Adam Smith's Simplified Theory of Moral Sentiments, Part 3, Chapter 6: When We Should Solely Have The Sense of Duty

Chapter 6: When the Sense of Duty Should be the Sole Principle of our Conduct; and When it Should Concur with Other Motives

113 Religion affords motives so strong to the practice of virtue

Such an opinion should not be expected to come from any Christian sect.

114 This perhaps cannot be accurately answered.

When should our morals be based on rules and when it should be based on our feeling

1151. According to the morality of the action's underlying feeling

116 Our benevolent feelings prompt us to all those admired actions.


With benevolent and social feelings, it is agreeable to see the sense of duty:

It gives us pleasure to see:


117 The contrary maxim is applied to the unsocial passions.

It is most graceful to see a man who resents the greatest injuries, more from a sense that they deserve resentment, than from his own feeling of actual resentment.


118 The selfish passions hold a middle place between the social and unsocial affections too.

  • This is the difference between the character of a miser and the character of a person of exact economy and assiduity.

    119 It is quite otherwise with regard to the more extraordinary and important objects of self-interest.

    The objects of ambition are those great objects of self-interest which, when gained or lost, changes the person's rank.

    1202. How far our conduct should proceed from the general rules will depend partly on the accuracy of the general rules themselves.

    121The general rules of almost all the virtues are loose and inaccurate.

    The general rules determine what are the offices of prudence, charity, generosity, gratitude, and friendship.


    The general rules are precise with the virtue of Justice

    122 Justice is a virtue, of which the general rules determine with the greatest exactness in all of its required actions.

    The actions required by justice are most properly performed when their chief motive is a reverential regard to those general rules.


    123 The rules of justice may be compared to the rules of grammar.


    124 Sometimes, we may mistake the proper rules of conduct when we most seriously want to act to deserve approbation.

    However, there is still something respectable in the character and behaviour of one who is betrayed into vice by:

    No matter how fatally he was misled by it, he is still more the object of sympathy than of hatred or resentment, with the generous and humane.

    Everyone agrees that the first rule of duty is to obey the Deity's will.

    The tragedy of Mahomet was one of Voltaire's finest.


    125 A person may act wrongly by following a wrong sense of duty.

    During the massacre of St Bartholomew, Catholics were told that it was their duty to kill Protestants.

    It is the same case with all the other passions.

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    Next: Chapter 1: Utility