Adam Smith's Simplified Theory of Moral Sentiments, Part 2, Section 2, Chapter 3: The Utility of this Nature
Chapter 3: The Utility of the sense of justice
Society requires the virtue called Justice which is sustained by the utility afforded by society
15 It is thus that man, who can subsist only in society, was fitted by nature to that situation for which he was made.
Everyone in society needs each other's assistance.
They are likewise exposed to mutual injuries.
Where the necessary assistance is reciprocally afforded from love, gratitude, friendship, and esteem, the society flourishes and is happy.
All its members are:
bound together by the agreeable bands of love and affection, and
drawn to one common centre of mutual good offices.
16 Society will not necessarily be dissolved if:
the necessary assistance does not come from such generous and disinterested motives, and
there were no mutual love and affection among its members.
However, it will be less happy and agreeable.
Society may subsist among different men, as among different merchants, from a sense of its utility, without any mutual love or affection.
No one should owe any obligation or be bound in gratitude to any other.
But society may still be upheld by a mercenary exchange of good offices according to an agreed valuation.
17 However, society cannot subsist among those who are always ready to hurt one another.
The moment that injury begins and mutual resentment and animosity take place:
all the bands of it are broken apart, and
its members are dissipated and scattered abroad by their discordant affections':
A society of robbers and murderers must at least abstain from robbing and murdering one another.
Therefore, beneficence is less essential to society's existence than justice.
Society may subsist without beneficence, though not in the most comfortable state.
But the prevalence of injustice must utterly destroy it.
18 Nature exhorts mankind to acts of beneficence, by the pleasing consciousness of deserved reward.
However, she has not thought it necessary to enforce beneficence by the terrors of punishment if it were neglected.
Beneficence is the ornament which embellishes the building.
It is not the foundation which supports the building.
Therefore, it was sufficient to recommend, but not necessary to impose.
Justice, on the contrary, is the main pillar that upholds the whole edifice.
If it is removed, the great, immense fabric of human society must crumble into atoms.
That fabric which raises and supports us in this world was the peculiar and darling care of Nature.
To enforce the observation of justice, Nature has implanted in the human breast as the great safeguards of society:
that consciousness of demerit and
those terrors of merited punishment which attend the violation of the following:
to protect the weak
to curb the violent
to chastise the guilty
Men are naturally sympathetic.
But they feel so little for those they have no particular connection with, compared to what they feel for themselves.
The misery of a person, who is merely their fellow-creature, is of so little importance to them compared to their own small convenience.
They can hurt him and may have many temptations to do so.
Like wild beasts, they would always be ready to fly on him if this principle did not:
stand up within them in his defence, and
overawe them to respect his innocence.
A man would enter an assembly of men as he enters a den of lions.
The Means Are Naturally Adjusted For The Ends
19 In every part of the universe, we observe that the means are adjusted nicely to the ends which they are intended to produce.
A plant or animal body is contrived to advance nature's two great purposes:
The support of the individual
The propagation of the species
But we still distinguish the effect from the ultimate cause of their motions and organizations.
Digestion, blood circulation, and the secretion of the juices drawn from it, are necessary operations for the great purposes of animal life.
Yet we never:
try to account for them from those purposes as from their efficient causes
imagine that the blood circulates or that food digests of its own accord for the purposes of circulation or digestion
The wheels of the watch are all adjusted for its end purpose of pointing the hour.
All its motions conspire to produce this effect.
If those wheels had a desire and intention to produce it, they could not do it better.
never ascribe any such desire or intention to those wheels, but to the watch-maker, and
know that they are put into motion by a spring.
The spring does not intend to tell the hour as much as the wheels do.
In accounting for the operations of bodies, we never fail to distinguish the effect from the ultimate cause.
But in accounting for the mind's operations, we are very apt to confound cause and effect with one another.
When by natural principles, we are led to advance those ends recommended to us by a refined and enlightened reason, we are very apt to impute:
those ends to that reason
its cause to our sentiments and actions to advance those ends.
We imagine this cause to be the wisdom of man, which in reality is the wisdom of God.
Superficially, this cause seems enough to produce the effects ascribed to it.
The system of human nature seems more simple and agreeable when all its operations are deduced from a single principle.
20 Society cannot subsist unless the laws of justice are tolerably observed.
No social intercourse can happen between men who always injure each other.
It has been thought that this necessity was the reason for the enforcement of the laws of justice by the punishment of its violators.
It has been said that man:
has a natural love for society, and
desires that the union of mankind should be preserved for its own sake, even if he derives no benefit from it.
Society's orderly and flourishing is agreeable to him.
Its disorder and confusion, on the contrary, is disagreeable.
He is sensible too that:
his own interest is connected with society's prosperity, and
the happiness, and perhaps his existence, depends on its preservation.
Therefore, he abhors whatever can destroy society.
He is willing to do anything to hinder it.
Injustice necessarily tends to destroy society.
Every appearance of injustice, therefore, alarms him.
He runs to stop the progress of injustice.
If allowed to go on, it would quickly end everything that is dear to him.
If he cannot restrain it by gentle and fair means, he must beat it down by force and violence.
At any rate, he must stop its further progress.
Hence they say, that he often approves of the enforcement of the laws of justice even by the capital punishment of those who violate them.
The disturber of the public peace is hereby removed out of the world.
Others are terrified by his fate from imitating his example.
21 We frequently confirm our natural sense of the propriety and fitness of punishment, by reflecting how necessary it is to preserve society's order.
This is true when:
the insolence of the violator's injustice is broken and humbled by the terror of his approaching punishment.
the violator ceases to be feared and instead begins to be pitied by the generous and humane.
The thought of what he is about to suffer extinguishes their resentment for the sufferings he has caused.
They are disposed to:
pardon and forgive him, and
save him from that punishment, which in all their cool hours they considered as the proper retribution.
Here they have occasion to ask for the consideration of society's general interest.
They counterbalance the impulse of this weak and partial humanity by the dictates of a humanity that is more generous and comprehensive.
They reflect that mercy to the guilty is cruelty to the innocent.
They oppose their compassion for a person against their larger compassion for mankind.
22 Sometimes too we defend the propriety of the general rules of justice by their necessity to society.
We frequently hear the young and the licentious:
ridiculing the most sacred rules of morality
professing the most abominable maxims of conduct:
sometimes from the corruption,
more frequently from vanity.
Our indignation rouses.
We are eager to refute and expose such detestable principles.
It is their intrinsic hatefulness which originally inflames us against them.
But we are unwilling to:
assign this as the only reason why we condemn them, nor
pretend that it is merely because we hate them.
We think that the reason does not appear conclusive.
Yet why should it not, if we hate them because they are the natural objects of hatred?
But when we are asked why we should not act in such way, the very question supposes that this way of acting is not the natural object of those sentiments.
Therefore, we must show them that it should be so for the sake of something else.
On this account, we generally cast about for other arguments.
Its first consideration is the society's disorder and confusion from the prevalence of licentious practices.
Therefore, we seldom fail to insist on this topic.
23We can easily see the destructive tendency of all licentious practices on society.
But this seldom animates us initially against them.
All men, even the most stupid and unthinking, abhor fraud, perfidy, and injustice.
Everyone delights to see them punished.
But few men have reflected on the necessity of justice for society's existence, no matter how obvious that necessity may be.
24 It is not a regard to society's preservation which originally interests us in the punishment of crimes.
Our concern for the happiness of individuals does not commonly arise from our concern for society's happiness.
We are no more concerned for the loss of a single man because:
this man is a member of society and
we should be concerned for the society's destruction, than we are concerned for the loss of a single guinea, because:
this guinea is a part of 1,000 guineas and
we should be concerned for the loss of the whole sum.
In neither case does our regard for the individuals arise from our regard for the multitude.
But in both cases, our regard for the multitude is compounded and made up of the particular regards which we feel for its different individuals.
When a small sum is unjustly taken from us, we do not prosecute the injury so much from a regard to preserve our whole fortune, as from a regard to the amount that we have lost.
When a single man is injured or destroyed, we demand the punishment of the wrong that has been done to him.
It arises not so much from a concern for society, as from a concern for that injured man.
However, this concern does not necessarily include any love, esteem, and affection that we have for our friends.
It arises from the general fellow-feeling which we have with every man merely because he is our fellow-creature.
We enter into the resentment even of an odious person, when he is injured by those whom he has not provoked.
In this case, our disapprobation of his ordinary character and conduct does not prevent our fellow-feeling with his natural indignation.
Though it is damped it with those who are:
not extremely candid or
have not been accustomed to regulate their natural sentiments by general rules.
25 Sometimes, we both punish and approve of punishment merely for society's general interest, which we imagine cannot otherwise be secured.
Of this kind are all the punishments inflicted for breaches of civil police or military discipline.
Such crimes do not immediately or directly hurt any person.
But their remote consequences might produce a great disorder in society.
For example, a sentinel who falls asleep on his watch, suffers death by the laws of war because such carelessness might endanger the whole army.
This severity may appear necessary and, thus, be just and proper.
When an individual's preservation is inconsistent with the safety of a multitude, it is most just that the many should be preferred to the one.
Yet this punishment, no matter how necessary, always appears to be excessively severe.
The natural atrocity of the crime seems to be so little.
The punishment seems so great.
It is very difficult for us to reconcile to it.
Such carelessness appears very blamable.
Yet the thought of this crime does not naturally excite enough resentment for us to take a dreadful revenge.
A man of humanity must recollect himself.
He must make an effort and exert his whole firmness and resolution, before he can:
inflict it, or
go along with it, when it is inflicted by others.
However, he does not look on the just punishment of an ungrateful murderer in this way.
His heart applauds the just retaliation due to such detestable crimes
He would be very enraged and disappointed if they escaped.
The very different sentiments with which the spectator views those different punishments, is a proof that his approbation of the one is far from being founded on the same principles with that of the other.
He looks on the sentinel as an unfortunate victim who must be devoted to the safety of numbers.
But in his heart, the wise man would be glad to still save him.
He is only sorry that the interest of the many opposes it.
But if the murderer escapes from punishment, it would excite his highest indignation.
He would call on God to avenge that crime in another world, which mankind's injustice had neglected to chastise on earth.
26 We are so unable to imagine that injustice can be punished in this life, that Nature teaches us to hope, and religion authorises us to expect, that it will be punished in a life to come.
Society's order cannot be maintained with such injustice.
Our sense of its demerit pursues it even beyond the grave.
Its punishment there cannot deter the rest of mankind, who know it not, from being guilty of the like practices here.
However, we still think that God's justice still requires that he should avenge the injuries of the widow and the fatherless.
They are here so often insulted with impunity.
Accordingly, in every religion and superstition there has been a Tartarus and an Elysium.