Adam Smith's Simplified Theory of Moral Sentiments, Part 7, Section 4b: Breaches of Moral Rules
Chapter 4b: Breaches of Moral Rules
19Therefore, there were three kinds of breaches of moral duty which:
came before the confessor's tribunal, and
fell under the casuists' awareness.
20Breaches of the rules of justice
These rules are all express and positive.
Their violation is naturally attended with:
the consciousness of deserving punishment and
the dread of suffering punishment from God and man.
21Breaches of the rules of chastity
In all grosser instances, these are real breaches of the rules of justice.
No person can be guilty of them without doing the most unpardonable injury to another.
In smaller instances, they cannot be considered as violations of the rules of justice.
In such instances, they amount only to a violation of exact decorums between man and woman.
However, they are generally violations of a pretty plain rule.
They bring ignominy on the guilty person.
They are attended with some shame and contrition in the scrupulous.
22Breaches of the rules of veracity
The violation of truth is not always a breach of justice, even if it is often so.
Consequently, it cannot always bring external punishment.
Common lying is a most miserable meanness.
It may frequently hurt no one.
In this case, no claim of vengeance or satisfaction can be due to the persons lied to or to others.
But the violation of truth is always a breach of a very plain rule.
It naturally covers the guilty person with shame.
23In young children, there seems to be an instinctive disposition to believe whatever they are told.
Nature seems to have judged it necessary for their preservation that they should put implicit confidence in those who:
care for them in childhood, and
are entrusted with the earliest and most necessary parts of their education.
Accordingly, their credulity is excessive.
It requires long and much experience of mankind's falsehood to reduce them to a reasonable diffidence and distrust.
In grown-up people, the degrees of naiveness are very different.
The wisest and most experienced are generally the least naive.
But men are often more naive than they should be.
They give credit to false tales, when some reflection and attention might have taught him to think as untrue.
The natural disposition is always to believe.
Only acquired wisdom and experience teaches incredulity.
They very seldom teach it enough.
The wisest and most cautious of us frequently gives credit to stories which he himself is afterwards ashamed and astonished to believe in.
24 The man whom we believe is necessarily our leader and director, in the things on which we believe him.
We look up to him with esteem and respect.
From admiring other people, we come to wish to be admired ourselves.
From being led and directed by other people, we learn to wish to become ourselves leaders and directors.
We cannot always be satisfied merely with being admired, unless we can persuade ourselves that we are really worthy of admiration.
We cannot always be satisfied merely with being believed, unless we are conscious that we are really worthy of belief.
The desire of praise and praise-worthiness are very much alike.
Yet they are distinct and separate desires.
The desire of being believed and of being worthy of belief are very much alike too.
They are also equally distinct and separate desires.
25 One of the strongest of all our natural desires seems to be the desire of:
leading and directing other people
Perhaps, it is the instinct on which the faculty of speech is founded.
It is the characteristical faculty of human nature.
No other animal possesses this faculty.
We cannot discover in any other animal any desire to lead and direct the judgment and conduct of its fellows.
Great ambition, the desire of real superiority, of leading and directing, seems peculiar to man.
Speech is the great instrument of:
leading and directing other people's judgments and conduct.
26 It is always mortifying not to be believed.
It is doubly so when we suspect that it is because we are supposed to be unworthy of belief and capable of wilfully deceiving.
The worst offense is to tell a man that he lies.
But whoever seriously and wilfully deceives is necessarily conscious to himself that:
he merits this offense
he does not deserve to be believed
he forfeits all title to that credit from which he alone can derive any ease, comfort, or satisfaction among his equals
The man who imagined that nobody believed whatever he said, would feel as an outcast of society.
He would dread the thought of:
going into society, or
presenting himself before it
I think he would surely die of despair.
However, no one has probably thought this way about himself.
I believe that the most notorious liar tells the fair truth at least 20 times for every time he tells a deliberate lie.
In the most cautious, the disposition to believe prevails over the disposition to distrust.
In those who are the most regardless of truth, the natural disposition to tell it prevails on most occasions over the disposition to deceive.
27 We are mortified when unintentionally:
we deceive other people
when we ourselves are deceived
Frequently this involuntary falsehood is not from any lack of:
the perfect love of truth
It is always a mark of some:
lack of judgment
lack of memory
precipitancy and rashness
It always reduces our authority to persuade.
It always brings some suspicion on our fitness to lead and direct.
However, the man who sometimes misleads from mistake is very different from the person who is capable of willfully deceiving.
The former may safely be trusted on many occasions.
The latter may be very seldom trusted.
28Frankness and openness gain confidence.
We trust the man who seems willing to trust us.
We think that we see clearly the road he means to conduct us.
We abandon ourselves with pleasure to his guidance.
On the contrary, reserve and concealment call forth diffidence.
We are afraid to follow the man who is going where we do not know.
The great pleasure of conversation and society, besides, arises from a certain:
correspondence of sentiments and opinions
harmony of minds.
It coincides and keeps time with one another like many musical instruments
But this most delightful harmony can only be obtained through a free communication of sentiments and opinions.
On this account, we all desire to:
feel how each other is affected
penetrate into each other's bosoms
observe the sentiments and affections which really subsist there
A man exercises a hospitality more delightful than any other when he:
indulges us in this natural passion
invites us into his heart
He open the gates of his breast to us.
No man in ordinary good temper, can fail of pleasing if he has the courage to utter his real sentiments:
as he feels them
because he feels them
It is this unreserved sincerity which renders even the prattle of a child agreeable.
No matter how weak and imperfect are the views of the open-hearted, we take pleasure to enter into them.
We try as much as we can to:
bring down our own understanding to the level of their capacities
regard every subject as how they have considered it
This passion to discover the real sentiments of others is naturally so strong.
It often degenerates into a troublesome and impertinent curiosity to pry into those secrets of our neighbours.
They have very justifiable reasons for concealing them.
On many occasions, it requires prudence and a strong sense of propriety to:
govern this, as well as all the other passions of human nature
reduce it to that pitch which any impartial spectator can approve of
It is equally disagreeable to disappoint this curiosity in its turn, however, when it is:
kept within proper bounds
aims at nothing which there can be any just reason for concealing
A man builds a wall around his breast when he:
eludes our most innocent questions
gives no satisfaction to our most inoffensive inquiries
plainly wraps himself up in impenetrable obscurity
We run forward to get within it with all the eagerness of harmless curiosity
We feel ourselves all at once pushed back with the rudest and most offensive violence.
29 The man of reserve and concealment is seldom a very amiable character.
However, he is not disrespected or despised.
He seems to feel coldly towards us.
We feel as coldly towards him.
He is not much praised or beloved.
But he is as little hated or blamed.
However, he very seldom has occasion to repent of his caution.
He is generally disposed rather to value himself on the prudence of his reserve.
Though his conduct may have been very faulty and sometimes even hurtful, he can very seldom:
be disposed to lay his case before the casuists, or
to fancy that he has any occasion for their acquittal or approbation.
30 It is not always so with the man who has involuntarily deceived from:
precipitancy and rashness
For example, he is ashamed of his own carelessness if he tells false news, even if it is a matter of little consequence.
He never fails to embrace the first opportunity of making the fullest acknowledgments.
If it is in a matter of some consequence, his contrition is still greater.
If any unlucky or fatal consequence has followed from his misinformation, he can scarce ever forgive himself.
Though not guilty, he feels himself to be, what the ancients called, piacular.
He is anxious and eager to make every sort of atonement in his power.
Such a person might frequently be disposed to lay his case before the casuists.
They have generally been very favourable to him.
Even if they have sometimes justly condemned him for rashness, they have universally acquitted him of the ignominy of falsehood.
31 But the man who most frequently consulted them was the man of equivocation and mental reservation.
He seriously and deliberately meant to deceive but wished to flatter himself that he had really told the truth.
They have dealt with him variously.
When they approved very much of his deceit's motives, they have sometimes acquitted him.
Though to do them justice, they have generally and frequently condemned him.
32 Therefore, the chief subjects of the casuists's works were:
the conscientious regard that is due to the rules of justice.
how far we should respect:
our neighbour's life and property
the duty of restitution
the laws of chastity and modesty
What made up:
the sins of concupiscence
the rules of veracity
the obligation of oaths, promises, and contracts of all kinds.
33 The casuists uselessly attempted to direct, by precise rules, what can only be judged by feeling and sentiment.
How is it possible in every case to ascertain by rules exactly:
when a delicate sense of justice begins to run into a frivolous and weak scrupulosity of conscience?
when that secrecy and reserve begin to grow into dissimulation?
how far an agreeable irony may be carried?
when it precisely begins to degenerate into a detestable lie?
what is the highest pitch of freedom and ease of behaviour which can be regarded as graceful and becoming?
when does this freedom first begin to run into a negligent and thoughtless licentiousness?
With regard to all such matters, what would hold good in any one case would scarce do so exactly in any other.
What constitutes the propriety and happiness of behaviour varies in every case with the smallest variety of situation.
Therefore, books of casuistry are generally as useless as they are commonly tiresome.
They could be of little use to one who should consult them on occasion, even if their decisions were just.
Because despite the many cases in them, there are still more varieties of possible circumstances.
It is unlikely that there is a case there parallel to the current one.
A person who really wants to do his duty must be very weak if he imagines that he needs those books.
The style of those writings would not likely to awaken a person, negligent of his duty, to more attention.
None of those books:
animate us to what is generous and noble
soften us to what is gentle and humane
On the contrary, many of them teach us to chicane with our own consciences.
By their vain subtleties, they serve to authorise innumerable evasive refinements with regard to our duty.
They attempted to introduce frivolous accuracy into subjects which do not admit of it.
It almost betrayed them into those dangerous errors.
It rendered their works:
dry and disagreeable
abounding in abtruse and metaphysical distinctions
incapable of exciting in the heart any of those emotions which it is the principal use of books of morality to excite.
34Therefore, the two useful parts of moral philosophy are Ethics and Jurisprudence.
Casuistry should be rejected altogether.
The ancient moralists appear to have judged much better.
They did not affect any such nice exactness in treating of moral philosophy.
They contented themselves with describing generally:
what is the sentiment on which justice, modesty, and veracity are founded
what is the ordinary way of acting to which those virtues would commonly prompt us
35 Something like the doctrine of the casuists was attempted by several philosophers.
There is something of this kind in Book 3 of Cicero's Offices.
Like a casuist, he tries to give rules for our conduct in many nice cases, in which it is difficult to determine where propriety may lie.
From the same book, it also appears that other philosophers attempted the same thing before him.
However, neither he nor they appear to have aimed at giving a complete system of this sort.
They only meant to show how situations may occur, in which it is doubtful whether the highest propriety of conduct consists in observing or in receding from the rules of duty.
36 Every system of positive law may be regarded as an imperfect attempt towards a system of natural jurisprudence or towards an enumeration of the particular rules of justice.
Men will never submit to the violation of justice.
The public magistrate needs to employ the commonwealth's power to enforce the practice of justice.
Without this precaution, civil society would become a scene of bloodshed and disorder.
Every man would revenge himself at his own hand whenever he fancied he was injured.
To prevent the confusion in every man doing justice to himself, the magistrate in all governments:
undertakes to do justice to all
promises to hear and to redress every complaint of injury
In all well-governed states:
judges are appointed for determining the controversies of individuals
rules are prescribed for regulating the decisions of those judges
These rules are generally intended to coincide with those of natural justice.
They do not always do so in every instance.
The constitution of the state is the interest of the government.
Sometimes the interest of particular orders of men who tyrannize the government, warp the positive laws of the country from what natural justice would prescribe.
In some countries, the people's rudeness and barbarism hinder the natural sentiments of justice from arriving at that accuracy and precision which they naturally attain to in more civilized nations.
Their laws are gross, rude, and undistinguishing, like their manners.
In other countries, the unfortunate constitution of their courts of judicature hinders any regular system of jurisprudence from ever being established, even if the people's improved manners can admit of the most accurate system.
In no country do the decisions of positive law coincide exactly, in every case, with the rules which the natural sense of justice would dictate.
Systems of positive law deserve the greatest authority as the records of mankind's sentiments in different ages and nations.
Yet they can never be regarded as accurate systems of the rules of natural justice.
A Standard Global Legal System
37 It might have been expected that the reasonings of lawyers on the imperfections of the laws of different countries, should have:
created an inquiry into the natural rules of justice independent of all positive institution, and
led the lawyers to establish a:
system of natural jurisprudence, or
a theory of the general principles.
This system or theory would run through and be the foundation of the laws of all nations.
The reasonings of lawyers did produce something of this kind.
No one has systematically treated the laws of any particular country without intermixing many observations of this kind in his work.
It was only very recently that any such general system was thought of:
before the philosophy of law was treated of by itself, and
without regard to the particular institutions of any one nation.
We do not find any attempt towards a particular enumeration of the rules of justice among the ancient moralists.
Cicero in his Offices, and Aristotle in his Ethics, treat of justice in the same general way they treat all other virtues.
We might naturally have expected some attempts towards an enumeration of those rules of natural equity which should be enforced by the positive laws of every country, in the laws of Cicero and Plato.
However, there is nothing of this kind.
Their laws are laws of police, not of justice.
Grotius seems to be the first to attempt to give the world a system of those principles which should run through and be the foundation of the laws of all nations.
His treatise of the laws of war and peace, with all its imperfections, is perhaps the most complete work on this subject to this day.
In another discourse, I shall try to give an account of:
the general principles of law and government
the different revolutions they have undergone in the different ages and periods of society in what concerns:
police, revenue, and arms, and whatever else is the object of law
Therefore, I shall not presently enter into any further detail about the history of jurisprudence.
Notes for this chapter
Plato, Republic, Part 4
Aristotle's distributive justice is somewhat different. It consists in the proper distribution of rewards from the public stock of a community. See Aristotle Ethic. Nic. l.5.c.2.
See Artistotle Ethic. Nic. l.2.c.5. et seq. et l.3.c.3 et seq.
See Aristotle Ethic. Nic. lib. ii. ch 1, 2, 3, and 4.
See Aristotle Mag. Mor. lib. i. ch. 1.
See Cicero de finibus. lib. iii.; also Dogenes Laertius in Zenone, lib. vii. segment 84
Arrian. lib. ii.c.5.
See Cicero de finibus, lib. 3. c.28. Olivet's edition.
See Cicero de finibus. lib. i. Diogenes Laert. l, x.
See Inquiry concerning Virtue, sect. 1 and 2.
Inquiry concerning virtue, sect. 2. art. 4. also Illustrations on the moral sense, sect. 5. last paragraph.
Luxury and lust.
Fable of the Bees.
Immutable Morality, l. 1.
Inquiry concerning Virtue.
Treatise of the Passions.
Illustrations upon the Moral Sense, sect. 1, p. 237, et seq.; third edition.