The very conceptions of the rectitude, the obliga 
tion, the approvableness (of certain actions) are involved in 
the feeling of the approbation itself. It is impossible for us 

to have the feeling, and not to have these To know 

that we should feel ourselves unworthy of self-esteem, and objects 
rather of self-abhorrence, if we did not act in a certain manner, 
is to feel the moral obligation to act in a certain manner, as it 
is to feel the moral rectitude of the action itself. We are so 
constituted that it is impossible for us, in certain circum 
stances, not to have this feeling ; and having the feeling, we 
must have the notions of virtue, obligation, merit. 5 r 

Moreover, Adam Smith expressly pointed out that the 
difference between moral approbation and approbation of all 
other kinds lay in the impossibility of our being as indifferent 
about conduct as about other things, because conduct, either 

4 Introduction to Ethics ; translation, vol. ii., p. 147. 
6 Lectures on Ethics, p. 13. 
N -2 


directly or by our imagination, affected ourselves ; so that the 
additional strength thus conferred on the feeling 1 of moral 
approbation was quite sufficient to account for that feeling of 
the imperative and obligatory force which inculcates obedience 
to moral rules. If there is no authority in an instinct per se, 
it may nevertheless be so constituted and may so operate that 
the strictest sense of duty may ultimately grow from it and 
upon it. The obligation is none the less real because it can 
be accounted for ; nor are the claims of duty any the less sub 
stantial because they are capable of being traced to so humble 
a beginning as an instinctive desire for the sympathy of our 

It may therefore be said, on behalf of Adam Smith, that it 
is not to weaken the basis of morality, nor the authority of 
conscience, to trace either of them to their sources in senti 
ments of sympathy, originally influenced by pleasure and pain. 
The obligatory nature of moral rules remains a fact, which no 
theory of their origin can alter or modify; just as benevolent 
affections remain facts of our moral being, irrespective of their 
possible superstructure on instincts of self-interest. If con 
science is explicable as a kind of generalization or summary 
of moral sympathies, formed by the observation of the distri 
bution of praise or blame in a number of particular instances 
and by personal experience of many years, its influence need 
be none the less great nor its control any the less authoritative 
than if it were proved to demonstration to be a primary prin 
ciple of our moral consciousness. 

It is also necessary to remember that Adam Smith carefully 
restricted the feeling of obligation to the one single virtue of 
justice, and throughout -his treatise avoided generally tha use 
of words which, like "right" and " wrong/ seem to suggest the 
idea of obligation. By the use of the words " proper" and 
improper," or " meritorious," as applied to sentiments and 


conduct, he seems to have wished to convey the idea that he 
did regard morality as relative to time, place, and circumstance, 
as to a certain extent due to custom and convention, and not 
as absolute, eternal, or immutable. Properly speaking, justice, 
or the abstinence from injury to others, was, he held, the only 
virtue which, as men had a right to exact it from us, it was 
our duty to practise towards them. The consciousness that 
force might be employed to make us act according to the rules 
of justice, but not according to the rules of any other virtues, 
such as friendship, charity, or generosity, was the source of 
the stricter obligation felt by us in reference to the virtue of 
justice. " We feel ourselves/ he said, " to be in a peculiar 
manner tied, bound, and obliged to the observation of jus 
tice," whilst the practice of the other virtues " seems to be 
left in some measure to our own choice." " In the practice 
of the other virtues, our conduct should rather be directed 
by a certain kind of propriety, by a certain taste for a 
particular tenor of conduct, than by any regard to a precise 
rule or maxim ;" but it is otherwise with regard to justice, all 
the miles of which are precise, definite, and certain, and alone 
admit of no exception. 

As to the authority of our moral faculties, of our perception, 
howsoever derived, of different qualities in conduct, it is, in 
Adam Smith s system, an ultimate fact, as indisputable as the 
authority of other faculties over their respective objects ; for 
example, as the authority of the eye about beauty of colour, or 
as that of the ear about harmony of sounds. " Our moral 
faculties, our natural sense of merit and propriety/ approve 
or disapprove of actions instantaneously, and this approval or 
judgment is their peculiar function. They judge of the other 
faculties and principles of our nature; how far, for example, 
love or resentment ought either to be indulged or restrained, 
and when the various senses ought to be gratified. Hence 


they cannot be said to be on a level with our other natural 
faculties and appetites, and endowed with no more right to 
restrain the latter than the latter are to restrain them. There 
can be no more appeal from them about their objects than 
there is from the eye, or the ear, or the taste with regard to 
the objects of their several jurisdictions. According as any 
thing is agreeable or not to them, is it fit, right, and proper, 
or unfit, wrong, and improper. " The sentiments which they 
approve of are graceful and becoming ; the contrary, ungraceful 
and unbecoming . The very words, right, wrong, fit, proper, 
graceful, or becoming, mean only what pleases or displeases 
those faculties." 

Hence the question of the authority of our moral faculties 
is as futile as the question of the authority of the special senses 
over their several objects. For " they carry along with them 
the most evident badges of this authority, which denote that 
they were set up within us to be the supreme arbiter of all 
our actions, to superintend all our senses, passions, and appe 
tites, and to judge how far either of them was either to be 
indulged or restrained." That is to say, it is impossible for 
our moral faculties to approve of one course of conduct and to 
disapprove of another, and at the same time to feel that there 
is no authority in the sentiment which passes judgment either 

Perhaps the part of Adam Smith s theory which has given 
least satisfaction is his account of the ethical standard, or 
measure of moral actions. This, it will be remembered, is 
none other than the sympathetic emotion of the impartial 
spectator which seems again to resolve itself into the voice of 
public opinion. It will be of interest to follow some of the 
criticism that has been devoted to this point, most of which 
turns on the meaning of the word impartial. 

If impartiality means, argues Jouffroy, as alone it can mean 


impartiality of judgment, the impartiality of a spectator must 
be the impartiality of his reason, which rises superior to the 
suggestions of his instincts or passions ; but if so, a moral 
judgment no longer arises from a mere instinct of sympathy, 
but from an operation of reason. If instinct is adopted as our 
rule of moral conduct, there must be some higher rule by 
which we make choice of some impulses against the influence 
of others ; and the impartiality requisite in sympathy is itself 
a recognition of the insufficiency of instinctive feelings to 
supply moral rules. 

It may be said, in reply to this, that by impartiality Adam 
Smith meant neither an impartiality of reason nor of instinct, 
but simply the indifference or coolness of a mind that feels not 
the full strength of the original passion, which it shares, and 
which it shares in a due and just degree precisely because it 
feels it not directly but by reflection. If the resentment of 
A. can only fairly be estimated by the power of B. to sympa 
thize with it, the latter is only impartial in so far as his feeling 
of resentment is reflected and not original. His feeling of 
approbation or disapprobation of A. s resentment need be none 
the less a feeling, none the less instinctive and emotional, 
because he is exempt from the vividness of the passion as it 
affects his friend. It is simply that exemption, Adam Smith 
would say, which enables him to judge; and whether his 
judgment is for that reason to be considered final and right or 
not, it is, as a matter of fact, the only way in which a moral 
judgment is possible at all. 

The next objection of Jouffroy, that the sympathy of an 
impartial spectator affords only variable rules of morality, 
Adam Smith would have met by the answer, that the rules of 
morality are to a certain extent variable, and dependent on 
custom. Jouffroy supposes himself placed as an entire stranger 
in the presence of a quantity of persons of different ages;, 


sexes, and professions, and then asks, how should he judge of 
the propriety of any emotion on liis part by reference to the 
very different sympathies which such an emotion would 
arouse. Lively sensibilities would partake of his emotions 
vividly, cold ones but feebly. The sympathies of the men 
would be different from those of the women, those of the 
young- from those of the old, those of the merchant from those 
of the soldier, and so forth. To this it might fairly be replied, 
that as a matter of fact there are very few emotions with 
which different people do not sympathize in very different 
degrees, and of which accordingly they do not entertain very 
different feelings of moral approbation or the reverse. Each 
man s sympathy is in fact his only measure of the propriety 
of other men s sentiments, and for that reason it is that there 
is scarcely any single moral action of which any two men 
adopt the same moral sentiment. That morality is relative 
and not absolute, Adam Smith nowhere denies. Nevertheless, 
he would say, there is sufficient uniformity in the laws of 
sympathy, directed and controlled as they are by custom, to 
make the rule of general sympathy or of the abstract spectator 
a sufficiently permanent standard of conduct. 

It is moreover a fact, which no one has explained better 
than Adam Smith, in his account of the growth in every indi 
vidual of the virtue of self-command, that though our moral 
estimate of our own conduct begins by reference to the sym 
pathy of particular individuals, our parents, schoolfellows, or 
others, we yet end by judging ourselves, not by reference to 
any one in particular so much as from an abstract idea of 
general approbation or the contrary, derived from our experi 
ence of particular judgments in the course of our life. This 
is all that is meant by " the abstract spectator," reference to 
\vhora is simply the same as reference to the supposed verdict 
of public opinion. If we have done anything wrong, told a 


lie, for example, the self-condemnation we pass on ourselves is 
the condemnation of public opinion, with which we identify 
ourselves by long force of habit ; and had we never heard a lie 
condemned,, nor known it punished, we should feel no self-con 
demnation whatever in telling- one. We condemn it, not by 
reference, as Jouffroy puts it, to the feelings of John or Peter, 
but by reference to the feelings of the general world, which we 
know to be made up of people like John and Peter. There is 
nothing inconsistent therefore in the notion of an abstract 
spectator, " who has neither the prejudices of the one nor the 
weaknesses of the other, and who sees correctly and soundly 
precisely because he is abstract." The identification of this 
abstract spectator with conscience, is so far from being, as 
Jouffroy says it is, a departure from, and an abandonment of 
the rule of sympathy, that it is its logical and most satisfac 
tory development. There is no reason to repeat the process 
by which the perception of particular approving sympathies 
passes into identification with the highest rules of morality 
and the most sacred dictates of religion. By reference to his 
own experience, every reader may easily test for himself the 
truth or falsity of Adam Smith s argument upon this 

It is said with truth, that to make the judgment of an im 
partial or abstract spectator the standard of morality is to 
make no security against fallibility of judgment; and that 
such a judgment is only efficacious where there is tolerable 
unanimity, but that it fails in the face of possible differences 
of opinion. But this objection is equally true of any ethical 
standard ever yet propounded in the world, whether self- 
interest, the greatest possible happiness, the will of the sove 
reign, the fitness of things, or any other principle is suggested 
as the ultimate test of rectitude of conduct. This part of the 
theory may claim, therefore, not only to be as good as any 


other theory, but to be in strict keeping with the vast amount 
of variable moral sentiment which actually exists in the 

In further disproof of Adam Smith s theory, JoufTroy 
appeals to consciousness. We are not conscious, he says, in 
judging of the acts of others, that we measure them by refer 
ence to our ability to sympathize with them. So far are we 
from doing- this, that we consider it our first duty to stifle our 
emotions of sympathy or antipathy, in order to arrive at an 
impartial judgment. As regards our own emotions, nlso, 
there is no such recourse to the sympathies of others ; and even 
when there is, we often prefer our own judgment after all to 
that which we know to be the judgment of others. Conscious- 
ness therefore attests the falsity of the theory that we seek 
in our own sensibility the judgments we pass upon others, or 
that we seek in the opinions of others the principle of estima-, 
tion for our own sentiments and conduct. 

The truth of the fact stated in this objection may evidently 
be conceded, and yet the validity of the main theory be left 
untouched. The latter is a theory mainly of the origin of 
moral feelings, and of their growth ; and emotions of sym 
pathy which originally give rise to moral feelings may well 
disappear and be absent when long habit has once fixed them 
in the mind. It is quite conceivable, for instance, that if 
we originally derived our moral notions of our own conduct 
from constant observation of the conduct of others, we might 
yet come to judge ourselves by a standard apparently un 
connected with any reference to other people, and yet really 
made up of a number of forgotten judgments passed by us 
upon them. Children are always taught to judge them 
selves by appeals to the sentiments of their parents or other 
relations about their conduct; and though the standard of 
morality, thus external at first, may in time come to bo in- 


ternal, and even to be more potent than when it was ex 
ternal, it none the more follows that recourse to such sym 
pathy never took place because it ceases to take place or to 
be noticed when the moral sentiments are fully formed. 
In learning to read and write, an exactly analogous process 
may be traced. The letters which so painfully affected our con 
sciousness at first, when we had to make constant reference 
to the alphabet, cease at last to affect it at all ; yet the pro 
cess of spelling- really goes on in the mind in every word we 
read or write, however unconscious w^e may be of its operation. 
Habit and experience, says Adam Smith, teach us so easily 
and so readily to view our own interests and those of others 
from the standpoint of a third person, that " we are scarce 
sensible" of such a process at all. 

Then again, the question has been raised, Is it true that 
symp.-ithy with an agent or with the object of his action is a 
necessary antecedent to all moral approbation or the con 
trary ? 

It is objected, for instance, by Brown, that sympathy is not 
a perpetual accompaniment of our observation of all the 
actions that take place in life, and that many cases occur in 
which we feel approval or disapproval, in which consequently 
moral estimates are made, and yet without any preceding- 
sympathy or antipathy. " In the number of petty affairs 
which are hourly before our eyes, what sympathy is felt," he 
asks, " either with those who are actively or with those who 
are passively concerned, when the agent himself performs his 
little offices with emotions as slight as those which the 
objects of his actions reciprocally feel? Yet in these cases we 
are as capable of judging, and approve or disapprove not with 
tlie same liveliness of emotion indeed, but with as accurate 
estimation of merit or demerit as when we consider the most 
heroic sacrifices which the virtuous can make, or the 


atrocious crimes of which the sordid and the cruel can he 
guilty."" There must he the same sympathy in the case of 
the humblest action we denominate right as in that of then 
most glorious action ; yet such actions often excite no sym 
pathy whatever. Unless therefore the common transactions 
of life are to be excluded altogether from morality, from the 
field of right and wrong, it is impossible to ascribe such moral 
qualities to them, if sympathy is the source of our approval of 

To this objection, founded on the non-universality of sym 
pathy, and on its not being coextensive with feelings of moral 
approbation, Adam Smith might have replied, that there was I 
no action, howsoever humble, denominated right, in which 
there was not or had not been to start with a reference to 
sentiments of sympathy. It is impossible to conceive any 
case i n the most trivial department of life in which approba 
tion on the ground of goodness may not be explained by 
reference to such feelings. Brown himself lays indeed less 
stress on this argument than on another which has, it must 
be confessed, much greater force. 

That is, that the theory of sympathy assumes as already 
existing those moral feelings which it professes to explain. 
If, he says, no moral sentiments preceded a feeling of sym 
pathy, the latter could no more produce them than a mirror, 
without pre-existence and pre-supposition of light, could 
reflect the beautiful colours of a landscape. 

If we had no principle of moral approbation previous to 
sympathy, the most perfect sympathy or accordance of passions 
would prove nothing more than a mere agreement of feeling; 
nor should we be aware of anything more than in any case of 
coincidence of feeling with regard to mere objects of taste, 
such as a picture or an air of music. It is not because we 
sympathize with the sentiments of an agent that we account 


tliem moral, but it is because his moral sentiments agree with 
our own that we sympathize with them. The morality is 
there before the sympathy. If we regard sentiments which 
differ from our own, not merely as unlike our own, but as 
morally improper and wrong, we must first have conceived 
our own to be morally proper and right, by which we measure 
those of others. Without this previous belief in the moral 
propriety of our own sentiments, w^e could never judq-e of the 
propriety or impropriety of others, nor regard them at morally 
unsuitable to the circumstances out of which they arose. 
Hence the sympathy from which we are said to derive our 
notions of propriety or the contrary assumes independently of 
sympathy the very feelings it is said to occasion. 

A similar criticism Brown also applies to that sympathy 
with the gratitude of persons who have received benefits or 
injuries which is said to be the source of feelings of merit and 
demerit. If it is true that our sense of the merit of an agent 
; is due to our sympathy with the gratitude of those he has 
benefited if the sympathy only transfuses into our own 
breasts the gratitude or resentment of persons so affected, it is 
evident that our reflected gratitude or resentment can only 
give rise to the same sense of merit or demerit that has been 
already involved in the primary and direct gratitude or resent 
ment. If our reflex gratitude and resentment involve 
notions of merit and demerit, the original gratitude and 
resentment which we feel by reflexion must in like manner 
have involved them. . . . But if the actual gratitude or re 
sentment of those who have profited or suffered imply no 
feelings of merit or demerit, we may be certain, at least, that 
in whatever source we are to strive to discover those feelings, 
.it is not in the mere reflexion of a fainter gratitude or resent 
ment that we can hope to find them. . . . The feelings with 
which we sympathize are themselves moral feelings or senti- 


rnents ; or if they are not moral feelings, the reflexion of 
them from a thousand breasts cannot alter their nature/ 

Unless therefore we already possessed moral feelings of our 
own, the most exact sympathy of feelings could do no more 
than tell us of the similarity of our own feelings to those of 
some other person, which they might equally do whether they 
were vicious or virtuous ; and in the same way, the most 
complete dissonance of feeling could supply us with no more 
than a consciousness of the dissimilarity of our emotions. As 
a coincidence of taste with regard to a work of art pre-sup- 
poses in any two minds similarly affected by it an inde 
pendent susceptibility of emotions, distinguishing what is 
beautiful from what is ugly, irrespectively of others being* 
present to share them ; so a coincidence of feeling with regard 
to any moral action pre-supposes an independent capacity in 
the two minds similarly affected by them of distinguishing 
what is right from what is wrong, a capacity which each 
would have singly, irrespectively of all reference to the feel 
ings of the other. There is something more that we recog 
nize in our moral sentiments than the mere coincidence of 
feeling recognized in an agreement of taste or opinion. We 
feel that a person has acted not merely as we should have 
done, and that his motives have been similar to those we 
should have felt, but that he has acted rightly and 

It is perhaps best to state Brown s criticism m his own 
words: "All which is peculiar to the sympathy is, that 
instead of one mind only affected with certain feelings, there 
are two minds affected with certain feelings, and a recogni 
tion of the similarity of these feelings ; a similarity which far 
from being confined to our moral emotions, may occur as. 
readily and as frequently in every other feeling of which the 
mind is susceptible. What produces the moral notions there- 


fore must evidently be something. more than a recognition cf 
similarity of feeling- which is thus common to feelings of 
every class. There must be an independent capacity of moral 
emotion, in consequence of which we judge those sentiments 
of conduct to be right which coincide with sentiments of con 
duct previously recognized as right or the sentiments of 
others to be improper, because they are not in unison with 
those which we previously recognized as proper. Sympathy 
then may be the diffuser of moral sentiments, as of various 
other feelings ; but if no moral sentiments exist previously to 
our sympathy, our sympathy itself cannot mve rise to 

* The same inconsistency Brown detects in Adam Smith s 
theory of moral sentiments relating to our own conduct, 
according to which it would be impossible for us to distinguish 
without reference to the feelings of a real or imaginary spec 
tator any difference of propriety or impropriety, merit or 
demerit, in our own actions or character. If an impartial 
spectator can thus discover merit or demerit in us by making 
our case his own and assuming our feelings, those feelings 
which he thus makes his own must surely speak to us to the 
same purpose, and with even greater effect than they speak to 
him. In no^ case then can sympathy give any additional 
Knowledge : it can only give a wider diffusion to feelings 
which already exist. 

It is therefore, according to Brown, as erroneous in ethics 
to ascribe moral feelings to sympathy, or the mental reflection 
by which feelings are diffused, as it would be, in a theory of 
the source of light, to ascribe light itself to the reflection 
which involves its existence. " A mirror presents to us a 
fainter copy of external things ; but it is a copy which it pre 
sents. We are in like manner to each other mirrors that re 
flect from breast to breast, joy, sorrow, indignation, and all tho 


vivid emotions of which, the individual mind is susceptible ; 
but though, as mirrors, we mutually give and receive emotions, 
these emotions must have been felt before they could be com 

The objection contained in this analogy of the mirror is 
perhaps more fatal to the truth of Adam Smith s theory than 
any other. If a passion arises in every one analogous to, 
though weaker than, the original passion of the person 
primarily affected by it; if, for instance, by this force of 
fellow-feeling we enter into or approve of another person s 
resentment or gratitude; it seems clear that the original 
gratitude or resentment must itself involve, irrespective 
of all sympathy, those feelings of moral approbation, or tl 
contrary, which it is asserted can only arise by sympathy. 
It is impossible to state this objection more clearly than in 
the words already quoted from Brown. But when the latter 
insists on the irregular nature of sympathy as the basis of 
morality on its tendency to vary even in the same individual 
"many times in the day, so that what was virtuous in tl.e 
morning might seem vicious at noon, it is impossible to 
recognize the justice of the" criticism. Adam Smith might 
fairly have replied, that the educational forces of life, which 
are comprised in ordinary circumstances and surroundings, 
and which condition all sympathy, were sufficiently uniform 
in character to ensure tolerable uniformity in the result, and 
to give to our notions of morality all that appearance of 
certainty and sameness which undoubtedly belongs to them. 

Adam Smith seems himself to have anticipated one of the 
difficulties raised in Brown s criticism, namely, the relation of 
moral approbation to the approbation of another person s taste 
or opinions. Why should the feeling of approbation be of a 
different kind when we sympathize with a person s sentiments 
or actions than when we sympathize with his intellectual 


judgments ? The feeling of sympathy being- the same in 
either case, why should the feeling of resultant approbation 
be different? 

No one could state more clearly than does Adam Smith the 
analogy there is between coincidence of moral sentiment and 
coincidence of intellectual opinion ; nor is anything more 
definite in his theory than that approval of the moral senti 
ments of others, like approval of their opinions, means 
nothing more than their agreement with our own. The 
following are his words : < To approve of another man s 
opinions is to adopt those opinions, and to adopt them is to 
approve of them. If the same arguments which convince you 
^convince me likewise, I necessarily approve of your convic 
tion; and if they do not, I necessarily disapprove of it; 
neither can I possibly conceive that I should do the one 
without the other. To approve or disapprove, therefore, of 
the opinions is acknowledged by everybody to mean no more 
than to observe their agreement or disagreement with our 
own. But this is equally the case with regard to our appro 
bation or disapprobation of the sentiments or passions of 

Whence, then, comes the stronger feeling of approbation in 
the case of agreement of sentiments than in that of agreement 
of opinion? Why do we esteem a man whose moral senti 
ments seem to accord with our own, whilst we do not 
necessarily esteem him simply for the accordance of his 
opinions with our own ? Why in the one case do we ascribe 
to him the quality of rightness or rectitude, and in the other 
only the qualities of good taste or good judgment ? To quote 
Brown once more : " If mere accordance of emotion imply 
the feeling of moral excellence of any sort, we should cer 
tainly feel a moral regard for all whose taste coincides with 
ours; yet, however gratifying the sympathy in such a case 



may be, we do not feel, in consequence of this sympathy, any 
morality in the taste which is most exactly accordant with our 

Adam Smith s answer is, that matters of intellectual 
agreement touch us much less nearly than circumstances of 
behaviour which affect ourselves or the person we judge of; 
that we look at such things as the size of a mountain or the 
expression of a picture from the same point of view, and 
therefore that we agree or disagree without that imaginary 
change of situation which is the foundation of moral sym 
pathy. The stronger feeling of approbation in the one case 
than in the other arises from the personal element, which 
influences our judgment of another person s conduct, and 
which is absent in our judgment of his opinions about things. 
It will be best again to let Adam Smith speak for himself. 

"Though/ he says, "you despise that picture, or that 
poem, or even that system of philosophy whi-;h I admire, 
there is little danger of our quarrelling upon that account. 
Neither of us can reasonably be much interested about them. 
They ought all of them to be matters of great indifference to 
us both ; so that, though our opinions may be opposite, our 
affect ions may still be very nearly the same. But it is quite 
otherwise with regard to those objects by which either you or 
I are particularly affected. Though your judgments in 
matters of speculation, though your sentiments in matters 
of taste, are quite opposite to mine, I can easily overlook this 
opposition; and, if I have any degree of temper, I may still 
find some entertainment in your conversation, even upon those 
very subjects. Bu ; if you have either no fellow- feel ing for 
the misfortunes I have met with, or none which bears any 
proportion to the grief which distracts me; or if you have 
either no indignation at the injuries I have suffered, or none 
that bears any proportion to the resentment which transports 


me, we can no longer converse upon these subjects. We 
become intolerable to one another. I can neither support 
your company, nor you mine. You are confounded at my 
violence and passion, and I am enraged at your cold insen 
sibility and want of feeling." 

Accordingly, we only regard the sentiments which we 
share as moral, or the contrary, when they affect another 
person or ourselves in a peculiar manner; when they bear no 
relation to either of us, no moral propriety is recognized in a 
mere agreement of feeling. It is obvious that this explana 
tion, to which Brown pays no attention whatever, is satis 
factory to a certain point. A plain, or a mountain, or a 
picture, are matters about which it is intelligible that agree 
ment or difference should give rise to very different feelings 
from those produced by a case of dishonesty, excessive anger, 
or untruthfulness. Being objects so different in their nature, 
it is only natural that they should give rise to very different 
sentiments. Independently of all sympathy, admiration of a 
picture or a mountain is a very different thing from admi 
ration of a generous action or a display of courage. The 
language of all men has observed the difference, and the 
admiration in the one case is with perfect reason called moral, 
to distinguish it from the admiration which arises in the 
other. But when Adam Smith classes "the conduct of a 
third person " among things which, like the beauty of a plain 
or the size of a mountain, need no imaginary change of 
situation on the part of observers to be approved of by them, 
he inadvertently deserts his own principle, which, if this were 
true, would fail to account for the approbation of actions done 
long ago, in times or places unrelated to the approver. 

Bui, even if Adam Smith s explanation with regard to the 
difference of approbation felt where conduct is concerned from 
that felt in matters of taste or opinion be accepted as satis- 

o 2 


factory, it is strange that he should not have seen the diffi 
culty of accounting by his theory for the absence of anything 
like moral approbation in a number of cases where sympathy 
none the less strongly impels us to share and enter into the 
emotions of another person. For instance, if we see a man in 
imminent danger of his life pursued by a bull or seeming to 
fall from a tight rope though we may fully sympathize with 
his real or pretended fear, in neither case do we for that 
reason morally approve of it. In the same way, we may 
sympathize with or enter into any other emotion he manifests 
his love, his hope, or his joy without any the more 
approving them or passing any judgment on them whatever 
Sympathy has been well defined as " a species of involuntary 
imitation of the displays of feeling enacted in our presence, 
which is followed by the rise of the feelings themselves."" 6 
Thus we become affected with whatever the mental state may 
be that is manifested by the expressed feelings of another 
person ; but unless his emotion already contains the element 
of moral approbation, or the contrary, as in a case of gratitude 
or resentment, the mere fact of sympathy will no more give 
rise to it than will sympathy with another person s fear give 
rise to any moral approval of it. It is evident, therefore, that 
sympathy does not necessarily involve approbation, and that 
it only involves moral approbation where the sentiments shared 
by sympathy belong to the class of emotions denominated 

What, then, is the real relation between sympathy and 
approbation? and to what extent is the fact of sympathy an 
explanation of the fact of approbation ? 

It is difficult to read Adam Smith s account of the iden 
tification of sympathy a*id approbation, without feeling that 
throughout his argument there is an unconscious play upon 
6 Bain, Mental and Moral Science, p 277. 


words, and that an equivocal use of the word "sympathy" 
lends all its speciousness to the theory he expounds. The first 
meaning of the word sympathy is fellow-feeling, or the par 
ticipation of another person s emotion, in which sense we may 
be said to sympathize with another person s hope or fear; the 
second meaning contains the idea of approval or praise, in 
which sense we may be said to sympathize with another person s 
gratitude or resentment. Adam Smith begins by using the 
word sympathy in its first and primary sense, as meaning par 
ticipation in another person s feelings, and then proceeds to 
use it in its secondary and less proper sense, in which the idea 
of approbation is involved. But the sympathy in the one case 
is totally different from the sympathy in the other. In the 
one case a mere state of feeling is intended, in the other a 
judgment of reason. To share another person s feeling belongs 
only to our sensibility; to approve of it as proper, good, and 
right, implies the exercise of our intelligence. To employ 
the word "sympathy" in its latter use (as it is sometimes 
employed in popular parlance) is simply to employ it as a 
synonym for "approbation;" so that sympathy, instead of 
being really the source of approbation, is only another word 
for that approbation itself. To say that we approve of another 
person s sentiments when we sympathize with them is, there 
fore, nothing more than saying that we approve of them when 
we approve of them -a purely tautological proposition. 

It cannot therefore be said that Adam Smith s attempt to 
trace the feeling of moral approbation to emotions of sympathy 
is altogether successful, incontestable as is the truth of his appli 
cation of it to many of the phenomena of life and conduct. 
Yet although sympathy is not the only factor in moral appro 
bation, it is one that enters very widely into the growth of 
our moral perceptions. It plays, for instance, an important 
part in evolving in us that sense of right and wrong which is 

198 ADAM 

generally known as Conscience or the Moral Faculty. It is one 
of the elements, just as self-love is another, in that ever-forming 
chain of association which goes to distinguish one set of 
actions as good from another set of actions as bad. Our 
observation in others of the same outward symptoms which 
we know in our own case to attend joy or grief, pleasure or 
pain, leads us by the mere force of the remembrance of our own 
pleasures and pains, and independently of any control of our 
will, to enter into those of other people, and to promote 
as much as we can the one and prevent the other. 

Sympathy accordingly is the source of all disinterested 
motives in action, of our readiness to give up pleasures and 
incur pains for the sake of others ; and Adam Smith was so 
far right, that he established, by reference to this force of our 
sympathetic emotions, the reality of a disinterested element as 
the foundation of our benevolent affections. In the same way, 
self-love is the source of all the prudential side of morality ; 
and to the general formation of our moral sentiments, all our 
other emotions, such as anger, fear, love, contribute together 
with sympathy, in lesser perhaps but considerable degree. 
None of them taken singly would suffice to account for 
moral approbation. 

Although any action that hurts another person may so 
affect our natural sympathy as to give rise to the feeling of 
disapprobation involved in sympathetic resentment, and 
although an action that is injurious to ourselves may also be 
regarded with similar feelings of dislike, the constant pressure 
of authority, exercised as it is by domestic education, by 
government, by law, and by punishment, must first be 
brought to bear on such actions before the feeling of moral 
disapprobation can arise with regard to them. The associa 
tion of the pain of punishment with certain actions, and the 
association of the absence of such pain (a negative pleasure) 


with certain others, enforces the natural dictates of our 
sympathetic or selfish emotions, and impresses on them the 
character of morality, of obligation, and of duty. The associa 
tion is so close and constant, that in course of time the feeling 
of the approbation or disapprobation of certain actions becomes 
perfectly independent of the various means, necessary at first 
to enforce or to prevent them; just as in many other cases our 
likes and dislikes become free of the associations which first 
permanently fixed them. 

In this way the feeling 1 of moral approbation is seen to be 
the product of time and slow growth of circumstance, a phe 
nomenon to which both reason and sentiment contribute in 
equal shares in accordance with the laws that condition their 
development. Moral approbation is no more given instan 
taneously by sympathy than it is given instantaneously by a 
moral sense. Sympathy is merely one of the conditions 
under which it is evolved, one of the feelings which assist in 
its formation. It is indeed the feeling on which, more than 
on any other, the moral agencies existing in the world build up 
and confirm the notions of right and wrong; but it does of 
itself nothing more than translate feelings from one mind to 
another, and unless there is a pre-existent moral element in 
the feeling so translated, the actual passage will not give rise 
to it. Sympathy enables one man s fear, resentment, or 
gratitude to become another man s fear, resentment, or grati 
tude ; but the feeling of moral approbation which attends 
emotions so diffused, arises from reference to ideas otherwise 
derived than from a purely involuntary sympathy from refer 
ence, that is, to a standard set up by custom and opinion. A 
child told for the first time of a murder might so far enter by 
sympathy into the resentment of the victim as to feel indig 
nation prompting him to vengeance ; but his idea of the 
murder itself as a wron" 1 and wicked act his idea of it as a 


deed morally worse than the slaughter of a sheep by a butcher, 
would only arise as the result of the various forces of edu 
cation, availing- themselves of the original law of sympathy, 
by which an act disagreeable to ourselves seems disagreeable 
in its application to others. And what is true in this case, 
the extreme form of moral disapprobation, is no less true in all 
the minor cases, in which approbation or the contrary is felt. 

The feeling of moral approbation is therefore much more 
complex than it is in Adam Smith s theory. Above all things 
it is one and indivisible, and it is impossible to distinguish 
our moral judgments of ourselves from our judgments of 
others. There is an obvious inconsistency in saying that we 
can only judge of other people s sentiments and actions by 
reference to our own power to sympathize with them, and yet 
that we can only judge of our own by reference to the same 
power in them. The moral standard cannot primarily exist 
in ourselves, and yet, at the same time, be only derivable from 
without. If by the hypothesis moral feelings relating to our 
selves only exist by prior reference to the feelings of others, 
how can we at the same time form any moral judgment 
of the feelings of others by reference to any feelings of our 
own ? 

But although the two sides of moral feeling are thus really 
indistinguishable, the feeling of self-approbation or the con 
trary may indeed be so much stronger than our feeling of 
approval or disapproval of others as to justify the application 
to it of such terms as Conscience, Shame, Remorse. The 
difference of feeling, however, is only one of degree, and in 
either case, whether our own conduct or that of others is 
under review, the moral feeling that arises is due to the force 
of education and opinion acting upon the various emotions 
of our nature. For instance, a Mohammedan woman seen 
without a veil would have the same feeling of remorse or 


of moral disapprobation with regard to herself that she would 
have with regard to any other woman whom she might see in 
the same condition, though of course in a less strong- degree. 
In either case her feeling would he a result of all the com 
plex surroundings of her life, which is meant by education in 
its broadest sense. Sympathy itself would be insufficient to 
explain the feeling, though it might help to explain how it 
was developed. All that sympathy could do would be tc 
extend the dread of punishment associated by the woman 
herself with a breach of the law, to all women who might 
offend in a similar way ; the original feeling of the immorality 
of exposure being accountable for in no other way than by its 
association with punishment, ordained by civil or religious 
law, or by social custom, and enforced by the discipline of 
early home life. It is obvious that the same explanation 
applies to all cases in which moral disapprobation is felt, and 
conversely to all cases in which the sentiment of moral 
approbation arises. 


Edited by IWAN MULLER, A.M., 


The objects of the proposed Series are : 

(1) To present, in a connected and historical form, a view 
of the contributions made to Philosophy by English thinkers, 
together with such biographical details as their l.fe and times 
may render expedient. 

(2) To adapt the work in price and method of treatment to 
the requirements of general readers, English and American, no 
less than to those of students. 

(3) To issue each volume of the Series as a complete and 
integral work, entirely independent of the rest, except in form 
and general method of treatment. 

To each Philosopher will be assigned a separate volume, giv 
ing as comprehensive and detailed a statement of his views and 
contributions to Philosophy as possible, explanatory rather than 
critical, opening with a brief biographical sketch, and concluding 
with a short general summary, and a bibliographical appendix. 


The appearance of the first installment of the Series of English Phil 
osophers affords the editor an opportunity of defining the position ond aim 
of this and the succeeding volumes. We live in an age of series ; Art, 
Science, Letters, are each represented by one or more ; it is the object of 
the present series to add Philosophy to the list of subjects which are daily bj- 
coming more and more popular. Had it been our aim to produce a History 
of Philosophy in the interests of any one school of thought, co-operati.jn 
would have been well-nigh impracticable. Such, however, is not our object. 
We seek to lay before the reader what each English Philosopher thought 
and wrote about the problems with which he dealt, not what we may think 
he ought to have thought and written. Criticism will be suggested rather 
than indulged in, and these volumes will be expositions rather than reviews. 
The size and number of the volumes compiled by each leading Philosopher are 
chiefly due to the necessity, which Philosophers have generally considered 
imperative, of demolishing all previous systems of Philosophy before they 


commence the work of constructing their own. Of this work of destruction 
little will be found in these volumes ; we propose to lay stress on what a 
Philosopher did rather than on what he undid. In the summary will be 
found a general survey of the main criticisms that have been passed upon 
the views of the Philosopher who forms the subject of the book, and in the 
bibliographic appendix the reader will be directed to sources of more detailed 
criticism than the size and nature of the volumes in the series would i ermif. 
The lives of Philosophers are not, as a rule, eventful, and the biographies will 
consequently be brief. It is hoped that the Series, when complete, will 
supply a comprehensive History of Eng4ish Philosophy. It will include an 
Introduction to the Study of Philosophy, by Professor H. Sidgwiek. 

It remains for the Editor to thank those ladies and gentlemen who have 
so kindly promised their assistance to the work. The volumes will appear in 
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following : 

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MANSEL, The Rev. H. J. Huckin, D.D. 

BENTHAM, Mr. G. E. Buckle. 

AUSTIN, Mr. Harry Johnson. 

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fessor H. Sidgwiek. 

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HARTLEY and JAMES MILL, E. S. Bower, B.A., late Scholar 
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Reid, tS:c., and will shortly be announced. 

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