Chap. 2: The Extent of this Influence of Fortune

2.3.14. The effect of this influence of fortune is:

  1. To diminish our sense of the merit or demerit of those actions which arose from the most laudable or blamable intentions, when they fail of producing their proposed effects
  2. To increase our sense of the merit or demerit of actions, beyond what is due to its motives when they accidentally create extraordinary pleasure or pain

II.III.15. 1. Even if a person’s intentions are either proper and beneficent or improper and malevolent, his merit will seem imperfect, or his demerit incomplete, if they fail to produce their effects.

  • This irregularity of sentiment is:
    • felt by those who are immediately affected by the consequences of any action
    • felt even by the impartial observer
  • A friend is someone whom a man can ask for favors, without obtaining it.
    • He seems to deserve his love and affection.
  • A patron or benefactor is someone who provides a favor to the man who asks for it.
    • He is entitled to the man’s respect and gratitude.
  • We think that the man may justly imagine himself on a level with his friend.
    • But we cannot enter into his sentiments if he does not feel inferior to his benefactor.
  • We commonly say that we are equally obliged to the man who has endeavoured to serve us, as to him who actually did so.
    • We say this everytime an unsuccessful attempt of this kind happens.
      • Like all fine speeches, this must be understood with a grain of allowance.
  • A generous man may often feel the same for the friend who fails and the friend who succeeds.
    • The more generous he is, the more those sentiments come to an exact level.
  • It  gives more pleasure to the truly generous to be:
    • beloved and
    • esteemed by others who are esteemed themselves
  • It excites more gratitude than all the advantages they can ever expect from those sentiments.
    • When they lose those advantages therefore, they seem to lose but a trifle, which is scarce worth regarding.
      • However, they still lose something.
    • Their pleasure and consequently their gratitude, is not perfectly complete.
    • Accordingly, if all other circumstances are equal between the friend who fails and the friend who succeeds, there will be some little more favour in him who succeeds, even in the noblest mind.
      • So unjust is mankind in this respect, that even if the intended benefit should be procured, yet if it is not procured through a particular benefactor, they think that less gratitude is due to him.
        • He has the best intentions in the world.
        • He could do no more than to help it a little forward.
      • In this case, their gratitude is divided among the persons who contributed to their pleasure.
        • Thus, a smaller share of it seems due to anyone.
  • They commonly say that such a person intended no doubt to serve us
    • We really believe he exerted himself to the utmost of his abilities for that purpose.
      • We are not, however, obliged to him for this benefit.
        • Since, had it not been for the concurrence of others, all that he could have done would never have brought it about.
  • They imagine that this consideration should reduce the debt they owe to him, even in the eyes of the impartial observer.
    • The person himself who has unsuccessfully endeavoured to confer a benefit:
      • has not the same dependency on the gratitude of the man whom he meant to oblige
      • has not the same sense of his own merit towards him, which he would have had in the case of success.

II.III.16. Even the merit of talents and abilities which some accident has hindered from producing their effects, seems in some measure imperfect, even to those who are fully convinced of their capacity to produce them.

  • The general, who has been hindered by his ministers’ envy from gaining some great advantage over his country’s enemies, regrets the loss of the opportunity forever after.
    • He does not only regret it on the public’s account.
    • He laments that he was hindered from doing an action which would have added a new lustre to his character, for the eyes of himself and those of others.
      • It satisfies neither himself nor others to think that:
        • the plan was all that depended on him
        • no greater capacity was required to execute it than to plan it
        • he was allowed to be every way capable of executing it
        • if he had been permitted to go on, success was infallible
    • He still did not execute it
    • Though he might deserve all the approbation due to a magnanimous and great design, he still lacks the actual merit of having performed a great action.
  • Taking away the management of any affair of public concern, from the man who has almost succeeded in it, is regarded as the most invidious injustice.
    • We think that as he had done so much, he should have been allowed to acquire the complete merit ending it.
      • It was objected to Pompey, that he came in on Lucullus’ victories and gathered those laurels due to the another’s fortune and valour.
        • Lucullus’ glory was less complete even his friends’ opinions, when he was not permitted to finish that conquest.
        • His conduct and courage had put in the power of almost any man to finish it.
      • It mortifies an architect when his plans are:
        • not executed at all or
        • so far altered as to spoil the building’s effect
          • The plan, however, is all that depends on the architect.
          • The whole of his genius is, to good judges, as completely discovered in that as in the actual execution.
  • But a plan does not give the same pleasure as a magnificent building, even to the most intelligent.
    • They may discover as much taste and genius in the one as in the other.
    • But their effects are still vastly different.
      • The amusement derived from the plan, never approaches to the wonder and admiration which are sometimes excited by the building.
      • We may believe that:
        • the talents of many men are superior to those of Caesar and Alexander
        • those other men would perform still greater actions in the same situations
      • In the mean time, however, we do not behold them with the same astonishment and admiration as all ages and nations have had for Caesar and Alexander.
        • Our mind’s calm judgments may approve of them more.
          • But they lack the splendour of great actions to dazzle and transport our mind
  • The superiority of virtues and talents has not the same effect with the superiority of atchievements, even on those who acknowledge that superiority.

II.III.17. As the merit of an unsuccessful attempt to do good is thus, in the eyes of ungrateful mankind, to be reduced by failure, so does the demerit of an unsuccessful attempt to do evil.

  • The design to commit a crime, how clearly soever it may be proved, is never punished with the same severity as the actual commission of it.
    • The case of treason is perhaps the only exception.
      • Treason immediately affects the being of the government itself.
      • The government is naturally more jealous of it than of any other.
      • In the punishment of treason, the sovereign resents the injuries immediately done to himself.
      • In the punishment of other crimes, he resents those which are done to other men.
        • It is his own resentment which he indulges in treason.
        • It is the resentment of his subjects which by sympathy he enters into in the other crimes.
    • In treason, therefore, he judges in his own cause.
      • He is very apt to be more violent and sanguinary in his punishments than the impartial spectator can approve of.
      • His resentment too rises here on smaller occasions
        • It does not always, as in other cases, wait for the perpetration of the crime or even for the attempt to commit it.
          • A treasonable plan or treasonable conversation, which does nothing, is punished in many countries in the same manner as the actual commission of treason.
    • With regard to all other crimes, the mere design, with no execution, is:
      • seldom punished at all
      • never punished severely
  • A criminal design and a criminal action do not necessarily suppose the same degree of depravity
    • They should not therefore be subjected to the same punishment.
  • We are capable of resolving, and even of taking measures to execute, many things which, when it comes to the point, we feel ourselves altogether incapable of executing.
    • But this reason can have no place when the design has been carried the length of the last attempt.
  • The man, however, who fires a pistol at his enemy but misses him, is punished with death by the laws of scarce any country.
    • By the old law of Scotland, though he should wound him, yet, unless death ensues within a certain time, the assassin is not liable to the last punishment.
    • Mankind’s resentment, 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 should be capital in all countries.
  • The attempt to commit smaller crimes is:
    • almost always punished very lightly
    • sometimes is not punished at all
  • The thief, whose hand has been caught in his neighbour’s pocket before taking anything, is punished with ignominy only.
    • If he was able to take away a handkerchief, he would have been put to death.
  • The house-breaker, who has been found setting a ladder to his neighbour’s window, but had not got inside, is not exposed to the capital punishment.
    • The attempt to ravish is not punished as a rape.
  • The attempt to seduce a married woman is not punished at all, though seduction is punished severely.
  • Our resentment against the person who only attempted to do a mischief, is seldom so strong as to bear us out in inflicting the same punishment on him
  • which we should have thought due if he had actually done it.
  • In the one case, the joy of our deliverance alleviates our sense of his conduct’s atrocity.
  • in the other, the grief of our misfortune increases it.
  • His real demerit, however, is undoubtedly the same in both cases, since his intentions were equally criminal.
    • In this respect, there is therefore:
      • an irregularity in all men’s sentiments
      • a consequent relaxation of discipline in the laws of all nations, of the most civilized and the most barbarous.
  • The humanity of a civilized people disposes them to dispense with or to mitigate punishments wherever their natural indignation is not goaded on by the crime’s consequences.
    • Barbarians, on the other hand, when no actual consequence has happened from any action, are not very delicate or inquisitive about the motives.

II.III.18. The person who from passion or from the influence of bad company, has resolved and perhaps taken measures to perpetrate some crime, but who has fortunately been prevented by an accident, is sure, if he has any remains of conscience, to regard this event all his life after as a great and signal deliverance.

  • He can never think of it without thanking Heaven for having been graciously pleased:
    • to save him from the guilt he was just ready to plunge himself in
    • to hinder him from rendering the rest of his life in horror, remorse, and repentance
  • But though his hands are innocent, he is conscious that his heart is equally guilty as if he had actually executed the crime.
  • It greatly eases his conscience, however, to consider that the crime was not executed.
    • Though he knows that its failure arose from no virtue in him.
  • He still considers himself as less deserving of punishment and resentment.
    • This good fortune either reduces or removes all sense of guilt.
  • Remembering how much he was resolved on it only makes him regard his escape as the greater and more miraculous.
    • For he still fancies that he has escaped, and he looks back on the danger to which his peace of mind was exposed, with that terror, with which one who is in safety may sometimes remember the hazard he was in of falling over a precipice, and shudder with horror at the thought.

II.III.19. 2. The second effect of this influence of fortune, is to increase our sense of the merit or demerit of actions beyond what is due to the motives or affection from which they proceed, when they happen to give occasion to extraordinary pleasure or pain.

  • The agreeable or disagreeable effects of the action often throw a shadow of merit or demerit upon the agent, though in his intention there was nothing that deserved either praise or blame, or at least that deserved them in the degree in which we are apt to bestow them.
  • Thus, even the messenger of bad news is disagreeable to us, and, on the contrary, we feel a sort of gratitude for the man who brings us good tidings.
  • For a moment we look upon them both as the authors, the one of our good, the other of our bad fortune, and regard them in some measure as if they had really brought about the events which they only give an account of.
  • The first author of our joy is naturally the object of a transitory gratitude: we embrace him with warmth and affection, and should be glad, during the instant of our prosperity, to reward him as for some signal service.
  • By the custom of all courts, the officer, who brings the news of a victory, is entitled to considerable preferments, and the general always chuses one of his principal favourites to go upon so agreeable an errand.
  • The first author of our sorrow is, on the contrary, just as naturally the object of a transitory resentment.
  • We can scarce avoid looking upon him with chagrin and uneasiness; and the rude and brutal are apt to vent upon him that spleen which his intelligence gives occasion to.
  • Tigranes, king of Armenia, struck off the head of the man who brought him the first account of the approach of a formidable enemy.
  • To punish in this manner the author of bad tidings, seems barbarous and inhuman: yet, to reward the messenger of good news, is not disagreeable to us; we think it suitable to the bounty of kings. But why do we make this difference, since, if there is no fault in the one, neither is there any merit in the other?
  • It is because any sort of reason seems sufficient to authorize the exertion of the social and benevolent affections. but it requires the most solid and substantial to make us enter into that of the unsocial and malevolent.

II.III.20. But though in general we are averse to enter into the unsocial and malevolent affections, though we lay it down for a rule that we ought never to approve of their gratification, unless so far as the malicious and unjust intention of the person, against whom they are directed, renders him their proper object; yet, upon some occasions, we relax of this severity.

  • When the negligence of one man has occasioned some unintended damage to another, we generally enter so far into the resentment of the sufferer, as to approve of his inflicting a punishment upon the offender much beyond what the offence would have appeared to deserve, had no such unlucky consequence followed from it.

II.III.21. There is a degree of negligence which appears to deserve some chastisement even if it causes no damage to anybody.

  • If a person throws a large stone over a wall into a public street without warning those passing by and without regarding where it would fall, he would undoubtedly deserve some chastisement.
    • A very accurate police would punish so absurd an action, even if it did no mischief.
      • The person guilty of it shows an insolent contempt of the happiness and safety of others.
        • There is real injustice in his conduct.
        • He wantonly exposes his neighbour to what no man in his senses would choose to expose himself
        • He evidently lacks that sense of what is due to his fellow-creatures which is the basis of justice and of society.
  • Gross negligence therefore is, in the law, said to be almost equal to malicious design.*3
    • When any unlucky consequences happen from such carelessness, the person guilty of it is often punished as if he had really intended those consequences.
    • His conduct was only thoughtless and insolent and deserved some chastisement.
      • It is considered as atrocious and as liable to the severest punishment.
  • If by he accidentally kills a man by throwing a large stone, he is liable to the severest punishment by the laws of many countries, particularly by the old law of Scotland.
    • Though this is no doubt excessively severe, it is not inconsistent with our natural sentiments.
    • Our just indignation against his conduct’s folly and inhumanity is exasperated by our sympathy with the unfortunate sufferer.
  • However, it would appear most shocking to our natural sense of equity to bring a man to the scaffold merely for throwing a stone carelessly into the street without hurting anybody.
    • The folly and inhumanity of his conduct, however, would in this case be the same.
      • But still our sentiments would be very different.
    • The consideration of this difference may satisfy us how much the indignation, even of the spectator, is animated by the actual consequences of the action.
    • In cases of this kind there will be found a great degree of severity in the laws of almost all nations.
    • as I have already observed that in those of an opposite kind there was a very general relaxation of discipline.

II.III.22. There is another degree of negligence which does not involve any injustice.

  • The person who is guilty of it treats his neighbours as he treats himself.
    • He means no harm to any body
    • He is far from entertaining any insolent contempt for the safety and happiness of others.
  • He is not, however, so careful and circumspect in his conduct as he should be.
    • On this account, he deserves some degree of blame and censure, but no sort of punishment.
  • Yet if by this kind of negligence*4 he should cause some damage to another person, he is obliged to compensate it, by the laws of all countries.
    • Though this is a real punishment, and what no mortal would have thought of inflicting on him, had it not been for the unlucky accident which his conduct caused; yet this decision of the law is approved by mankind’s natural sentiments.
  • We think that:
    • it is most just that one man should not suffer by another’s carelessness.
    • the damage caused by blamable negligence should be made up by the person guilty of it

II.III.23. There is another species of negligence,*5 which consists merely in a want of the most anxious timidity and circumspection, with regard to all the possible consequences of our actions.

  • The want of this painful attention, when no bad consequences follow from it, is so far from being regarded as blamable, that the contrary quality is rather considered as such.
  • That timid circumspection which is afraid of everything is never regarded as a virtue
    • but as a quality which more than any other incapacitates for action and business.
  • Yet when, from a want of this excessive care, a person happens to cause some damage to another, he is often by the law obliged to compensate it.
  • Thus, by the Aquilian law, the man, who not being able to manage a horse that had accidentally taken fright, should happen to ride down his neighbour’s slave, is obliged to compensate the damage.
  • When an accident of this kind happens, we:
    • think that he should not to have rode such a horse
    • regard his attempting it as an unpardonable levity
  • Though without this accident we would:
    • not have made such a reflection
    • have regarded his refusing it as the effect of:
      • timid weakness
      • an anxiety of possible events which would be useless to be aware of
  • The person himself, who by an accident even of this kind has involuntarily hurt another, seems to have some sense of his own ill desert, with regard to him.
    • He naturally:
      • runs to the sufferer to express his concern for what happened
      • makes every acknowledgment he is capable of
    • If he has any sensibility, he necessarily desires to:
      • compensate the damage
      • do everything he can to appease that animal resentment which he knows will arise in the sufferer’s breast
    • To make no apology, to offer no atonement, is regarded as the highest brutality.
      • Yet why should he make an apology more than any other person?
      • Why should he, equally innocent with any other bystander, be singled out from all mankind to make up for another’s bad fortune?
    • This task would surely never be imposed on him.
      • Not even the impartial spectator would feel some indulgence for the unjust resentment of that other person.

Words: 3465

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