Chap. 5: The Selfish Passions

1.2.32 Our grief and joy of our own fortune makes up the passions which are in between the social and unsocial ones.

  • These passions are:
    • never so graceful as the social passions
    • nor so odious as the unsocial passions.
  • Even when excessive, they are never so disagreeable as excessive resentment.
    • Because no opposite sympathy can ever interest us against them.
  • When most suitable to their objects, they are never so agreeable as impartial humanity and just benevolence.
    • Because no double sympathy can ever interest us for them.

However, the difference between grief and joy is that we are most disposed to sympathize with small joys and great sorrows.

  • The man who suddenly is lifted up into a better life, may be assured that the congratulations of his best friends are not all perfectly sincere.
  • An upstart is generally disagreeable even if he is of the greatest merit,.
    • Envy commonly prevents us from heartily sympathizing with his joy.
    • If he is sensible of this, he will choose not appear elated with his good fortune.
      • He will try to:
        • smother his joy, and
        • keep down as much as he can that elevation of mind naturally inspired by his new circumstances.
      • He keeps the same plain dress and modest behaviour as before.
      • He redoubles his attention to his old friends.
      • He tries more than ever to be humble, assiduous, and complaisant.
        • We most approve of this kind of behaviour because we expect that he should have:
          • more sympathy with our envy, and
          • aversion to his happiness, than we have with his happiness
    • He seldom succeeds with all this.
      • We suspect the sincerity of his humility.
      • He grows weary of this constraint.
      • In a short time, he generally leaves all his old friends behind, except his closest ones who might condescend to be his dependents.
      • He does not always acquire any new friends.
        • The pride of his new connections is as much affronted at finding him their equal, as that of his old ones had been by his becoming their superior.
        • It requires the most obstinate and persevering modesty to atone for this mortification to either.
          • He generally grows weary too soon.
          • He is provoked by the sullen and suspicious pride of his new friends and by the saucy contempt of his old friends.
            • He treats his new friends with neglect and his old friends with petulance.
            • Until at last he grows habitually insolent and forfeits the esteem of all.
  • If human happiness chiefly arises from being beloved, as I believe it does, those sudden changes of fortune seldom contribute much to happiness.
    • Those who advance more gradually to greatness are the happiest.
      • The public sees every step of his progress.
      • Once achieved, his success excites no extravagant joy in the public and thus no jealousy with other people.


1.2.33. However, mankind more readily sympathizes with those smaller joys flowing from less important causes.

  • It is decent to be humble amidst great prosperity.
    • But we cannot express too much satisfaction in all the little occurrences of common life, such as:
      • in the company with which we spent last night
        • in the entertainment we saw,
        • in what was said or done,
        • in all the little incidents of the present conversation,
        • in all those frivolous nothings which fill up the void of human life.
  • Nothing is more graceful than habitual cheerfulness for all the little common pleasures.
    • We readily sympathize with it.
    • It inspires us with the same joy.
    • It makes a happy person see every trifle as something agreeable.
  • Hence it is that youth that so easily engages our affections.
    • That propensity to joy sparkles from the eyes of youth and beauty and animates its bloom.
    • Youth, in the same sex and even the old, creates a more joyous mood than ordinary.
      • They forget their infirmities for a time.
      • They abandon themselves to the past agreeable ideas and emotions they have forgotten.
      • Because of so much happiness, they meet those emotions in their breast like old acquaintances.
        • They embrace them more heartily because of this long separation.


1.2.34. It is quite otherwise with grief.

  • Small vexations excite no sympathy, but deep affliction calls forth the greatest.
  • The man who is made uneasy by every little disagreeable incident will seldom meet with much sympathy, even if he has some reason for it.
    • He is hurt if the cook or the butler fails in their smallest duty.
    • He feels every defect in the ceremony of politeness whether to himself or to others.
      • He takes it amiss that:
        • his close friend did not greet him bid him ‘Good morning’ when they met.
        • his brother hummed a tune all the time while he himself was telling a story
          • He stops humming by the stories of:
            • the badness of the weather in the countryside
            • the badness of the roads
            • the want of company in town
            • the dullness of all public diversions
  • Joy is a pleasant emotion.
    • We gladly abandon ourselves to it on the slightest occasion.
    • We readily, therefore, sympathize with it in others whenever we are not prejudiced by envy.
  • But grief is painful.
    • The mind naturally resists and recoils from it.
      • We would try to:
        • not conceive it at all, or
        • shake it off as soon as we have conceived it.
    • Our aversion to grief will not always hinder us from conceiving it on very trifling occasions.
      • But it constantly prevents us from sympathizing with the grief of others arising from frivolous causes, because our sympathetic passions are always less irresistible than our original ones.
  • There is besides, a malice in mankind, which:
    • prevents all sympathy with little uneasinesses, and
    • makes little uneasinesses in some measure diverting.
      • Hence our delight in:
        • raillery and
        • our friend’s small vexation when he is pushed and teased on all sides.
      • Those who have ordinary good-breeding dissemble the pain from any little incident.
      • Men who are more thoroughly formed to society naturally turn all such incidents into raillery, as they know their companions will do for them.
  • A worldly man habitually considers how everything that concerns himself will appear to others.
    • It makes those frivolous calamities as ridiculous to him.
    • He knows that others will certainly also consider those calamities as ridiculous.


1.2.35. On the contrary, our sympathy with deep distress is very strong and sincere.

  • We weep even at the feigned representation of a tragedy.
  • You can generally depend on the sincerest sympathy and kindest assistance of all your friends if you suffer any calamity, even those of your own fault, such as:
    • poverty,
    • diseases, and
    • disgrace and disappointment.
  • But your friends will make fun of you if your misfortune is not as dreadful, such as if you:
    • have only been a little baulked in your ambition, and
    • have only been jilted by your mistress or hen-pecked by your wife.

Words: 1,155

For corrections or comments, please email

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s