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IS E C.IIÓN V.
WHY UTILITY PLEAS É S.
P. A RT I.
T seems so natural a thought to ascribe to their utility the praise, which we bestow on the social virtues, that one would expect to meet with this principle every where in moral writers, as the chief foundation of their reasoning and enquiry. in common life, we may observe, that the circumstance of utility is always appealed to; nor is it fupposed, that a greater eulogy can be given to any man, than to display his usefulness to the public, and enuinerate the services, which he has performed to mankind and fociety. What praise, even of an inanimate form, if the regularity and elegance of its parts destroy not its fitness for any useful purpose! And how satisfactory an apology for any disproportion or seeming deformity, if we can show the necessity of that particular construction for the use intended! A ship appears more beautiful to an artist, or one moderately skilled in navigation, where its prow is wide and swelling beyond its poop, than if it were framed with a precise geometrical regularity, in contradiction to all the laws of mechanics. A building, whose doors and windows were exact squares, would hurt the eye by that very propor-, tion; as ill adapted to the figure of a human
creature, for whose service the fabric was inintended. What wonder then, that a man, whose habits and conduct are hurtful to society, and dangerous or pernicious to every one who has an intercourse with him, should, on that account, be an object of disapprobation, and communicate to every spectator the strongest sentiment of disgust and hatred *.
But perhaps the difficulty of accounting for these effects of usefulness, or its contrary, has kept philosophers from admitting them into their fyftems of ethics, and has induced them rather to employ any other principle, in explaining the origin of moral good and evil. But it is no just reason for rejecting any principle, confirmed by experience, that we cannot give a satisfactory account of its origin, nor are able to resolve it into other more general principles. And if we would employ a little thought on the prefent fubject, we need be at no loss to account for the influence of utility, and to deduce it from principles, the most known and avowed in human nature. i ini . . is in
From the apparent usefulness of the social virtues, it has readily been inferred by sceptics, both ancient and modern, that all moral distinctions arise from education, and were, at first, invented, and afterward encouraged, by the art of politicians, in order to render men tractable, and subdue their natural ferocity and felfishness, which incapacitated them for society. This principle, indeed, of precept and education, must fo far be owned to have a powerful influence, that it may frequently encrease or diminish, beyond their natural standard, the sentiments of approbation or difike; and may even, in particular instances, create, without any natural principle, a new fentiment of this kind; as is evident in all superstitious
* See NOTE .
practices and observances : But that all moral affection or disike arises from this origin, will never surely be allowed by any judicious enquirer. Had nature made no such distinction, founded on the original constitution of the mind, the words, honourable, and pameful, lovely, and odious, noble, and despicable, had never had place in any language; nor could politicians, had they invented these terms, ever have been able to render them intelligible, or make them convey any idea to the audience. So that nothing can be more superficial than this paradox of the sceptics; and it were well, if, in the abstruser studies of logic and metaphysics, we could as easily obviate the cavils of that fect, as in the practical and inore intelligible sciences of politics and morals.
The social virtues must, therefore, be allowed to have a natural beauty and amiableness, which, at first, antecedent to all precept or education, recommends them to the esteein of uninstructed mankind, and engages their affections. And as the public utility of these virtues is the chief circumstance, whence they derive their merit, it follows, that the end, which they have a tendency to promote, must be some way agreeable to us, and take hold of some natural affection. It must please, either from considerations of self-interest, or from more generous motives and regards.
It has often been asserted, that, as every man. has a strong connexion with society, and perceives the impossibility of his folitary subsistence, he becomes, on that account, favourable to all those habits or principles, which promote order in society, and insure to him the quiet possession of fu inestimable a blessing. As much as we value our own happiness and welfare, as much must we applaud the practice of justice and humanity, by which alone the social confederacy can be
omnesor prin care
maintained, and every man reap the fruits of mutual protection and assistance.
This deduction of morals from self-love, or a regard to private interest, is an obvious thought, and has not arisen wholly from the wanton sallies and sportive assaults of the sceptics. To mention no others, Polybius, one of the gravest and most judicious, as well as most moral writers of antiquity, has assigned this felfish origin to all our sentiments of virtue *. But though the folid, practical sense of that author, and his aversion to all vain subtilties, render his authority on the present subject very considerable; yet is not this an affair to be decided by authority, and the voice of nature and experience seems plainly to oppose the selfish theory.
We frequently bestow praise on virtuous actions, perforined in very distant ages and remote countries; where the utmost fubtilty of imagination would not discover any appearance of selfinterest, or find any connexion of our present happiness and fecurity with events fo widely separated froin us..
A generous, a brave, a noble deed, performed by an adversary, commands our approbatition; while in its consequences it may be acknowledged prejudicial to our particular in
erfor where the uen any appearabour present
terest. : When private advantage concurs with general
affection for virtue, we readily perceive and avow the mixture of these distinct sentiments, which have a very different feeling and influence on the mind. We praise, perhaps, with more alacrity, where the generous, humane action contributes to our particular interest: But the topics of praise, which we insist on, are very wide of this circumstance. And we may attempt to bring
* See NOTE [AA]....
over others to our sentiments, without endeavouring to convince them, that they reap any advantage from the actions which we recommend to their approbation and applause.
Fraine the model of a praise-worthy character, consisting of all the inost amiable moral virtues : Give instances, in which these display themselves after an eminent and extraordinary manner: You readily engage the esteein and approbation of all your audience, who never fo inuch as enquire in what age and country the person lived, who poslefied these noble qualities : A circumstance, however, of all others, the most material to self-love, or a concern for our own individual happiness.
Once on a time, a statesman, in the shock and contest of parties, prevailed so far as to procure, oy his eloquence, the banishment of an able adverlary ; whom he secretly followed, offering him oney for support during his exile, and soothing in with topics of consolation in his misfortunes. Alas! cries the banished statesman, with what regre? must I leave my friends in this city, where even emies are so generous! Virtue, though in an ene
here pleased him. And we also give it the just tribut
pute of praise and approbation ; nor do we re
ce these sentiments, when we hear, that the action o passed at Athens, about two thousand years Os and that the persons names were Efchines:
versary : Wupport during ation in hi
It is but.
bat is that to me? There are few occasions, , en this question is not pertinent: And had it
, universal, infallible influence supposed, it
1t every conversation, which contain any
facts and arguinents, to say, that we tranfOurselves, by the force of imagination, in- ' Itant ages and countries, and consider the
port ourselves * to diftant ages and