Chap. 1: The Causes of this Influence of Fortune


2.3.1. Whatever praise or blame can be due to any action, must belong:

  1. To the heart’s intention or affection it proceeds or
  2. To the external action or movement of the body which this affection causes or
  3. To the good or bad consequences, which actually proceed from it
  • These three:
    • constitute the whole nature of the action
    • are the foundation of whatever quality can belong to the action.


2.3.2. The last two cannot be the foundation of any praise or blame, nor has the contrary ever been asserted by anybody.

  • The external action is often the same:
    • in the most innocent and
    • in the most blamable actions.
  • He who shoots a bird and he who shoots a man both perform the same external movement:
    • Each of them draws the gun’s trigger.
    • The consequences of any action are still more indifferent to praise or blame, than even the body’s external movement.
      • They depend on fortune, not on the agent.
      • They cannot be the proper foundation for any sentiment, of which his character and conduct are the objects.


2.3.3. The only consequences which deserve approbation or disapprobation are those which were intended.

  • These show some agreeable or disagreeable quality in the heart’s intention.
  • All praise or blame, approbation or disapprobation bestowed on any action must ultimately belong to:
    • the heart’s intention,
    • the design’s
      • propriety or impropriety,
      • beneficence or hurtfulness.


2.3.4. When this maxim is proposed in abstract and general terms, everyone agrees to it.

  • Its self-evident justice is acknowledged by all.
  • No matter how accidental, unintended, and unforeseen the consequences of actions may be, its merit or demerit is still the same if their intentions were equally:
    • proper and beneficent, or
    • improper and malevolent.
  • The agent is equally the proper object of gratitude or resentment.


2.3.5. But the actual consequences of any action has a very great effect on our sentiments on its merit or demerit, no matter how well we are persuaded of the truth of this equitable maxim in the abstract.

  • It almost always enhances or reduces our sense of merit and demerit.
  • Our sentiments will probably never entirely be regulated by this rule, even if we all acknowledge that they should be.


2.3.6. Everyone feels this irregularity of sentiment.

  • No one is sufficiently aware of and no one is willing to acknowledge it.
  • I now explain:
    1. Its cause
    2. The extent of its influence
    3. The end which it answers, or the purpose which the Author of nature seems to have intended by it

Chap. 1: The Causes of this Influence of Fortune

2.3.7. In all animals, the causes of pain and pleasure are the objects which immediately excite gratitude and resentment.

  • Gratitude and resentment are excited by inanimate and animate objects.
    • We are angry even at the stone that hurts us.
      • A child beats it.
      • A dog barks at it
      • An irritable man is apt to curse it.
    • The least reflection corrects this sentiment.
      • We soon become sensible, that what has no feeling is a very improper object of revenge.
  • But when the mischief is very great, the object which caused it becomes disagreeable to us ever after.
    • We take pleasure to burn or destroy it.
  • In this way, we treat the instrument which had accidentally been the cause of a friend’s death.
    • We often think ourselves guilty of a sort of inhumanity, if we neglected to vent this absurd vengeance on it.


2.3.8. In the same way, we conceive a sort of gratitude for those inanimate objects which have been the causes of great or frequent pleasure to us.

  • As soon as the sailor gets ashore, he mends his fire with the plank on which he had just escaped from a shipwreck, would seem to be guilty of an unnatural action.
    • We expect that he would preserve it with care and affection, as a monument that was dear to him.
  • A man grows fond of a snuff-box, a pen-knife, a staff which he has long used.
    • He conceives a real love and affection 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 affects us with a kind of melancholy, even if we sustain no loss by it.
  • The Dryads and the Lares of the ancients, a sort of genii of trees and houses, were probably first suggested by this sort of affection.
    • The authors of those superstitions felt for such objects.
    • It would be unreasonable for them to do so, if they were not affected by those objects.


2.3.9. But, before anything can be the proper object of gratitude or resentment, it must not only be the cause of pleasure or pain, it must likewise be capable of feeling them.

  • Without this other quality, those passions cannot vent themselves with any satisfaction on it.
  • As they are excited by the causes of pleasure and pain, so their gratification consists in retaliating those sensations on their cause.
    • It is useless to attempt on what has no sensibility.
  • Animals, therefore, are less improper objects of gratitude and resentment than inanimate objects.
    • The dog that bites and the ox that gores are both punished.
      • If they caused any person’s death, neither the public, nor the relations of the slain, can be satisfied, unless they are put to death in their turn.
        • This is not merely for the security of the living, but in some measure, to revenge the dead’s injury.
    • On the contrary, those animals that have been remarkably serviceable to their masters, become the objects of a very lively gratitude.
      • We are shocked at the brutality of that officer, mentioned in the Turkish Spy, who stabbed the horse that carried him across an arm of the sea.
        • That horse could have afterwards been a part of another person’s adventure.


2.3.10. 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 and resentment still feel that there is something lacking to their entire gratification.
  • 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:
      • to make him pleased with that conduct, and
      • to satisfy him that the person who benefits was worthy of it.
  • The concord between the benefactor’s sentiments and our own charms us most of all to our benefactor.
    • We are interested in:
      • the worth of our own character, and
      • the esteem due to 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.
    • One of the chief ends of the returns we make to him is to maintain in him these agreeable and flattering sentiments.
      • A generous mind often disdains of extorting new favours from its benefactor, by the importunities of its gratitude.
  • But the greatest mind is interested in preserving and increasing his esteem.
  • This is the reason why our gratitude is always diminished no matter how great our benefactor’s services are when:
    • we cannot enter into his motives
    • when his 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.


2.3.11. 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
    • repent of that conduct
    • sensible that the person he injured did not deserve it
  • What chiefly enrages us against the man who injures or insults us, is:
    • the little account which he seems to make 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 insolence and injustice involved in it
  • The principal end proposed in 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
    • It is always imperfect when it cannot accomplish this.
  • We can entertain no sort of resentment when:
    • our enemy appears to have done us no injury
    • we are sensible that he acted quite properly, that in his situation:
      • we would have done the same thing
      • we deserved from him all the mischief we met.

2.3.12. Therefore, before anything can be the proper object of gratitude or resentment, it must possess three qualifications:

  1. It must be the cause of pleasure in the one case, and pain in the other
    • This first qualification renders that object capable of exciting gratitude or resentment.
  2. It must be capable of feeling those sensations
    • This second qualification renders that object capable of gratifying them.
  3. It must have produced those sensations from a design that is approved of the one case, and disapproved of in the other.
    • This third qualification:
      • is necessary for their complete satisfaction.
      • gives an exquisite and peculiar pleasure or pain
        • It is also an additional exciting cause of those passions.

2.3.13. 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, less gratitude seems due to him.

  • If a person’s intentions are improper and malevolent, but he fails to produce the evil he intended, less resentment seems due to him.
    • Because one of the causes is lacking in both cases.

On the contrary, if a person’s intentions were not laudably benevolent, but his actions produce great good, some gratitude arises towards him.

  • A shadow of merit seems to fall on him
  • If a person’s intentions did not have a blamable degree of malice, but his actions produce great evil, some resentment arises towards him.
    • A shadow of demerit seems to fall on him
    • Because one of the causes takes place on both these occasions.
  •  The consequences of actions are all under the empire of Fortune.
    • This is the cause of her influence on mankind’s sentiments regarding merit and demerit.

Words: 1,767

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