Chapter 2

The Morality from Utiltiy

September 29, 2015

12 The following can promote or disturb individual and societal happiness=

  • the characters of people
  • contrivances of art
  • the institutions of government.

The prudent, equitable, active, resolute, and sober character promises prosperity and satisfaction to=

  • the person himself, and
  • everyone connected with him.

This has all the beauty as the most perfect machine invented for that purpose.

On the contrary, the rash, insolent, slothful, effeminate, and voluptuous brings=

  • ruin to the individual, and
  • misfortune to all who have anything to do with him.

What institution of government could promote mankind’s happiness as the prevalence of wisdom and virtue?

Government is just an imperfect remedy for the deficiency of these. Therefore, the beauty of government from its utility must belong more to wisdom and virtue.

On the contrary, vices are the most ruinous and destructive civil policy. Governments are fatal if they cannot guard against the mischiefs from human wickedness.

13 This beauty of characters from their usefulness strikes those who philosophically consider mankind’s conduct.

When a philosopher examines why humanity is approved of, or why cruelty is condemned, he does not always clearly conceive any action of cruelty or humanity.

  • He is commonly contented with the vague and indeterminate idea suggested to him by those qualities.

But the morality of actions is obvious and discernible only in particular instances which allow us to distinctly perceive=

  • the concord or disagreement between our own affections and those of the agent, or
  • either a social gratitude or a sympathetic resentment towards him.

When we consider virtue and vice in an abstract and general manner=

  • their qualities, which excite these sentiments, seem to disappear, and
  • the feelings themselves become less obvious and discernible.

On the contrary, the happy effects of virtue and the fatal consequences of vice seem then to=

  • rise up to the view, and
  • distinguish themselves from all the other qualities of either.

14 David Hume has been so struck with this view of things. He resolves our whole approbation of virtue into a perception of this kind of beauty from utility. He observes that=

  • only the qualities of the mind which are useful or agreeable to the person himself or to others, are approved of as virtuous.
  • only the qualities which are not useful or agreeable are are disapproved of as vicious

Nature seems to have so happily adjusted our sentiments of approbation and disapprobation to the convenience of the individual and the society.

After the strictest examination, I believe that this is universally the case.

But still I affirm, that it is not the view of this utility which is the principal source of our approbation. These feelings are no doubt enlivened by the beauty from this utility.

But they are still originally and essentially different from this perception.

15 It seems impossible=

  • that we should approve of virtue with the same feeling that we use to approve of a well-contrived building, or that our reason for praising a man should be the same reason for commending a chest of drawers.

Emotional Quotient

16 The usefulness of any disposition of mind is seldom the first ground of our approbation.

The feeling of approbation always involves in it, a sense of propriety quite distinct from the perception of utility. We may observe this with all the virtuous qualities=

The qualities that are useful to ourselves=

17 Superior reason and understanding are the qualities most useful to ourselves. These allow us to=

  • discern the remote consequences of all our actions, and
  • foresee the advantage or detriment likely to result from them.

The qualities which are useful to others=

The self-command which enables us to abstain from present pleasure or to endure present pain, in order to obtain a greater pleasure or avoid a greater pain in the future.

The virtue of prudence is in the union of superior reason and self-command It is the most useful virtue to the individual.

18 Superior reason and understanding are originally approved of as just, right, and accurate, and not merely as useful or advantageous.

The greatest and most admired exertions of human reason have been displayed in the obscurer sciences, particularly in the higher parts of mathematics.

But the utility of those sciences to the individual or the public is not very obvious.

A complicated discussion is needed to prove it. Therefore, it was not their utility which first recommended them to the public admiration. This quality was little insisted on until it became necessary to reply to the reproaches of people who tried to render them useless. Those people had no taste for such sublime discoveries.

19 In the same way, our self-command is approved of as much under propriety as under utility.

When we act in this way, the sentiments which influence our conduct seem to coincide exactly with the spectator’s feelings.

The spectator does not feel the solicitations of our present appetites. To him, the pleasure which we are to enjoy a week or a year hence, is just as interesting as the pleasure we are to enjoy now.

When we sacrifice the future for the sake of the present, our conduct appears absurd and most extravagant to him. He cannot enter into the principles which influence it.

On the contrary, he cannot fail to approve of our behaviour when we=

  • abstain from present pleasure to secure greater pleasure to come
  • act as if the remote object interested us as much as that which immediately presses on the senses, as our affections exactly correspond with his own

He knows from experience, how few are capable of this self-command. He looks on our conduct with a considerable degree of wonder and admiration. Hence arises that natural eminent esteem of all men for a steady perseverance in frugality, industry, and application, even if directed only to acquire fortune.

Our approbation is commanded by the person’s resolute firmness to=

  • obtain a great but remote advantage,
  • give up all present pleasures, and
  • endure the greatest labour of mind and body.

That view of his interest and happiness which regulate his conduct, exactly tallies with our natural idea of it. There is the most perfect correspondence between his sentiments and our own. At the same time, it is a correspondence which we could not reasonably have expected, from our experience of the common weakness of human nature. We approve and in some measure admire his conduct. We think it worthy of a considerable degree of applause. It is the consciousness of this merited approbation and esteem which alone is capable of supporting him. The pleasure which we are to enjoy 10 years hence interests us so little compared to that which we may enjoy today The passion of future pleasure is naturally so weak compared to that violent emotion which present pleasure is apt to create. Future pleasure could never balance present pleasure unless it was supported by= the sense of propriety the consciousness that we= merited the esteem and approbation of everybody by acting with regard to future pleasure became the proper objects of their contempt and derision by behaving with regard to present pleasure. 20 Humanity, justice, generosity, and public spirit, are the qualities most useful to others.

I have shown how much our approbation of humanity and justice depended on the concord between the affections of the agent and the spectators.

21 The propriety of generosity and public spirit is founded on the same principle with the propriety of justice.

Generosity is different from humanity. Those two qualities at first sight seem so nearly allied. They do not always belong to the same person. Humanity is the virtue of a woman. Generosity is the virtue of a man. Women have commonly much more tenderness than men. Women seldom have so much generosity. The civil law observes that women rarely make considerable donations, *9

Humanity consists merely in the exquisite fellow-feeling of the spectator with the sentiments of the persons principally concerned.

It leads him to=

  • grieve for their sufferings,
  • resent their injuries, and
  • rejoice at their good fortune.

The most humane actions require no self-denial, no self-command, no great exertion of the sense of propriety. They consist only in doing what this exquisite sympathy would naturally prompt us to do. But it is otherwise with generosity.

We generous only when we=

  • prefer some other person to ourselves, and
  • sacrifice some of our great and important interest to an equal interest of a friend or superior.

The following men do not act from humanity=

  • The man who gives up an office, that was the great object of his ambition, because he imagines that other men are better entitled to it.
  • The man who exposes his life to defend his friend’s life, which he judges to be more important.

Such men do not do such things because they more exquisitely feel for that other person.

  • They both consider how those opposite interests appear to others, not how they naturally appear to themselves.

The success or preservation of the other person may justly be more interesting to every third person but not to themselves. When they sacrifice their own interests, therefore, they accommodate themselves to the spectators’ sentiments. By an effort of magnanimity, they act according to how any third person must naturally feel. The soldier who throws away his life to defend his officer’s life might be little affected by that officer’s death if it was not his fault.

But he feels, that to everyone else, his own life is a trifle compared with his officer’s life when he tries to act to=

  • deserve applause, and
  • make the impartial spectator enter into the principles of his conduct.

That when he sacrifices his life, he acts properly and agreeably to the natural apprehensions of every impartial bystander.

22 It is the same case with the greater exertions of public spirit.

When a young officer exposes his life to extend his sovereign’s dominions, it is not because the new territory is more desirable than his own life. When the officer compares his life with the territory, he views them as they appear to his nation, not as how they naturally appear to himself. To his nation, the war’s success is most important. A private person’s life is of no consequence. When he puts himself in their situation, he feels that he cannot be too prodigal of his blood, if he can promote such a valuable purpose by shedding it.

Thus, his heroism is in thwarting the strongest of all natural propensities, from a sense of duty and propriety. Many honest Englishmen would be privately more seriously disturbed by the loss of a guinea than by the national loss of Minorca. Yet, the officer would rather sacrifice his life a thousand times to defend that fortress than to let it fall into the enemy through his fault.

Brutus’ sons conspired against Rome.

He led his own sons to a capital punishment. He sacrificed the love for his sons, a stronger affection, to the love of his country, a weaker affection. He naturally should have felt much more for the death of his own sons than for all that Rome might have suffered from lacking so great an example. But he viewed them with the eyes of a Roman citizen than with the eyes of a father. He entered so thoroughly into the citizen’s sentiments that he paid no regard to his fatherly ties. To a Roman citizen, even the sons of Brutus seemed contemptible when balanced with Rome’s smallest interest. In such cases, our admiration is founded on the unexpected, great, noble, and exalted propriety of such actions, and not so much on their utility.

When we view this utility, it undoubtedly gives a new beauty on them. On that account, it further recommends them to our approbation. However, this beauty is chiefly perceived by men of reflection and speculation. It is not the quality which first recommends such actions to mankind’s natural sentiments.

23 So far as the sentiment of approbation arises from the beauty of utility, it has no reference to the feelings of others.

If a person grew up outside of society, his own actions might be agreeable to him from their tendency to his happiness.

He might perceive a beauty of this kind in prudence, temperance, and good conduct. He might view this with the same satisfaction as we have for a well-contrived machine. He might perceive a deformity in the opposite behaviour. He might view this with the same distaste as we have for a very clumsy contrivance. However, these perceptions are merely a matter of taste. They have all the feebleness and delicacy of taste. They would probably not be much attended to by someone in this solitary and miserable condition. They would not have the same effect as after he was connected with society.

He would not be cast down with inward shame at the thought of this deformity. He would not be elevated with secret triumph of mind from the consciousness of beauty. He would not exult from the notion of deserving reward in the one case, nor tremble from the suspicion of meriting punishment in the other.

All such sentiments suppose the idea of some other being who is the natural judge of the person that feels them. Only by sympathy with the decisions of this arbiter of his conduct, can he conceive the triumph of self-applause or the shame of self-condemnation.


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