Section 2: The Nature of Virtue

Section 2: the different Accounts On the Nature of Virtue

7.2.1. Virtue is the temper of mind which constitutes the excellent and praise-worthy character.

  • The nature of virtue may be reduced to three classes:
    1. According to some, the virtuous temper of mind does not consist in any one species of affections, but in the proper direction of all our affections.
      • These affections may be virtuous or vicious according to:
        • their objects and
        • how much they pursue them.
      • Virtue therefore consists in propriety.
    2. 7.2.2. According to others, virtue consists in the judicious pursuit of our own private interest and happiness, or in the proper direction of those selfish affections which aim solely at this end.
      • Virtue therefore consists in prudence.
    3. 7.2.3. Another set of authors makes virtue consist in those affections only which aim at the happiness of others.
      • Therefore, disinterested benevolence is the only motive which can stamp the character of virtue on any action.


7.2.4. Virtue must either be:

  • ascribed indifferently to all our affections when under proper government and direction; or
  • confined to some one class of them.
    • The great division of our affections is into the selfish and the benevolent.
  • Therefore, if virtue cannot be ascribed indifferently to all our affections, when under proper direction, it must be confined:
    • to those which aim directly at our own private happiness, or
    • to those which aim directly at that of others.
  • Therefore, if virtue does not consist in propriety, it must consist either in prudence or in benevolence.
  • Besides these three, it is difficult to imagine any other account of the nature of virtue.
  • I shall show how all the other accounts ultimately coincide with some one or other of them.

Words: 280

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