An Essay on the History of Civil Society, Eighth Edition
Adam Ferguson, L.L.D.
Part 6 out of 6
prince, come in aid of his ignorance and incapacity; and these causes
operating together, serve to destroy the very foundation on which his power
is established. Any undisciplined rout of armed men passes for an army,
whilst a weak, dispersed, and unarmed people are sacrificed to military
disorder, or exposed to depredation on the frontier from an enemy, whom the
desire of spoil, or the hopes of conquest, may have drawn to their
The Romans extended their empire till they left no polished nation to be
subdued, and found a frontier which was every where surrounded by fierce
and barbarous tribes; they even pierced through uncultivated deserts, in
order to remove to a greater distance the molestation of such troublesome
neighbours, and in order to possess the avenues through which they feared
their attacks. But this policy put the finishing hand to the internal
corruption of the state. A few years of tranquillity were sufficient to
make even the government forget its danger; and, in the cultivated
province, prepared for the enemy a tempting prize and an easy victory.
When by the conquest and annexation of every rich and cultivated province,
the measure of empire is full, two parties are sufficient to comprehend
mankind; that of the pacific and the wealthy, who dwell within the pale of
empire; and that of the poor, the rapacious, and the fierce, who are inured
to depredation and war. The last bear to the first nearly the same relation
which the wolf and the lion bear to the fold; and they are naturally
engaged in a state of hostility.
Were despotic empire, meantime, to continue for ever unmolested from
abroad, while it retains that corruption on which it was founded, it
appears to have in itself no principle of new life, and presents no hope of
restoration to freedom and political vigour. That which the despotical
_master has sown, cannot quicken unless it die_; it must languish and
expire by the effect of its own abuse, before the human spirit can spring
up anew, or bear those fruits which constitute the honour and the felicity
of human nature. In times of the greatest debasement, indeed, commotions
are felt; but very unlike the agitations of a free people: they are either
the agonies of nature, under the sufferings to which men are exposed; or
mere tumults, confined to a few who stand in arms about the prince, and
who, by, their conspiracies, assassinations, and murders, serve only to
plunge the pacific inhabitants still deeper in the horrors of fear or
despair. Scattered in the provinces, unarmed, unacquainted with the
sentiments of union and confederacy, restricted by habit to a wretched
economy, and dragging a precarious life on those possessions which the
extortions of government have left; the people can nowhere, under these
circumstances, assume the spirit of a community, nor form any liberal
combination for their own defence. The injured may complain; and while he
cannot obtain the mercy of government, he may implore the commiseration of
his fellow subject. But that fellow subject is comforted, that the hand of
oppression has not seized on himself: he studies his interest, or snatches
his pleasure, under that degree of safety which obscurity and concealment
The commercial arts, which seem to require no foundation in the minds of
men, but the regard to interest; no encouragement, but the hopes of gain,
and the secure possession of property, must perish under the precarious
tenure of slavery, and under the apprehension of danger arising from the
reputation of wealth. National poverty, however, and the suppression of
commerce, are the means by which despotism comes to accomplish its own
destruction. Where there are no longer any profits to corrupt, or fears to
deter, the charm of dominion is broken, and the naked slave, as awake from
a dream, is astonished to find he is free. When the fence is destroyed, the
wilds are open, and the herd breaks loose. The pasture of the cultivated
field is no longer preferred to that of the desert. The sufferer willingly
flies where the extortions of government cannot overtake him; where even
the timid and the servile may recollect they are men; where the tyrant may
threaten, but where he is known to be no more than a fellow creature; where
he can take nothing but life, and even this at the hazard of his own.
Agreeably to this description, the vexations of tyranny have overcome, in
many parts of the East, the desire of settlement. The inhabitants of a
village quit their habitations, and infest the public ways; those of the
valleys fly to the mountains, and, equipt for flight, or possessed of a
strong hold, subsist by depredation, and by the war they make on their
These disorders conspire with the impositions of government to render the
remaining settlements still less secure: but while devastation and ruin
appear on every side, mankind are forced anew upon those confederacies,
acquire again that personal confidence and vigour, that social attachment,
that use of arms, which, in former times, rendered a small tribe the seed
of a great nation; and which may again enable the emancipated slave to
begin the career of civil and commercial arts. When human nature appears in
the utmost state of corruption, it has actually begun to reform.
In this manner, the scenes of human life have been frequently shifted.
Security and presumption forfeit the advantages of prosperity; resolution
and conduct retrieve the ills of adversity; and mankind while they have
nothing on which to rely but their virtue, are prepared to gain every
advantage; and while they confide most in their good fortune, are most
exposed to feel its reverse. We are apt to draw these observations into
rule; and when we are no longer willing to act for our country, we plead,
in excuse of our own weakness or folly, a supposed fatality in human
The institutions of men, if not calculated for the preservation of virtue,
are, indeed, likely to have an end as well as a beginning: but so long as
they are effectual to this purpose, they have at all times an equal
principle of life, which nothing but an external force can suppress; no
nation ever suffered internal decay but from the vice of its members. We
are sometimes willing to acknowledge this vice in our countrymen; but who
was ever willing to acknowledge it in himself? It may be suspected,
however, that we do more than acknowledge it, when we cease to oppose its
effects, and when we plead a fatality, which, at least, in the breast of
every individual, is dependent on himself. Men of real fortitude,
integrity, and ability, are well placed in every scene; they reap, in every
condition, the principal enjoyments of their nature; they are the happy
instruments of Providence employed for the good of mankind; or, if we must
change this language, they show, that while they are destined to live, the
states they compose are likewise doomed by the fates to survive, and to
VALUABLE WORKS RECENTLY PUBLISHED, BY ANTHONY FINLEY, _Corner of Chesnut
and Fourth Streets, Philadelphia._
THE THEORY OF MORAL SENTIMENTS; OR, AN ESSAY
Towards an analysis of the principles by which men naturally judge
concerning the conduct and character, first of their neighbours, and
afterwards of themselves,
To which is added,
_A Dissertation on the Origin of Languages._ BY ADAM SMITH, LL.D.
F.R.B. FIRST AMERICAN FROM THE TWELFTH EDINBURGH EDITION.
* * * * *
_Extract from "An Account of the Life and Writings of Dr. Adam Smith, by
Dugald Stewart, F.R.S. Edinburgh."_
(Speaking of Dr. S.'s Theory of Moral Sentiments, he says) "No work,
undoubtedly, can be mentioned, ancient or modern, which exhibits so
complete a view of those facts, with respect to our moral perception, which
it is one great object of this branch of science to refer to their general
laws; and upon this account, it well deserves the careful study of all
whose taste leads them to prosecute similar inquiries. These facts are
indeed frequently expressed in a language which involves the author's
peculiar theories; but they are always presented in the most happy and
beautiful light; and it is easy for an attentive reader, by stripping them
of hypothetical terms, to state them to himself with that logical
precision, which, in such very difficult disquisitions, can alone conduct
us with certainty to the truth.
"It is proper to observe, farther, that, with the theoretical doctrines of
the book, there are every where interwoven, with singular taste and
address, the purest and most elevated maxims concerning the practical
conduct of life; and that it abounds throughout with interesting and
instructive delineations of characters and manners. A considerable part of
it too is employed in collateral inquiries, which, upon every hypothesis
that can be formed concerning the foundation of morals, are of equal
importance. Of this kind is the speculation with respect to the influence
of fortune on our moral sentiments; and another speculation no less
valuable, with respect to the influence of custom and fashion on the same
part of our constitution.
"When the subject of this work leads the author to address the imagination
and the heart: the variety and felicity of his illustrations--the richness
and fluency of his eloquence--and the skill with which he wins the
attention and commands the passions of his readers, leave him, among our
English moralists, without a rival."
TABLE OF CONTENTS.
_Of the Propriety of Action_.
Section I. _Of the Sense of Propriety_.
Chap. I. Of Sympathy.
Chap. II. Of the Pleasure of Mutual Sympathy.
Chap. III. Of the manner in which we judge of the Propriety or Impropriety
of the Affections of other Men, by their concord or dissonance with our
Chap. IV. The same subject continued.
Chap. V. Of the Amiable and Respectable Virtues.
Section II. _Of the Degrees of the different Passions which are
consistent with Propriety_.
Chap. I. Of the Passions which take their origin from the body.
Chap. II. Of those Passions which take their origin from a particular turn
or habit of the Imagination.
Chap. III. Of the unsocial Passions.
Chap. IV. Of the social Passions.
Chap. V. Of the selfish Passions.
Section III. _Of the Effects of Prosperity and Adversity upon the
Judgment of Mankind with regard to the Propriety of Action; and why it is
more easy to obtain their approbation in the one state than in the
Chap. I. That though our sympathy with sorrow is generally a more lively
sensation than our sympathy with toy, it commonly falls much more short of
the violence of what is naturally felt by the person principally concerned.
Chap. II. Of the origin of Ambition, and of the distinction of Ranks.
Chap. III. Of the corruption of our Moral Sentiments, which is occasioned
by this disposition to admire the rich and the great, and to despise or
neglect persons of poor and mean condition.
_Of Merit and Demerit; or of the objects of reward and punishment_.
Section I. _Of the Sense of Merit and Demerit_.
Chap. I. That whatever appears to be the proper object of gratitude,
appears to deserve reward; and that, in the same manner, whatever appears
to be the proper object of resentment, appears to deserve punishment.
Chap. II. Of the proper objects of gratitude and resentment.
Chap. III. That where there is no approbation of the conduct of the person
who confers the benefit, there is little sympathy with the gratitude of him
who receives it: and that on the contrary, where there is no disapprobation
of the motives of the person who does the mischief, there is no sort of
sympathy with the resentment of him who suffers it.
Chap. IV. Recapitulation of the foregoing chapters.
Chap. V. The Analysis of the sense of Merit and Demerit.
SECTION II. _Of Justice and Beneficence._
Chap. I. Comparison of those two virtues.
Chap. II. Of the sense of Justice, of Remorse, and of the consciousness of
Chap. III. Of the utility of this constitution of Nature.
SECTION III. _Of the Influence of Fortune upon the Sentiments of Mankind,
with regard to the Merit or Demerit of Actions._
Chap. I. Of the causes of this influence of Fortune.
Chap. II. Of the extent of this influence of Fortune.
Chap. III. Of the final cause of this irregularity of Sentiments.
PART III. _Of the Foundation our Judgments concerning our own sentiments
and conduct, and of the sense of Duty._
Chap. I. Of the principle of Self-approbation and of Self-disapprobation.
Chap. II. Of the love of Praise, and of that of Praise-worthiness; and of
the dread of Blame, and that of Blame-worthiness.
Chap. III. Of the Influence and Authority of Conscience.
Chap. IV. Of the nature of Self-deceit, and of the Origin and Use of
Chap. V. Of the Influence and Authority of the general Rules of Morality,
and that they are justly regarded as the laws of the Deity.
Chap. VI. In what cases the Sense of Duty ought to be the sole principle of
our conduct; and in what cases it ought to concur with other motives.
PART IV. _Of the Effect of Utility upon the Sentiment of Approbation._
Chap. I. Of the Beauty which the appearance of Utility bestows upon all the
productions of Art, and of the extensive influence of this species of
Chap. II. Of the Beauty which the appearance of Utility bestows upon the
characters and actions of men; and how far the perception of this beauty
may be regarded as one of the original principles of approbation.
PART V. _Of the Influence of Custom and Fashion upon the Sentiments of
Moral Approbation and Disapprobation._
Chap. I. Of the Influence of Custom and Fashion upon our notions of Beauty
Chap. II. Of the Influence of Custom and Fashion upon Moral Sentiments.
PART VI. _Of the Character of Virtue._
Introduction. Section I. _Of the Character of the Individual, so far as
it affects his own Happiness; or of Prudence_.
Section II. _Of the Character of the Individual, so far as it can affect
the happiness of other People_.
Chap. I. Of the order in which Individuals are recommended by nature to our
care and attention.
Chap. II. Of the order in which Societies are by nature recommended to our
Chap. III. Of Universal Benevolence.
Section III. _Of Self-Command_.
Conclusion of the Sixth Part.
_Of Systems of Moral Philosophy_.
Section I. _Of the questions which ought to be examined in a Theory of
Section II. _Of the different Accounts which have been given of the
nature of Virtue_.
Chap. I. Of those systems which make Virtue consist in propriety.
Chap. II. Of those systems which make Virtue consist in prudence.
Chap. III. Of those systems which make Virtue consist in benevolence.
Chap. IV. Of licentious Systems.
Section III. _Of the different Systems which have been formed concerning
the Principle of Approbation_.
Chap. I. Of those systems which deduce the principle of Approbation from
Chap. II. Of those systems which make Reason the principle of Approbation.
Chap. III. Of those systems which make Sentiment the principle of
Section IV. _Of the manner in which different Authors have treated of the
Practical Rules of Morality_.
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