The Cause of the influence of outcome

September 30, 2015


1 The morality of any action is due to=

  1. The heart’s intention, or
  2. The resulting physical action caused by the intention or
  3. The consequences which actually result from the action

These three=

  • constitute the whole nature of the action
  • are the foundation of the action’s quality.

2 The action and its consequences obviously cannot be the foundation of any praise or blame. The resulting action is often the same either in the most innocent or the most blamable intention.

A hunter who shoots a bird and a hunter who shoots a man both pull their gun’s trigger. Its effect of launching a bullet is still more indifferent to praise or blame, than the triggering itself. Their morality depends on the outcome, not on the agent. The triggering and launching cannot be the foundation for any feeling for their character.

3 The only consequences which deserve approbation or disapprobation are those that show intention.

4 When this maxim is proposed abstractly and generally, everyone agrees to it. No matter how accidental, unintended, and unforeseen the consequences of actions may be, its=

  • merit is still the same if their intentions were equally good
  • demerit is still the same if their intentions were equally bad

The agent is equally the proper object of gratitude or resentment.

5 But, despite this maxim, the actual outcome of any action can greatly enhance or reduce our feelings or the sense of its merit or demerit. Our feelings will probably never entirely be regulated by this rule, even if we acknowledge that they should be.

6 Everyone feels this irregularity of feelings yet no one is willing to acknowledge it. What is=

  • its cause,
  • the extent of its influence
  • the reason the Author of nature created it?


Chapter 1= The Causes of this Influence of Chance

7 In all animals, gratitude and resentment are excited by both inanimate and animate objects that give us pleasure or pain. We are angry even at the stone that hurts us.

  • A child beats it.
  • A dog barks at it
  • An irritable man curses it.

Our simple reflection corrects this feeling. We then realize that a thing that has no feeling cannot be a target of our revenge. But when the offense is very great, the object which caused it becomes disagreeable to us forever and so we burn or destroy it.

In this way, we destroy the instrument which had accidentally caused our friend’s death. We feel guilty of inhumanity if we neglected to vent this absurd vengeance on it.

Inanimate objects as the origin of superstition

8 In the same way, we are grateful for those inanimate objects which have given us pleasure. A shipwrecked sailor uses a wooded plank to get ashore and uses it to start a fire. He would seem guilty of an unnatural action since we expect him to preserve the plank with affection, as a dear monument.

A man grows fond of a snuff-box, a pen-knife, a staff which he has long used. He conceives a real love for them. If he breaks or loses them, he is vexed out of all proportion to the value of the damage. We respect=

  • the house which we have long lived in,
  • the tree whose shade we have long enjoyed.

Their decay or ruin makes us sad even if we sustain no loss by it. The Greek Dryads and Roman Lares came from a sort of trees and houses, probably arising from this sort of affection. The authors of those superstitions felt for such objects.

Animal Rights

9 Before anything can be the proper object of gratitude or resentment, it must=

  • be the cause of pleasure or pain
  • be capable of feeling pleasure or pain.

Without this other quality, those feelings cannot vent themselves satifactorily. Those feelings are excited by the causes of pleasure and pain. Those feelings can be gratified by retaliating on their cause. But it is useless to attempt on what has no sensibility. Animals, therefore, are more proper objects of gratitude and resentment than inanimate objects.

The dog that bites and the ox that gores are both punished. If they caused anyone’s death, the people will demand that those animals be killed in return. This is not merely for the security of the living, but to revenge the dead’s injury.

On the contrary, we are grateful to those animals that have been useful to their masters. The story ‘The Turkish Spy’ tells of an officer who stabbed the horse that carried him across the sea. We are shocked at his brutality since that horse could have afterwards been a part of another person’s adventure.

10 Animals are the causes of pleasure and pain. Animals can also feel pleasure and pain. But they are still far from being perfect objects of gratitude or resentment. Gratitude chiefly desires to=

  • make the benefactor feel pleasure in his turn, and
  • make him conscious that he gets this reward because of his past conduct, in order to=
    • make him pleased with that conduct, and
    • satisfy him that the beneficiary was worthy of it.

We are charmed to our benefactor by the concord between his feelings and our own. We are interested in=

  • the worth of our own character, and
  • the esteem he gives us.

We are delighted to find a person who=

  • values us as we value ourselves, and
  • distinguishes us from the rest of mankind, with the similar attention which we use to distinguish ourselves.

We return the favor to him so that he will keep his esteem for us. A generous person often disdains of asking for new favours from his benefactor and instead gives back to him.

Instead, the greatest mind is interested in preserving and increasing his esteem. This is why our gratitude is always reduced when our benefactor’s conduct and character appear unworthy of our approbation. We are less flattered by the distinction. Preserving the esteem of so weak or so worthless a patron seems not deserving to be pursued for its own sake.

11 On the contrary, the object which resentment aims for is not so much to make our enemy feel pain in his turn. It is more to=

  • make him aware that it arose from his past conduct
  • make him repent of that conduct
  • make him sensible that the person he injured did not deserve it

What enrages us against the man who injures or insults us, is=

  • the little account which he makes of us
  • the unreasonable preference which he gives to himself above us
  • that absurd self-love, by which he seems to imagine, that other people may be sacrificed at any time to his convenience or humour

We are often shocked and exasperated, more than all the mischief which we have suffered, by=

  • the glaring impropriety of this conduct
  • the gross injustice involved in it

The goal of our revenge is frequently=

  • to bring him back to a more just sense of what is due to others
  • to make him sensible of=
    • what he owes us
    • the wrong that he has done to us

Our revenge is always imperfect when it cannot accomplish this. We do not have resentment when our enemy does no injury to us.

Three requirements for us to be grateful or resentful at anything

12 Therefore, before anything can be the proper object of a man’s gratitude, it must have three qualifications=

  1. It must be the cause of that man’s pleasure
  2. It must be capable of feeling his pleasure so that the man can express his gratitude back
  3. It must have intended to produce that gratitude
  • This further adds to the gratitude

Before anything can be the proper object of a man’s resentment, it must have three qualifications=

  1. It must be the cause of that man’s resentment
  2. It must be capable of feeling his resentment so that the man can express his resentment back
  3. It must have intended to produce that resentment
  • This further adds to the resentment

13 What gives pleasure is the sole exciting cause of gratitude. What gives pain is the sole exciting cause of resentment. If a person’s intentions=

  • are proper and beneficent, but he fails to produce the good he intended, then less gratitude is due to him
  • are improper and malevolent, but he fails to produce the evil he intended, then less resentment is due to him

This is because one of the causes is lacking in both cases. On the contrary, if a person’s intentions=

  • were not benevolent, but his actions produce great good, some gratitude is due to him.
    • A shadow of merit falls on him
  • were not evil, but his actions produce great evil, some resentment is due to him.
    • A shadow of demerit falls on him

This is because one of the causes takes place on both these occasions. The consequences of actions are all under the empire of outcome. This is the cause of mankind’s feelings regarding merit and demerit.