Section 1: Questions in a Theory of Moral Sentiments

Section 1: The Questions Which Should Be Examined in a Theory of Moral Sentiments

7.1.1. Almost all of the most celebrated and remarkable theories on the nature and origin of our moral sentiments coincide partly with my theory.

  • We also now know the view or aspect of nature which led each author to form his particular system.
  • Every reputable system of morality has, perhaps, ultimately been derived from some of those principles I have unfolded.
    • In this respect, all of them are founded on natural principles.
    • They are all in some measure in the right.
  • But many of them are derived from a partial and imperfect view of nature.
    • So many of them are also in the wrong.


7.1.2. There are two questions in treating of moral principles:

  1. Wherein does virtue consist?
    • What is the tone of temper and tenour of conduct which constitutes the excellent and praise-worthy character?
      • This character is the natural object of esteem, honour, and approbation.
  2. By what power or faculty in the mind recommends this character to us?
    • How does the mind:
      • prefer one tenour of conduct to another?
      • denominates the one right and the other wrong?
      • considers the one as the object of approbation, honour, and reward, and the other of blame, censure, and punishment?


7.1.3. We examine the first question when we consider whether virtue consists in:

  • benevolence, as Dr. Hutcheson imagines, or
  • acting suitably to the different relations we stand in, as Dr. Clarke supposes, or
  • the wise and prudent pursuit of our own real happiness, as has been the opinion of others.


7.1.4. We examine the second question, when we consider, whether the virtuous character is recommended to us by:

  • self-love
    • This makes us perceive that this character in ourselves and others, tends most to promote our own private interest.
  • reason
    • This points out to us the difference between one character and another, in the same way as it does that between truth and falsehood.
  • a peculiar power of perception, called a moral sense, which is:
    • gratified and pleased by this virtuous character
    • disgusted and displeased by the contrary character
  • some other principle in human nature, such as a modification of sympathy, or the like.


7.1.5. I shall begin with the systems formed on the first questions, then proceed to those on the second questions.

Words: 400

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