Adam Smith's Simplified Theory of Moral Sentiments, Part 7, Section 2, Chapter 3: Virtue as Benevolence

Chapter 3: Systems which make Virtue consist in Benevolence

The Basis of Benevolent Systems is the Supreme Entity

72The system which makes virtue consist in benevolence is very ancient, but not as ancient as those of the Greeks.

73 According to them in the divine nature, benevolence or love was the sole principle of action.

74This system was much esteemed by many ancient fathers of the Christian church.

The Benevolent System of Dr. Hutcheson

75 Human nature often shows that virtue consists in benevolence.

76 Benevolence gives a superior beauty to benevolent actions.

77 Besides all this, Dr. Hutcheson observed that whenever a seemingly-benevolent action was discovered to have another motive, its merit gets reduced according to that other motive.

78 On the contrary, when seemingly selfish actions are discovered to have arisen from a benevolent motive, its sense of merit is greatly enhanced.

 

79 The casuists had disputes on the righteousness of conduct.

 

80 Since benevolence was the only motive which could bestow virtue on any action, the greater the benevolence evidenced by any action, the greater its praise.

81 Actions which aimed at the happiness of a great community demonstrated a more enlarged benevolence than those which aimed only at the happiness of a smaller system.

82 The perfection of virtue consisted in:

83 Self-love was a principle which could never be virtuous in any degree.

 

84 Dr. Hutcheson totally prevented self-love from being a motive of virtuous actions in any case.

 

85 Such is the account given of the nature of virtue in this amiable system.

 

The Spiritual system focuses on the cause but disregards the effect, just as the Selfish system focuses on the effect but disregarded the cause

86 Beneficence is the supreme virtue.

Prudence, vigilance, circumspection, temperance, constancy, and firmness are inferior virtues.

 

87 Regard to our own private happiness and interest often appear as very laudable principles of action.

88 Casuists frequently used an action's tendency towards a society's welfare as the standard to determine right or wrong.

 

89 Benevolence might be the sole principle of action in the Deity.

 

90 Those three systems place virtue in propriety, prudence, and benevolence.

91 The system which places virtue in obedience to the Deity's will, may be counted:

The question of why we should obey the Deity's will is an impious and most absurd question.

 

92 The system which places virtue in utility also coincides with the system that makes virtue consist in propriety.


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Next: Chapter 4: Licentious systems