Chap. 2: The Extent of this Influence of Fortune

2.3.14. The effect of this influence of fortune is:

  1. To reduce 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


2.3.15. 1. A person’s merit will seem imperfect even if his intentions are beneficent if they fail to produce their effects.

  • A person’s demerit will seem incomplete even if his intentions were malevolent 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, and
    • felt even by the impartial spectator.
  • 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 tried to serve us, as to him who actually did so.
    • We say this every time 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 spectator.
    • 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.


2.3.16. The merit of talents and abilities, which some accident has hindered from succeeding, seems imperfect even to those who know of their capacity for success.

  • The general, who has been hindered by his ministers’ envy from gaining some great advantage over his country’s enemies, forever regrets the loss of the opportunity.
    • He does not only regret it on the public’s account.
    • He laments that he was hindered from doing something which would have added a new lustre to his character, for the view of himself and 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.


2.3.17. In the eyes of ungrateful mankind, failure reduces:

  • the merit of an unsuccessful attempt to do good
  • the demerit of an unsuccessful attempt to do evil

The design to commit a crime, no matter how clearly proven, is never punished as severely as the actual commission of it.

  • Treason is perhaps the only exception.
    • Treason immediately affects the government itself.
    • The government is naturally most jealous of it.
    • 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 others.
      • 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.
  • Therefore in treason, he judges in his own cause.
    • He is often 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 crime’s perpetration or attempt.
        • In many countries, a treasonable plan or conversation, which does nothing, is punished in the same way as the actual commission of treason.
  • With regard to all other crimes, the mere design, with no execution, is:
    • seldom punished at all, or
    • never punished severely.


  • A criminal design and a criminal action do not necessarily suppose the same degree of depravity.
    • Therefore, they should not be subjected to the same punishment.
  • We can resolve to execute many things which we eventually might feel incapable of executing.
    • But this reason can have no place when the design has been carried the length of the last attempt.
  • However, the man who fires a pistol at his enemy but misses, is rarely punished with death by the laws of any country.
    • By the old law of Scotland, an assassin is not liable to be executed if his victim does not die within a certain time.
    • However, mankind’s resentment runs so high against this crime.
      • Their terror is so great for the man who shows capable of committing it.
        • The mere attempt to commit it should be capital in all countries.
  • The attempt to commit smaller crimes is:
    • almost always punished very lightly, or
    • sometimes is not punished at all.
  • The thief is only punished with ignominy if his hand has been caught in his neighbour’s pocket before taking anything.
    • If he took away a handkerchief, he would have been put to death.
  • The house-breaker is not given capital punishment if he has been found setting a ladder to his neighbour’s window but had not gotten inside.
    • 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 cause us to inflict the same punishment on him 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 case, the grief of our misfortune increases it.
  • However, his real demerit is the same in both cases, since his intentions were equally criminal.
    • In this respect therefore, there is:
      • an irregularity in everyone’s sentiments, and
      • 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.


2.3.18. A person might resolve to commit a crime from passion or from bad influences.

  • But if an accident prevents him from doing so and if he has a conscience, he is sure to regard the failure as a great and signal deliverance for the rest of his life.
  • 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.
    • He looks back with terror on the danger to which his peace of mind was exposed, like when a person shudders at the thought of falling over a precipice.


2.3.19. 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 their motives, when they cause extraordinary pleasure or pain.

  • The action’s agreeable or disagreeable effects often throw a shadow of merit or demerit on the agent, even if his intention did not deserve praise or blame
  • Thus, even the messenger of bad news is disagreeable to us.
    • On the contrary, we feel a sort of gratitude for the man who brings us good tidings.
    • For a moment, we look on both of them as the authors of our good and bad fortune.
    • We regard them as if they had really brought about the events they report of.

The first author of our joy is naturally the object of a transitory gratitude.

  • We embrace him warmly and affectionately.
  • We would be glad to reward him for some signal service.
  • By the custom of all courts, the officer who brings the news of a victory, is entitled to considerable preferments.
    • The general always chooses one of his favourites for such an errand.

On the contrary, the first author of our sorrow is just as naturally the object of a transitory resentment.

  • We can scarce avoid looking on him with chagrin and uneasiness.
  • The rude and brutal often vent on him that spleen which his intelligence gives occasion to.
  • Tigranes was the king of Armenia.
    • He struck off the head of the man who brought him the first account of the approach of a formidable enemy.
  • To punish the author of bad tidings in this way 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 is enough 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.


2.3.20. Generally, we:

  • are averse to enter into the unsocial and malevolent affections
  • we never approve of the gratification of the unsocial and malevolent affections

This is unless a person’s malicious and unjust intentions render that person their proper of object.

  • When one man’s negligence unintentionally damages another person, we generally enter into the sufferer’s resentment.
  • We approve of him inflicting a punishment on the offender much beyond what the offence appeared to deserve.


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

  • A person deserves some chastisement if he throws a large stone over a wall onto a public street:
    • without warning those passing by and
    • without regarding where it would fall.
  • A very accurate police would punish it even if it did no mischief.
    • The guilty person 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 one wants.
    • He evidently lacks that sense of what is due to his fellow-creatures.
      • This sense is the basis of:
        • justice, and
        • society.
  • Therefore, gross negligence is, in the law, said to be almost equal to malicious design.*3
    • When any unlucky consequences happen from such carelessness, the guilty person is often punished as if he had really intended those consequences.
    • His conduct was only thoughtless and insolent.
      • It 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.
    • This is excessively severe.
      • But 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 be 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.
    • However in this case, his conduct’s folly and inhumanity would be the same.
      • But still our sentiments would be very different.
    • The consideration of this difference shows us how much the indignation, even of the spectator, is animated by the action’s actual consequences.
    • In cases of this kind, there is much severity in the laws of almost all nations.
      • In cases of an opposite kind, there is a very general relaxation of discipline, as I mentioned earlier.


2.3.22. 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.
  • However, he is not so careful and circumspect in his conduct as he should be.
    • On this account, he deserves some degree of blame and censure, but no punishment.
  • Yet by the laws of all countries, if he causes some damage to another person by this kind of negligence*4, he must compensate it.
    • This is a real punishment which no one would have thought to inflict on him if it weren’t 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, and
    • the damage caused by blamable negligence should be made up by the guilty person.


2.3.23. There is another species of negligence,*5 which consists merely in the lack of timidity and circumspection.

  • The lack of this painful attention, when no bad consequences follow from it is not regarded as blamable.
    • But if it produced bad consequences, it is considered blamable.
  • That timid circumspection which is afraid of everything is never regarded as a virtue
    • It is regarded as a quality which incapacitates for action and business the most.
  • Yet if a person damages another from a lack of this excessive care, he is often obliged to compensate it by the law.
    • According to the Aquilian law, if a man is not able to manage his horse which becomes accidentally frightened and rides down his neighbour’s slave, he must compensate the damage.
    • When an accident of this kind happens, we:
      • think that he should not to have ridden such a horse, and
      • regard his attempt as an unpardonable levity.
    • Without this accident we would:
      • not have made such a reflection
      • regard his refusal of it as the effect of:
        • timid weakness, and
        • a useless anxiety of possible events.
  • The person who accidentally hurts another, seems to have some sense of his own ill desert.
    • He naturally:
      • runs to the sufferer to express his concern, and
      • makes every acknowledgment that he can.
    • If he has any sensibility, he would want to:
      • compensate the damage, and
      • do everything 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 apologize more than any other person?
      • Why should he, equally innocent as any other bystander, be singled out 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.


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