Sec 3b: Pride and Vanity

Excessive self-estimation, Pride, and Vanity

6.3.31. In prosperity, the man of excessive self-estimation might appear to have some advantage over the man of correct and modest virtue.

  • The applause of the multitude and of those at a distance, is often much louder in favour of the man of excessive self-estimation than for the modest man.
  • Yet all things fairly computed, the real advantage is perhaps always greatly:
    • in favour of the modest man, and
    • against the man of excessive self-estimation.
  • A man fears no humiliation and dreads no detection if he does not:
    • ascribe to himself any other merit besides that which really belongs to him, nor
    • wishes that other people should ascribe it to him.
  • He is content and secure on his character’s genuine truth and solidity.
    • His admirers might not be many nor loud in their applauses.
    • But he is admired the most by the wisest man who:
      • sees him the nearest and
      • knows him the best.
  • To a real wise man, the judicious approbation of a single wise man, gives more satisfaction than all the noisy applauses of 10,000 ignorant but enthusiastic admirers.
    • He may say what Parmenides said.
      • Parmenides read a philosophical discourse before a public assembly at Athens.
      • He observed that his friends left him, except Plato.
      • He continued to read on and said that Plato alone was audience sufficient for him.


6.3.32. It is otherwise with the man of excessive self-estimation.

  • The wise men who see him the nearest, admire him the least.
  • Amidst the intoxication of prosperity, their sober and just esteem falls so far short of the extravagance of his own self-admiration, that he regards it as mere malignity and envy.
    • He suspects his best friends.
      • Their company becomes offensive to him.
      • He drives them from his presence.
      • He often rewards their services with ingratitude, cruelty, and injustice.
    • He abandons his confidence to flatterers and traitors.
      • They pretend to idolize his vanity and presumption.
  • In the beginning, his character might be somewhat defective, though generally amiable and respectable.
    • But it becomes contemptible and odious in the end.

Amidst the intoxication of prosperity, Alexander:

  • killed Clytus for preferring the exploits of his father Philip to his own,
  • tortured Calisthenes to death for refusing to adore him in the Persian manner, and
  • murdered Parmenio after sending Parmenio’s only remaining son to the torture and the scaffold, on the most groundless suspicions.
    • The venerable Parmenio was the great friend of Alexander’s father.
    • The rest of Parmenio’s sons died in Alexander’s service.
    • Philip used to say that the Athenians were very fortunate to find 10 generals every year.
      • But Philip himself could never find one but Parmenio, in his whole life.
    • Parmenio’s vigilance and attention always gave Philip confidence and security.
    • During mirth and jollity, Philip used to say:
      • Let us drink, my friends.
      • We can drink safely, for Parmenio never drinks.
    • Alexander gained all his victories under Parmenio’s presence and counsel.
      • Without him, Alexander would have never gained a single victory.
    • Alexander left his humble, admiring, and flattering friends in power behind him.
      • They divided his empire among themselves.
      • They killed every survivor after robbing his family and kindred of their inheritance.


6.3.33. In people of excessive self-estimation we see a great and distinguished superiority  above mankind’s common level.

  • We frequently pardon and thoroughly enter into and sympathize with them.
  • We call them ‘spirited’, ‘magnanimous’, and ‘high-minded’.
    • These words all involve much praise and admiration.
  • But we cannot enter into and sympathize with the excessive self-estimation of people whom we see having no such superiority.
    • We are disgusted and revolted by it.
    • We cannot easily pardon or suffer it.
    • We call it pride or vanity.
      • The word ‘pride’ mostly involves a considerable degree of blame.
      • Vanity always involves it.


6.3.34. Pride and vanity resemble excessive self-estimation, as both are modifications of it.

  • In many respects, they are very different from one another.


6.3.35. The proud man is sincere.

  • In the bottom of his heart, he is convinced of his own superiority.
    • Though it may sometimes be difficult to guess on what that conviction is founded.
  • He wishes you to view him as he really views himself.
    • He only demands justice from you.
  • If you appear not to respect him as he respects himself, he is more offended than mortified.
    • He feels the same indignant resentment as if he had suffered a real injury.
    • However, he does not deign to explain the grounds of his own pretensions.
    • He disdains to court your esteem.
    • He affects even to despise it,
    • He tries to maintain his assumed station, by making you know your own meanness instead of his superiority.
    • He seems to wish to mortify your esteem for yourself instead of exciting it for himself.


6.3.36. The vain man is not sincere.

  • In the bottom of his heart, he is very seldom convinced of that superiority which he wishes you to ascribe to him.
  • He wishes you to view him in much more splendid colours than he can really view himself.
  • When you view him in different or proper colours, he is much more mortified than offended.
  • He takes every opportunity to claim that character which he wants you to ascribe to him:
    • by the most ostentatious and unnecessary exhibition of the good qualities and accomplishments which he tolerably possesses, and
    • sometimes even by false pretensions to good qualities which he does not have.
  • Far from despising your esteem, he courts it with the most anxious assiduity.
    • Far from wishing to mortify your self-estimation, he is happy to cherish it, hoping that you will cherish his own in return.
  • He flatters in order to be flattered.
    • He studies to please.
    • He tries to bribe you into a good opinion of him:
      • by politeness and complaisance, and
      • sometimes even by real and essential good offices often displayed with unnecessary ostentation.


6.3.37. The vain man sees the respect given to:

  • rank and fortune and
  • talents and virtues.

He wishes to usurp these respects.

  • His dress, equipage, and way of living all announce a higher rank and fortune than the actual.
  • To support this foolish imposition for a few years, he often reduces himself to poverty and distress.
    • However, as long as he can continue his expence, his vanity is delighted with viewing himself as how he imagines he has induced you to view him.
  • This is perhaps the most common of all the illusions of vanity.
    • This is frequently attempted by:
      • obscure strangers who visit foreign countries, or
      • people from a remote province who visit their country’s capital for a short time.
    • The folly of the attempt is always very great.
      • It is most unworthy of a man of sense.
      • It may not be so great on such occasions and others.
        • If their stay is short, they may escape any disgraceful detection.
          • After indulging their vanity for a few months or years, they may:
            • return to their own homes and
            • repair the waste of their past profusion by future parsimony.


6.3.38. The proud man can very seldom be accused of this folly.

  • His sense of his own dignity renders him careful to preserve his independency
    • If his fortune is not large, he studies to be frugal and attentive in all his expences, though he wishes to be decent.
  • The vain man’s ostentatious expence is highly offensive to him.
    • Perhaps it outshines his own.
    • It provokes his indignation as an insolent assumption of a rank which is not due.
    • He never talks of it without loading it with the harshest and severest reproaches.


6.3.39. The proud man does not always feel at his ease in the company of his equals.

  • He feels less at east in the company of his superiors.
  • He cannot lay down his lofty pretensions.
    • The countenance and conversation of such company overawe him so much that he dare not display them.
  • He has recourse to the humbler company of his inferiors, flatterers, and dependants, which:
    • he has little respect for,
    • he would not willingly choose, and
    • is not agreeable to him.
  • He seldom visits his superiors.
    • If he does, it is to show that he is entitled to live in such company, than for his real satisfaction in it.
  • It is as Lord Clarendon says of the Earl of Arundel.
    • The Earl sometimes went to court because he could only find a greater man than himself there.
    • But he went very seldom, because he found a greater man than himself there.


The Vain Man

6.3.40. It is quite otherwise with the vain man.

  • He courts the company of his superiors as much as the proud man shuns it.
  • He seems to think that their splendour reflects a splendour on those who are much about them.
  • He haunts the courts of kings and the levees of ministers.
  • He gives himself the air of being a candidate for fortune and preferment.
    • In reality, he possesses the more precious happiness of not being one, if he knew how to enjoy it.
  • He is fond of being admitted to the tables of the great.
    • He is more fond of magnifying the familiarity given to him there to other people.
    • He associates himself, as much as he can, with:
      • fashionable people,
      • those who are supposed to direct the public opinion, and
      • the witty, learned, and popular.

The current of public favour is very uncertain.

  • He shuns the company of his best friends whenever public favour runs against them.
  • He is not always very delicate about his means for recommending himself to others:
    • unnecessary ostentation,
    • groundless pretensions,
    • constant assentation, and
    • frequently flattery, though mostly pleasant and sprightly.
      • It is very seldom the gross and fulsome flattery of a parasite.

On the contrary, the proud man never flatters.

  • He is frequently scarce civil to anybody.


6.3.41. Despite all its groundless pretensions, vanity is almost always a sprightly, gay, and very often a good-natured passion.

  • Pride is always a grave, a sullen, and a severe one.
  • Even the falsehoods of the vain man are all innocent falsehoods, meant to raise himself, not to lower other people.
  • To do the proud man justice, he very seldom stoops to the baseness of falsehood.
    • However, when he does, his falsehoods are not so innocent.
    • They are all mischievous and meant to lower other people.
  • He is full of indignation at the unjust superiority he thinks is given to them.
  • He views them with malignity and envy.
  • He often tries, as much as he can, to extenuate and lessen the foundation of their superiority.
    • He seldom forges tales himself to be circulated to their disadvantage.
    • Yet he often takes pleasure in believing them.
    • He is not unwilling to repeat them.
    • He sometimes even repeats those tales with some exaggeration.
  • The worst falsehoods of vanity are ‘white lies’.
  • Those of pride, whenever it condescends to falsehood, are all of the opposite complexion.


6.3.42. Our dislike of pride and vanity disposes us to rank vain and proud persons below the common level.

  • I think we are most frequently in the wrong in this judgment.
    • The proud and the vain man are often a good deal above it, perhaps for the most part.
    • Although they are not near:
      • as the proud man really thinks himself, or
      • as the vain man wishes you to think him
  • If we compare them with their own pretensions, they may appear the just objects of contempt.
  • But when we compare them with what most of their rivals and competitors really are, they may appear quite otherwise, and very much above the common level.
  • Where there is this real superiority, pride is frequently attended with many respectable virtues:
    • truth,
    • integrity,
    • a high sense of honour,
    • cordial and steady friendship, and
    • the most inflexible firmness and resolution.

Vanity is frequently attended with many amiable virtues:

  • humanity,
  • politeness,
  • a desire to oblige in all little matters, and
  • a real generosity in great matters, sometimes.
    • However,  vanity often wishes to display this generosity in the most splendid colours.
  • The French in the last century were accused of vanity by their enemies.
  • The Spaniards were accused of pride.
  • Foreign nations were disposed to consider:
    • the French as the more amiable people, and
    • the Spanish as the more respectable people.


6.3.43. The words ‘vain’ and ‘vanity’ are never taken in a good sense.

  • We sometimes say that a man is the better for his vanity, when talking of him in good humour.
    • It means his vanity is more diverting than offensive.
  • But we still consider vanity as a foible and a ridicule in his character.


6.3.44. On the contrary, the words ‘proud’ and ‘pride’ are sometimes taken in a good sense.

  • We frequently say of a man, that he is too proud, or that he has too much noble pride, ever to suffer himself to do a mean thing.
    • In this case, pride is confounded with magnanimity.
  • Aristotle paints the character of the magnanimous man with many features which were commonly ascribed to the Spanish character in the two last centuries.
    • The magnanimous man:
      • was deliberate in all his resolutions,
      • was slow and even tardy in all his actions,
      • had a grave voice,
      • had a speech deliberate,
      • had a slow step and motion,
      • appeared indolent and even slothful, not at all disposed to bustle about little matters, but to act with the most determined and vigorous resolution on all great and illustrious occasions,
      • was not a lover of danger or forward to expose himself to little dangers, but to great dangers, and
      • was regardless of his own life when he exposed himself to danger.


6.3.45. The proud man is commonly too well contented with himself to think that his character needs any amendment.

  • The man who feels all-perfect, naturally despises all further improvement.
  • From his youth until old age, he commonly feels:
    • self-sufficiency, and
    • an absurd conceit of his own superiority.
  • He dies with all his sins on his head, unanointed, unanealed. (Hamlet)


6.3.46. It is frequently otherwise with the vain man.

  • The desire of other people’s esteem and admiration, for qualities and talents which are the natural and proper objects of esteem and admiration, is the real love of true glory.
    • It is one of the best, if not the very best passion of human nature.
  • Vanity is frequently just an attempt to prematurely usurp that glory before it is due.
    • Your son, under 25 years old, might be vain.
      • But do not despair of his becoming:
        • a very wise and worthy man before he is 40, and
        • really proficient in talents and virtues.
          • He might just pretend to these at present.
  • The great secret of education is to direct vanity to proper objects.
    • Never let him value himself on trivial accomplishments.
    • But do not always discourage his pretensions to really important accomplishments.
      • He would not pretend to them if he did not earnestly want to have them.
        • Encourage this desire.
        • Afford him every means to facilitate the acquisition.
        • Do not be offended even if he sometimes assumes attaining it a little before the time.


6.3.47. Such are the distinguishing characteristics of pride and vanity, when each of them acts according to its proper character.

  • But the proud man is often vain.
  • The vain man is often proud.
  • It is most natural that:
    • the man who thinks too highly of himself should wish that others think more highly of him, or
    • the man who wishes others to see himself more highly than how he sees himself, should see him much more highly than he deserves.

Pride and vanity are frequently in the same character.

  • Their characteristics are necessarily confounded.
  • We sometimes find vanity’s superficial and impertinent ostentation joined topride’s most malignant and derisive insolence.
    • We are sometimes at a loss:
      • how to rank a particular character, or
      • whether to place a character among the proud or the vain.


6.3.48. Men of merit who are much above the common level, sometimes underrate and overrate themselves.

  • Such characters are not very dignified.
    • But they are often far from being disagreeable in private society.
  • His companions all feel at ease with a man so perfectly modest and unassuming.
    • If those companions do not have more discernment and generosity than ordinary, they have seldom much respect.
    • Though they may have some kindness for him.
      • The warmth of their kindness is very seldom enough to compensate the coldness of their respect.

Men of ordinary discernment never rate anyone higher than he rates himself.

  • They say that he seems doubtful himself whether he is fit for such a situation or office.
    • He immediately prefers some impudent blockhead who entertains around his own qualifications.
  • They might have discernment.
    • Yet if they want generosity, they never fail to:
      • take advantage of his simplicity, and
      • assume an impertinent superiority over him which they are by not entitled to.
  • His good-nature might allow him to bear this for some time.
    • But he frequently grows weary when:
      • it is too late, and
      • that rank which he should have assumed, is:
        • lost irrecoverably, and
        • usurped because of his own backwardness, by some of his more forward but less meritorious companions.
  • A man of this character must have been very fortunate in the early choice of his companions if:
    • he is always met with fair justice even from those whom he might not consider as his best friends, from his own past kindness.
  • A too unassuming and unambitious youth is frequently followed by an insignificant, complaining, and discontented old age.



6.3.49. Those unfortunate persons whom nature has formed a good deal below the common level, sometimes seem to rate themselves below it than they really are.

  • This humility appears sometimes to sink them into idiotism.
  • Whoever has taken the trouble to attentively examine idiots will find that their faculties of the understanding are not weaker than in other people.
    • Other people might be dull and stupid, but not idiots to anyone.
    • Many idiots, with no more than ordinary education, have been taught to read, write, and account tolerably well.
    • Many non-idiots have never been able to read, write, and account despite:
      • the most careful education, and
      • having enough spirit to try to learn what was not taught by their early education.

However, by an instinct of pride, they set themselves on a level with their equals in age and situation.

  • With courage and firmness, they maintain their proper station among their companions.
  • By an opposite instinct, the idiot feels below everyone.
    • He is extremely liable to harsh treatment.
      • It can make him angry and furious.
    • But no good treatment, no kindness or indulgence, can ever raise him to converse with you as your equal.
      • If you can bring him to converse with you at all, you will frequently find his answers sufficiently pertinent, and even sensible.
      • But they are always stamped with a distinct consciousness of his own great inferiority.
      • He seems:
        • to shrink and retire from your look and conversation,
        • to feel, when he places himself in your situation, that, despite your apparent condescension, you consider him as immensely below you.
  • Perhaps most idiots are, chiefly from a numbness or torpidity in the faculties of the understanding.
    • But there are other idiots, whose understanding is not more torpid or benumbed than non-idiots.
    • The instinct of pride seems totally lacking in the former and not in the latter.


6.3.50. Therefore, that degree of self-estimation, which contributes most to the happiness and contentment of the person himself, seems also most agreeable to the impartial spectator.

  • The man who esteems himself as he should and no more, seldom fails to obtain all the esteem from others that he himself thinks due.
  • He wants no more than is due to him.
  • He rests on it with complete satisfaction.


6.3.51. On the contrary, the proud and the vain man are constantly dissatisfied.

  • The proud man is tormented with indignation at the unjust superiority which he thinks of other people.
  • The vain man is in continual dread of the shame which, he foresees, would attend the detection of his groundless pretensions.
  • The man of real magnanimity has little regard to the applauses of the multitudes.
    • His extravagant pretensions impose on the multitude when supported by splendid abilities and virtues and by good fortune above all.
      • However, they do not impose on those wise men.
        • He is most anxious to:
          • acquire the esteem of the wise
          • value their approbation
    • He feels that they see through, and suspects that they despise his excessive presumption.
    • He often suffers the cruel misfortune of becoming:
      1. The jealous and secret enemy of the wise
      2. Their open, furious, and vindictive enemy
        • Their friendship would have given him the greatest happiness through his unsuspicious security.


6.3.52. Our dislike of the proud and the vain often disposes us to rank them below their proper station.

  • Yet, unless we are provoked by some particular and personal impertinence, we very seldom treat them harshly.
  • Commonly, we try to acquiesce and accommodate ourselves to their folly for our own ease as well as we can.
  • The man who underrates himself frequently does a great deal more injustice to himself.
    • But, we seldom fail to do such an injustice to him, unless we have more discernment and generosity than most men.
  • He is more unhappy in his own feelings than the proud or the vain.
    • He is also much more liable to harsh treatment from other people.
  • In almost all cases, it is better to be a little too proud than too humble.
    • Some excess in the sentiment of self-estimation seems to be less disagreeable than any defect:
      • to the person and
      • to the impartial spectator.


6.3.53. In any emotion, passion, and habit, the degree that is most agreeable to the impartial spectator is also most agreeable to the person himself.

  • According as the excess or the defect is least offensive to the impartial spectator, so the one or the other is proportionally least disagreeable to the person himself.

Words: 3,669

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