Hume Texts Online


Of Political Society.

M 4.1, SBN 205

HAD every man sufficient sagacity to perceive, at all times, the strong interest, which binds him to the observance of justice and equity, and strength of mind sufficient to persevere in a steady adherence to a general and a distant interest, in opposition to the allurements of present pleasure and advantage; there had never, in that case, been any such thing as government or political society, but each man, following his natural liberty, had lived in entire peace and harmony with all others. What need of positive law where natural justice is, of itself, a sufficient restraint? Why create magistrates, where there never arises any disorder or iniquity? Why abridge our native freedom, when, in every instance, the utmost exertion of it is found innocent and beneficial? It is evident, that, if government were totally useless, it never could have place, and that the SOLE foundation of the duty of ALLEGIANCE is the advantage, which it procures to society, by preserving peace and order among mankind.

M 4.2, SBN 205

When a number of political societies are erected, and maintain a great intercourse together, a new set of rules are immediately discovered to be useful in that particular situation; and accordingly take place under the title of LAWS of NATIONS. Of this kind are, the sacredness of the person of ambassadors, abstaining from poisoned arms, quarter in war, with others of that kind, which are plainly calculated for the advantage of states and kingdoms, in their intercourse with each other.

M 4.3, SBN 206

The rules of justice, such as prevail among individuals, are not entirely suspended among political societies. All princes pretend a regard to the rights of other princes; and some, no doubt, without hypocrisy. Alliances and treaties are every day made between independent states, which would only be so much waste of parchment, if they were not found, by experience, to have some influence and authority. But here is the difference between kingdoms and individuals. Human nature cannot, by any means, subsist, without the association of individuals; and that association never could have place, were no regard paid to the laws of equity and justice. Disorder, confusion, the war of all against all, are the necessary consequences of such a licentious conduct. But nations can subsist without intercourse. They may even subsist, in some degree, under a general war. The observance of justice, though useful among them, is not guarded by so strong a necessity as among individuals; and the moral obligation holds proportion with the usefulness. All politicians will allow, and most philosophers, that REASONS of STATE may, in particular emergencies, dispense with the rules of justice, and invalidate any treaty or alliance, where the strict observance of it would be prejudicial, in a considerable degree, to either of the contracting parties. But nothing less than the most extreme necessity, it is confessed, can justify individuals in a breach of promise, or an invasion of the properties of others.

M 4.4, SBN 206

In a confederated commonwealth, such as the Achæan republic of old, or the Swiss Cantons and United Provinces in modern times; as the league has here a peculiar utility, the conditions of union have a peculiar sacredness and authority, and a violation of them would be regarded as no less, or even as more criminal, than any private injury or injustice.

M 4.5, SBN 206-7

The long and helpless infancy of man requires the combination of parents for the subsistence of their young; and |that combination requires the virtue of CHASTITY or fidelity to the marriage bed. Without such a utility, it will readily be owned, that such a virtue would never have been thought of[15].

M 4.6, SBN 207

An infidelity of this nature is much more pernicious in women than in men. Hence the laws of chastity are much stricter over the one sex than over the other.

M 4.7, SBN 207-8

These rules have all a reference to generation; and yet women past child-bearing are no more supposed to be exempted from them than those in the flower of their youth and beauty. General rules are often extended beyond the principle, whence they first arise; and this in all matters of taste and sentiment. It is a vulgar story at Paris, that, during the rage of the Mississippi, a hump-backed fellow went every day into the Rue de Quincempoix, where the stock-jobbers met in great crowds, and was well paid for allowing them to make use of his hump as a desk, in order to sign their contracts upon it. Would the fortune, which he raised by this expedient, make him a handsome fellow; though it be confessed, that personal beauty arises very much from ideas of utility? The imagination is influenced by associations of ideas; which, though they arise at first from the judgment, are not easily altered by every particular exception that occurs to us. To which we may add, in the present case of chastity, that the example of the old would be pernicious |to the young; and that women, continually foreseeing that a certain time would bring them the liberty of indulgence, would naturally advance that period, and think more lightly of this whole duty, so requisite to society.

M 4.8, SBN 208

Those who live in the same family have such frequent opportunities of licence of this kind, that nothing could preserve purity of manners, were marriage allowed, among the nearest relations, or any intercourse of love between them ratified by law and custom. INCEST, therefore, being pernicious in a superior degree, has also a superior turpitude and moral deformity annexed to it.

M 4.9, SBN 208

What is the reason, why, by the Athenian laws, one might marry a half-sister by the father, but not by the mother? Plainly this: The manners of the Athenians were so reserved, that a man was never permitted to approach the women's apartment, even in the same family, unless where he visited his own mother. His step-mother and her children were as much shut up from him as the women of any other family, and there was as little danger of any criminal correspondence between them. Uncles and nieces, for a like reason, might marry at Athens; but neither these, nor half-brothers and sisters, could contract that alliance at Rome, where the intercourse was more open between the sexes. Public utility is the cause of all these variations.

M 4.10, SBN 208

To repeat, to a man's prejudice, any thing that escaped him in private conversation, or to make any such use of his private letters, is highly blamed. The free and social intercourse of minds must be extremely checked, where no such rules of fidelity are established.

M 4.11, SBN 208-9

Even in repeating stories, whence we can foresee no ill consequences to result, the giving of one's author is regarded as a piece of indiscretion, if not of immorality. These stories, in passing from hand to hand, and receiving all the usual variations, frequently come about to the persons concerned, and produce animosities and quarrels among |people, whose intentions are the most innocent and inoffensive.

M 4.12, SBN 209

To pry into secrets, to open or even read the letters of others, to play the spy upon their words and looks and actions; what habits more inconvenient in society? What habits, of consequence, more blameable?

M 4.13, SBN 209

This principle is also the foundation of most of the laws of good manners; a kind of lesser morality, calculated for the ease of company and conversation. Too much or too little ceremony are both blamed, and every thing, which promotes ease, without an indecent familiarity, is useful and laudable.

M 4.14, SBN 209

Constancy in friendships, attachments, and familiarities, is commendable, and is requisite to support trust and good correspondence in society. But in places of general, though casual concourse, where the pursuit of health and pleasure brings people promiscuously together, public conveniency has dispensed with this maxim; and custom there promotes an unreserved conversation for the time, by indulging the privilege of dropping afterwards every indifferent acquaintance, without breach of civility or good manners.

M 4.15, SBN 209

Even in societies, which are established on principles the most immoral, and the most destructive to the interests of the general society, there are required certain rules, which a species of false honour, as well as private interest, engages the members to observe. Robbers and pirates, it has often been remarked, could not maintain their pernicious confederacy, did they not establish a new distributive justice among themselves, and recal those laws of equity, which they have violated with the rest of mankind.

M 4.16, SBN 209

I hate a drinking companion, says the Greek proverb, who never forgets. The follies of the last debauch should be buried in eternal oblivion, in order to give full scope to the follies of the next.

M 4.17, SBN 210

Among nations, where an immoral gallantry, if covered with a thin veil of mystery, is, in some degree, authorised by custom, there immediately arise a set of rules, calculated for the conveniency of that attachment. The famous court or parliament of love in Provence formerly decided all difficult cases of this nature.

M 4.18, SBN 210

In societies for play, there are laws required for the conduct of the game; and these laws are different in each game. The foundation, I own, of such societies is frivolous; and the laws are, in a great measure, though not altogether, capricious and arbitrary. So far is there a material difference between them and the rules of justice, fidelity, and loyalty. The general societies of men are absolutely requisite for the subsistence of the species; and the public conveniency, which regulates morals, is inviolably established in the nature of man, and of the world, in which he lives. The comparison, therefore, in these respects, is very imperfect. We may only learn from it the necessity of rules, wherever men have any intercourse with each other.

M 4.19, SBN 210

They cannot even pass each other on the road without rules. Waggoners, coachmen, and postilions have principles, by which they give the way; and these are chiefly founded on mutual ease and convenience. Sometimes also they are arbitrary, at least dependent on a kind of capricious analogy, like many of the reasonings of lawyers[16].

M 4.20, SBN 210-1

To carry the matter farther, we may observe, that it is impossible for men so much as to murder each other without statutes, and maxims, and an idea of justice and |honour. War has its laws as well as peace; and even that sportive kind of war, carried on among wrestlers, boxers, cudgel-players, gladiators, is regulated by fixed principles. Common interest and utility beget infallibly a standard of right and wrong among the parties concerned.

M 4.n15

See NOTE [X].

M 4.n15.1, SBN 207

THE only solution, which Plato gives to all the objections that might be raised against the community of women, established in his imaginary commonwealth, is, Καλλιςτα γαρ δη τουτο και λεγεται και λελεξεται, οτι το μεν ωφελιμον καλον. Το δε βλαβερον αισχρον. Scite enim istud & dicitur & dicetur, Id quod utile sit honestum esse, quod autem inutile sit turpe esse. De Rep. lib. v. p. 457. ex edit. Ser. And this maxim will admit of no doubt, where public utility is concerned; which is Plato's meaning. And indeed to what other purpose do all the ideas of chastity and modesty serve? Nisi utile est quod facimus, frustra est gloria, says Phædrus. Καλον των βλαβερων ουδεν, says Plutarch de vitioso pudore. Nihil eorum quæ damnosa sunt, pulchrum est. The same was the opinion of the Stoics. Φασιν ουν οι Στωικοι αγαθον ειναι ωφελειαν η ουκ ετεραν ωφελειας, ωφελειαν μεν λεγοντες την αρετην και την σπουδαιαν πραξιν. Sept. Emp. lib. iii. cap. 20.

M 4.n16

See NOTE [Y].

M 4.n16.1, SBN 210

THAT the lighter machine yield to the heavier, and, in machines of the same kind, that the empty yield to the loaded; this rule is founded on convenience. That those who are going to the capital take place of those who are coming from it; this seems to be founded on some idea of dignity of the great city, and of the preference of the future to the past. From like reasons, among foot-walkers, the right-hand intitles a man to the wall, and prevents jostling, which peaceable people find very disagreeable and inconvenient.

An Enquiry concerning the Principles of Morals (1751, 1777)

prepared by Peter Millican

An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals—commonly known as Hume’s second Enquiry—was originally published in 1751, by Andrew Millar of the Strand, London. A companion work to the first Enquiry, it is a recasting of the moral theory of Treatise Book 3, which preserves most of the spirit of the original while differing significantly in detail. Some of Hume’s most influential and controversial arguments against (what we now call) moral realism and rationalism are removed: a change traditionally considered to be a symptom of shortening and simplifying rather than any change of mind (though this traditional assumption has more recently been questioned). Likewise the associationist psychology of the Treatise—such as the explanation of sympathy—fades into the background, and instead Hume focuses on the attempt to find systematic principles for ordering our everyday judgements of virtues and vices, as manifested in common language. This results in a view with strong elements of both utilitarianism and of virtue ethics, characterising the virtues as “mental qualities, useful or agreeable to the person himself, or to others” (M 9.1).

The second edition of An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals was in the form of volume III of Hume’s four-volume Essays and Treatises on Several Subjects in 1753. Its third edition (though not explicitly labelled as such) was in the 1758 Essays and Treatises, which combined the constituent works into a single volume. In the four-volume 1760 and 1770 editions of the Essays and Treatises, the second Enquiry appeared in volume IV before The Natural History of Religion. In the two-volume editions of 1764, 1767, 1768, 1772, and 1777, it appeared within volume II, after An Enquiry concerning Human Understanding and A Dissertation on the Passions, and before The Natural History of Religion.

Here a fair number of substantive changes been made to the original copytext, which gives the impression of having been checked far less carefully than that of the first Enquiry. (This text is still subject to editorial checking, and more detail will be added here once that process of checking has been fully completed. Feedback from readers who notice any issues with the text will be particularly welcome.)

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