HUMAN DISPOSITIONS IN GENERAL.
I. In the foregoing chapter it has been shown at large.
that goodness or badness can not, with any propriety, be predicated of motives.
Is there nothing then about a man that may properly be termed good or bad,
when, on such or such an occasion; he suffers himself to be governed by such or
such a motive. Yes, certainly: his disposition. Now disposition is a
kind of fictitious entity, feigned for the convenience of discourse, in order
to express what there is supposed to be permanent in a man's frame of
mind, where, on such or such an occasion, he has been influenced by sued or
such a motive, to engage in an act, which, as it appeared to him, was of such
or such a tendency.
II. It is with disposition as with every thing else: it
will be good or bad according to its effects: according to the effects it has
in augmenting or diminishing the happiness of the community. A man's
disposition may accordingly be considered in two points of view: according to
the influence it has, either, 1. on his own happiness: or, 2. on the happiness
of others. Viewed in both these lights together, or in either of them
indiscriminately, it may be termed, on the one hand, good; on the other, bad;
or, in flagrant cases, depraved. Viewed in
the former of these lights, it has scarcely any peculiar name, which has as yet
been appropriated to it. It might be termed, though but, inexpressively, frail
or infirm, on the one hand: sound or firm, on the other. Viewed in the other
light, it might be termed beneficent, or meritorious, on the one hand:
pernicious or mischievous, on the other. Now of that branch of a man's
disposition, the effects of which regard in the first instance only himself,
there needs not much to be said here. To reform it when bad, is the business
rather of the moralist than the legislator: nor is it susceptible of those
various modifications which make so material difference in the effects of the
other. Again, with respect to that part of it, the effects whereof regard
others in the first instance, it is only in as far as it is of a mischievous
nature that the penal branch of law has any immediate concern with it: in as
far as it may be of a beneficent nature, it belongs to a hitherto but little
cultivated, and as yet unnamed branch of law, which might be styled the
III. A man then is said to be of a mischievous
disposition, when, by the influence of no matter what motives, he is
presumed to be more apt to engage, or form intentions of engaging, in
acts which are apparently of a pernicious tendency, than in such as are
apparently of a beneficial tendency: of a meritorious or beneficent disposition
in the opposite case.
IV. I say presumed: for, by the supposition, all that
appears is one single action, attended with one single train of circumstances:
but from that degree of consistency and uniformity which experience has shown
to be observable in the different actions of the same person, the probable
existence (past or future) of a number of acts of a similar nature, is
naturally and justly inferred from the observation of one single one. Under
such circumstances, such as the motive proves to be in one instance, such is
the disposition to be presumed to be in others.
V. I say apparently mischievous: that is,
apparently with regard to him: such as to him appear to possess that tendency:
for from the mere event, independent of what to him it appears beforehand
likely to be, nothing can be inferred on either side. If to him it appears
likely to be mischievous, in such case, though in the upshot it should prove
innocent, or even beneficial, it makes no difference; there is not the less
reason for presuming his disposition to be a bad one: if to him it appears
likely to be beneficial or innocent, in such case, though in the upshot it
should prove pernicious, there is not the more reason on that account for
presuming his disposition to be a good one. And here we see the importance of
the circumstances of intentionality,
consciousness, unconsciousness, and mis-supposal.
VI. The truth of these positions depends upon two
others, both of them sufficiently verified by experience: The one is, that in
the ordinary course of things the consequences of actions commonly turn out
conformable to intentions. A man who sets up a butcher's shop, and deals in
beef, when he intends to knock down an ox, commonly does knock down an ox;
though by some unlucky accident he may chance to miss his blow and knock down a
man: he who sets up a grocer's shop, and deals sugar, when he intends to sell
sugar, commonly does sell sugar: though by some unlucky accident he may chance
to sell arsenic in the room of it.
VII. The other is, that a man who entertains intentions
of doing mischief at one time is apt to entertain the like intentions at
VIII. There are two circumstances upon which the nature
of the disposition, as indicated by any act, is liable to depend: 1. The
apparent tendency of the act: 2. The nature of the motive which gave birth to
it. This dependency is subject to different rules, according to the nature of
the motive. In stating them, I suppose all along the apparent tendency of the
act to be, as it commonly is, the same as the real.
IX. 1. Where the tendency of the act is good,
and the motive is of the self-regarding kind. In this case the motive
affords no inference on either side. It affords no indication of a good
disposition: but neither does it afford any indication of a bad one.
A baker sells his bread to a hungry man who asks for it. This, we see, is
one of those acts of which, in ordinary cases, the tendency is unquestionably
good. The baker's motive is the ordinary commercial motive of pecuniary
interest. It is plain, that there is nothing in the transaction, thus stated,
that can afford the least ground for presuming that the baker is a better or a
worse man than any of his neighbours.
X. 2. Where the tendency of the act is bad, and the
motive, as before, is of the self-regarding kind. In this case the disposition
indicated is a mischievous one.
A man steals bread out of a baker's shop: this is one of those of which the
tendency will readily be acknowledged to be bad. Why, and in what respects it
is so, will be stated farther on. His
motive, we will say, is that of pecuniary interest; the desire of getting the
value of the bread for nothing. His disposition, accordingly, appears to be a
bad one: for every one will allow a thievish disposition to be a bad one.
XI. 3. Where the tendency of the act is good,
and the motive is the purely social one of good-will. In this case the
disposition indicated is a beneficent one.
A baker gives a poor man a loaf of bread. His motive is compassion; a name
given to the motive of benevolence, in particular cases of its operation. The
disposition indicated by the baker, in this case, is such as every man will be
ready enough to acknowledge to be a good one.
XII. 4. Where the tendency of the act is bad,
and the motive is the purely social one of good-will. Even in this case the
disposition which the motive indicates is dubious: it may be a mischievous or a
meritorious one, as it happens; according as the mischievousness of the act is
more or less apparent.
XIII. It may be thought, that a case of this sort
cannot exist; and that to suppose it, is a contradiction in terms. For the act
is one, which, by the supposition, the agent knows to be a mischievous one. How
then can it be, that good-will, that is, the desire of doing good, could have
been the motive that led him into it? To reconcile this, we must advert to the
distinction between enlarged benevolence and confined. The motive that led him into it, was that of
confined benevolence. Had he followed the dictates of enlarged benevolence, he
would not have done what he did. Now, although he followed the dictates of that
branch of benevolence, which in any single instance of its exertion is
mischievous, when opposed to the other, yet, as the cases which call for the
exertion of the former are, beyond comparison, more numerous than those which
call for the exertion of the latter, the disposition indicated by him, in
following the impulse of the former, will often be such as in a man, of the
common run of men, may be allowed to be a good one upon the whole.
XIV. A man with a numerous family of children, on the
point of starving, goes into a baker's shop, steals a loaf, divides it all
among the children, reserving none of it for himself. It will be hard to infer
that that man's disposition is a mischievous one upon the whole. Alter the
case, give him but one child, and that hungry perhaps, but in no imminent
danger of starving: and now let the man set fire to a house full of people, for
the sake of stealing money out of it to buy the bread with. The disposition
here indicated will hardly be looked upon as a good one.
XV. Another case will appear more difficult to decide
than either. Ravaillac assassinated one of the best and wisest of sovereigns,
at a time when a good and wise sovereign, a blessing at all times so valuable
to a state, was particularly precious: and that to the inhabitants of a
populous and extensive empire. He is taken, and doomed to the most excruciating
tortures. His son, well persuaded of his being a sincere penitent, and that
mankind, in case of his being at large, would have nothing more to fear from
him, effectuates his escape. Is this then a sign of a good disposition in the
son, or of a bad one? Perhaps some will answer, of a bad one; for, besides the
interest which the nation has in the sufferings of such a criminal, on the
score of the example, the future good behaviour of such a criminal is more than
any one can have sufficient ground to be persuaded of.
XVI. Well then, let Ravaillac, the son, not facilitate
his father's escape; but content himself with conveying poison to him, that at
the price of an easier death he may escape his torments. The decision will now,
perhaps, be more difficult. The act is a wrong one, let it be allowed, and such
as ought by all means to be punished: but is the disposition manifested by it a
bad one? Because the young man breaks the laws in this one instance, is it
probable, that if let alone, he would break the laws in ordinary instances, for
the satisfaction of any inordinate desires of his own? The answer of most men
would probably be in the negative.
XVII. 5. Where the tendency of the act is good,
and the motive is a semi-social one, the love of reputation. In this
case the disposition indicated is a good one.
In a time of scarcity, a baker, for the sake of gaining the esteem of the
neighbourhood, distributes bread gratis among the industrious poor. Let
this be taken for granted: and let it be allowed to be a matter of uncertainty,
whether he had any real feeling for the sufferings of those whom he has
relieved, or no. His disposition, for all that, cannot, with any pretence of
reason, be termed otherwise than a good and beneficent one. It can only be in
consequence of some very idle prejudice, if it receives a different
XVIII. 6. Where the tendency of the act is bad,
and the motive, as before, is a semi-social one, the love of reputation. In
this case, the disposition which it indicates is more or less good or bad: in
the first place, according as the tendency of the act is more or less
mischievous: in the next place according as the dictates of the moral sanction,
in the society in question, approach more or less to a coincidence with those
of utility. It does not seem probable, that in any nation, which is in a state
of tolerable civilization, in short, in any nation in which such rules as these
can come to be consulted, the dictates of the moral sanction will so far recede
from a coincidence with those of utility (that is, of enlightened benevolence)
that the disposition indicated in this case can be otherwise than a good one
upon the whole.
XIX. An Indian receives an injury, real or imaginary,
from an Indian of another tribe. He revenges it upon the person of his
antagonist with the most excruciating torments: the case being, that cruelties
inflicted on such an occasion, gain him reputation in his own tribe. The
disposition manifested in such a case can never be deemed a good one, among a
people ever so few degrees advanced, in point of civilization, above the
XX. A nobleman (to come back to Europe) contracts a
debt with a poor tradesman. The same nobleman, presently afterwards, contracts
a debt, to the same amount, to another nobleman, at play. He is unable to pay
both: he pays the whole debt to the companion of his amusements, and no part of
it to the tradesman. The disposition manifested in this case can scarcely be
termed otherwise than a bad one. It is certainly, however, not so bad as if he
had paid neither. The principle of love of reputation, or (as it is called in
the case of this partial application of it) honour, is here opposed to the
worthier principle of benevolence, and gets the better of it. But it gets the
better also of the self-regarding principle of pecuniary interest. The
disposition, therefore, which it indicates, although not so good a one as that
in which the principle of benevolence predominates, is better than one in which
the principle of self interest predominates. He would be the better for having
more benevolence: but would he be the better for having no honour? This seems
to admit of great dispute.
XXI. 7. Where the tendency of the act is good,
and the motive is the semi-social one of religion. In this case, the
disposition indicated by it (considered with respect to the influence of it on
the man's conduct towards others) is manifestly a beneficent and meritorious
A baker distributes bread gratis among the industrious poor. It is
not that he feels for their distresses: nor is it for the sake of gaining
reputation among his neighbours. It is for the sake of gaining the favour of
the Deity: to whom, he takes for granted, such conduct will be acceptable. The
disposition manifested by such conduct is plainly what every man would call a
XXII. 8. Where the tendency of the act is bad,
and the motive is that of religion, as before. In this case the disposition is
dubious. It is good or bad, and more or less good or bad, in the first place,
as the tendency of the act is more or less mischievous; in the next place,
according as the religious tenets of the person in question approach more or
less to a coincidence with the dictates of utility.
XXIII. It should seem from history, that even in
nations in a tolerable state of civilization in other respects, the dictates of
religion have been found so far to recede from a coincidence with those of
utility; in other words, from those of enlightened benevolence; that the
disposition indicated in this case may even be a bad one upon the whole. This
however is no objection to the inference which it affords of a good disposition
in those countries (such as perhaps are most of the countries of Europe at
present) in which its dictates respecting the conduct of a man towards other
men approach very nearly to a coincidence with those of utility. The dictates
of religion, in their application to the conduct of a man in what concerns
himself alone, seem in most European nations to savour a good deal of the
ascetic principle: but the obedience to such mistaken dictates indicates not
any such disposition as is likely to break out into acts of pernicious tendency
with respect to others. Instances in which the dictates of religion lead a man
into acts which are pernicious in this latter view, seem at present to be but
rare: unless it be acts of persecution, or impolitic measures on the part of
government, where the law itself is either the principal actor or an accomplice
in the mischief. Ravaillac, instigated by no other motive than this, gave his
country one of the most fatal stabs that a country ever received from a single
hand: but happily the Ravaillacs are but rare. They have been more frequent,
however, in France than in any other country during the same period: and it is
remarkable, that in every instance it is this motive that has produced them.
When they do appear, however, nobody, I suppose, but such as themselves, will
be for terming a disposition, such as they manifest, a good one. It seems
hardly to be denied, but that they are just so much the worse for their notions
of religion; and that had they been left to the sole guidance of benevolence,
and the love of reputation, without any religion at all, it would have been but
so much the better for mankind. One may say nearly the same thing, perhaps, of
those persons who, without any particular obligation, have taken an active part
in the execution of laws made for the punishment of those who have the
misfortune to differ with the magistrate in matters of religion, much more of
the legislator himself, who has put it in their power. If Louis XIV. had had no
religion, France would not have lost 800,000 of its most valuable subjects. The
same thing may be said of the authors of the wars called holy ones; whether
waged against persons called Infidels or persons branded with the still more
odious name of Heretics. In Denmark, not a great many years ago, a sect is said
to have arisen, who, by a strange perversion of reason, took it into their
heads, that, by leading to repentance, murder, or any other horrid crime, might
be made the road to heaven. It should all along, however, be observed, that
instances of this latter kind were always rare: and that in almost all the
countries of Europe, instances of the former kind, though once abundantly
frequent, have for some time ceased. In certain countries, however, persecution
at home, or (what produces a degree of restraint, which is one part of the
mischiefs of persecution) I mean the disposition to persecute,
whensoever occasion happens, is not yet at an end: insomuch that if there is no
actual persecution, it is only because there are no heretics; and if
there are no heretics, it is only because there are no thinkers.
XXIV. 9. Where the tendency of the act is good,
and the motive (as before) is the dissocial one of ill-will. In this case the
motive seems not to afford any indication on either side. It is no indication
of a good disposition; but neither is it any indication of a bad one.
You have detected a baker in selling short weight: you
prosecute him for the cheat. It is not for the sake of gain that you engaged in
the prosecution; for there is nothing to be got by it: it is not from public
spirit: it is not for the sake of reputation; for there is no reputation to be
got by it: it is not in the view: (see B. I. tit. [Offences against Religion])
of pleasing the Deity: it is merely on account of a quarrel you have with the
man you prosecute. From the transaction, as thus stated, there does not seem to
be any thing to be said either in favour of your disposition or against it. The
tendency of the act is good: but you would not have engaged in it, had it not
been from a motive which there seems no particular reason to conclude will ever
prompt you to engage in an act of the same kind again. Your motive is of that
sort which may, with least impropriety, be termed a bad one: but the act is of
that sort, which, were it engaged in ever so often, could never have any evil
tendency; nor indeed any other tendency than a good one. By the supposition,
the motive it happened to be dictated by was that of ill-will: but the act
itself is of such a nature as to have wanted nothing but sufficient discernment
on your part in order to have been dictated by the most enlarged benevolence.
Now, from a man's having suffered himself to be induced to gratify his
resentment by means of an act of which the tendency is good, it by no means
follows that he would be ready on another occasion, through the influence of
the same sort of motive, to engage in any act of which the tendency is a bad
one. The motive that impelled you was a dissocial one: but what social motive
could there have been to restrain you ? None, but what might have been
outweighed by a more enlarged motive of the same kind. Now, because the
dissocial motive prevailed when it stood alone, it by no means follows that it
would prevail when it had a social one to combat it.
XXV. 10. Where the tendency of the act is bad,
and the motive is the dissocial one of malevolence. In this case these
disposition it indicates is of course a mischievous one.
The man who stole the bread from the baker, as before, did it with no other
view than merely to impoverish and afflict him: accordingly, when he had got
the bread, he did not eat, or sell it; but destroyed it. That the disposition,
evidenced by such a transaction, is a bad one, is what every body must perceive
XXVI. Thus much with respect to the circumstances from
which the mischievousness or meritoriousness of a man's disposition is to be
inferred in the gross: we come now to the measure of that
mischievousness or meritoriousness, as resulting from those circumstances. Now
with meritorious acts and dispositions we have no direct concern in the present
work. All that penal law is concerned to do, is to measure the depravity of the
disposition where the act is mischievous. To this object, therefore, we shall
here confine ourselves.
XXVII. It is evident, that the nature of a man's
disposition must depend upon the nature of the motives he is apt to be
influenced by: in other words, upon the degree of his sensibility to the force
of such and such motives. For his disposition is, as it were, the sum of his
intentions: the disposition he is of during a certain period, the sum or result
of his intentions during that period, If, of the acts he has been intending to
engage in during the supposed period, those which are apparently of a
mischievous tendency, bear a large proportion to those which appear to him to
be of the contrary tendency, his disposition will be of the mischievous cast:
if but a small proportion, of the innocent or upright.
XXVIII. Now intentions, like every thing else, are
produced by the things that are their causes: and the causes of intentions are
motives. If, on any occasion, a man forms either a good or a bad intention, it
must be by the influence of some motive.
XXIX. When the act, which a motive prompts a man to
engage in, is of a mischievous nature, it may, for distinction's sake, be
termed a seducing or corrupting motive: in which case also any motive
which, in opposition to the former, acts in the character of a restraining
motive, may be styled a tutelary, preservatory, or preserving motive.
XXX. Tutelary motives may again be distinguished into
standing or constant, and occasional. By standing tutelary
motives, I mean such as act with more or less force in all, or at least in most
cases, tending to restrain a man from any mischievous acts he may be
prompted to engage in; and that with a force which depends upon the general
nature of the act, rather than upon any accidental circumstance with which any
individual act of that sort may happen to be accompanied. By occasional
tutelary motives, I mean such motives as may chance to act in this direction or
not, according to the nature of the act, and of the particular occasion on
which the engaging in it is brought into contemplation.
XXXI. Now it has been shown, that there is no sort of
motive by which a man may not be prompted to engage in acts that are of a
mischievous nature; that is, which may not come to act in the capacity of a
seducing motive. It has been shown, on the other hand, that there are some
motives which are remarkably less likely to operate in this way than others. It
has also been shown, that the least likely of all is that of benevolence or
good-will: the most common tendency of which, it has been shown, is to act in
the character of a tutelary motive. It has also been shown, that even when by
accident it acts in one way in the character of a seducing motive, still in
another way it acts in the opposite character of a tutelary one. The motive of
good-will, in as far as it respects the interests of one set of persons, may
prompt a man to engage in acts which are productive of mischief to another and
more extensive set: but this is only because his good-will is imperfect and
confined: not taking into contemplation the interests of all the persons whose
interests are at stake. The same motive, were the affection it issued from more
enlarged, would operate effectually, in the character of a constraining motive,
against that very act to which, by the supposition, it gives birth. This same
sort of motive may therefore, without any real contradiction or deviation from
truth, be ranked in the number of standing tutelary motives, notwithstanding
the occasions in which it may act at the same time in the character of a
XXXII. The same observation, nearly, may be applied to
the semi-social motive of love of reputation. The force of this, like that of
the former, is liable to be divided against itself. As in the case of
good-will, the interests of some of the persons, who may be the objects of that
sentiment, are liable to be at variance with those of others: so in the case of
love of reputation, the sentiments of some of the persons, whose good opinion
is desired, may be at variance with the sentiments of other persons of that
number. Now in the case of an act, which is really of a mischievous nature, it
can scarcely happen that there shall be no persons whatever who will look upon
it with an eye of disapprobation. It can scarcely ever happen, therefore, that
an act really mischievous shall not have some part at least, if not the whole,
of the force of this motive to oppose it; nor, therefore, that this motive
should not act with some degree of force in the character of a tutelary motive.
This, therefore, may be set down as another article in the catalogue of
standing tutelary motives.
XXXIII. The same observation may be applied to the
desire of amity, though not in altogether equal measure. For, notwithstanding
the mischievousness of an act, it may happen, without much difficulty, that all
the persons for whose amity a man entertains any particular present desire
which is accompanied with expectation, may concur in regarding it with an eye
rather of approbation than the contrary. This is but too apt to be the case
among such fraternities as those of thieves, smugglers, and many other
denominations of offenders. This, however, is not constantly, nor indeed most
commonly the case: insomuch, that the desire of amity may still be regarded,
upon the whole, as a tutelary motive, were it only from the closeness of its
connexion with the love of reputation. And it may be ranked among standing
tutelary motives, since, where it does apply, the force with which it acts,
depends not upon the occasional circumstances of the act which it opposes, but
upon principles as general as those upon which depend the action of the other
XXXIV. The motive of religion is not altogether in the
same case with the three former. The force of it is not, like theirs, liable to
be divided against itself. I mean in the civilized nations of modern times,
among whom the notion of the unity of the Godhead is universal. In times of
classical antiquity it was otherwise. If a man got Venus on his side, Pallas
was on the other: if ∆olus was for him, Neptune was against him.
∆neas, with all his piety, had but a partial interest at the court of
heaven. That matter stands upon a different footing now-a-days. In any given
person, the force of religion, whatever it be, is now all of it on one side. It
may balance, indeed, on which side it shall declare itself: and it may declare
itself, as we have seen already in but too many instances, on the wrong as well
as on the right. It has been, at least till lately, perhaps is still,
accustomed so much to declare itself on the wrong side, and that in such
material instances, that on that account it seemed not proper to place it, in
point of social tendency, on a level altogether with the motive of benevolence.
Where it does act, however, as it does in by far the greatest number of cases,
in opposition to the ordinary seducing motives, it acts, like the motive of
benevolence, in an uniform manner, not depending upon the particular
circumstances that may attend the commission of the act; but tending to oppose
it, merely on account of its mischievousness; and therefore, with equal force,
in whatsoever circumstances it may be proposed to be committed. This,
therefore, may also be added to the catalogue of standing tutelary motives.
XXXV. As to the motives which may operate occasionally
(in the character of tutelary motives, these, it has been already intimated,
are of various sorts, and various degrees of strength in various offenses:
depending not only upon the nature of the offence, but upon the accidental
circumstances in which the idea of engaging in it may come in contemplation.
Nor is there any sort of motive which may not come to operate in this
character; as may be easily conceived. A thief, for instance, may be prevented
from engaging in a projected scheme of house-breaking, by sitting too long over
his bottle, by a visit from his doxy, by
the occasion he may have to go elsewhere, in order to receive his dividend of a
former booty; and so on.
XXXVI. There are some motives, however, which seem more
apt to act in this character than others; especially as things are now
constituted, now that the law has every where opposed to the force of the
principal seducing motives, artificial tutelary motives of its own creation. Of
the motives here meant it will be necessary to take a general view. They seem
to be reducible to two heads; viz. 1. The love of ease; a motive put into
action by the prospect of the trouble of the attempt; that is, the trouble
which it may be necessary to bestow, in overcoming the physical difficulties
that may accompany it. 2. Self-preservation, as opposed to the dangers to which
a man may be exposed in the prosecution of it.
XXXVII. These dangers may be either, 1. Of a purely
physical nature: or, 2. Dangers resulting from moral agency; in other words,
from the conduct of any such persons to whom the act, if known, may be expected
to prove obnoxious. But moral agency supposes knowledge with respect to the
circumstances that are to have the effect of external motives in giving birth
to it. Now the obtaining such knowledge, with respect to the commission of any
obnoxious act, on the part of any persons who may be disposed to make the agent
suffer for it, is called detection; and the agent concerning whom such
knowledge is obtained, is said to be detected. The dangers, therefore, which
may threaten an offender from this quarter, depend, whatever they may be, on
the event of his detection; and may, therefore, be all of them comprised under
the article of the danger of detection.
XXXVIII. The danger depending upon detection may be
divided again into two branches: 1. That which may result from any opposition
that may be made to the enterprise by persons on the spot; that is, at the very
time the enterprise is carrying on: 2. That which respects the legal
punishment, or to other suffering, that may await at a distance upon the issue
of the enterprise.
XXXIX. It may be worth calling to mind on this
occasion, that among the tutelary motives, which have been styled constant
ones, there are two of which the force depends (though not so entirely as the
force of the occasional ones which have been or just mentioned, yet in a great
measure) upon the circumstance of detection. These, it may be remembered, are,
the love of reputation, and the desire of amity. In proportion, therefore, as
the chance of being detected appears greater, these motives will apply with the
greater force: with the less force, as it appears less. This is not the case
with the two other standing tutelary motives, that of benevolence, and that of
XL. We are now in a condition to determine, with some
degree of precision, what is to be understood by the strength of a
temptation, and what indication it may give of the degree of
mischievousness in a man's disposition in the case of any offence. When a man
is prompted to engage in any mischievous act, we will say, for shortness, in an
offense, the strength of the temptation depends upon the ratio between the
force of the seducing motives on the one hand, and such of the occasional
tutelary ones, as the circumstances of the case call forth into action, on the
other. The temptation, then, may be said to be strong, when the pleasure or
advantage to be got from the crime is such as in the eyes of the offender must
appear great in comparison of the trouble and danger that appear to him to
accompany the enterprise: slight or weak, when that pleasure or advantage is
such as must appear small in comparison of such trouble and such danger. It is
plain the strength of the temptation depends not upon the force of the
impelling (that is of the seducing) motives altogether: for let the opportunity
be more favourable, that is, let the trouble, or any branch of the danger, be
made less than before, it will be acknowledged, that the temptation is made so
much the stronger: and on the other hand, let the opportunity become less
favourable, or, in other words, let the trouble, or any branch of the danger,
be made greater than before, the temptation will be so much the weaker.
Now, after taking account of such tutelary motives as have been styled
occasional, the only tutelary motives that can remain are those which have been
termed standing ones. But those which have been termed the standing tutelary
motives, are the same that we have been styling social. It follows, therefore,
that the strength of the temptation, in any case, after deducting the force of
the social motives, is as the sum of the forces of the seducing, to the sum of
the forces of the occasional tutelary motives.
XLI. It remains to be inquired, what indication
concerning the mischievousness or depravity of a man's disposition is afforded
by the strength of the temptation, in the case where any offense happens to
have been committed. It appears, then, that the weaker the temptation is, by
which a man has been overcome, the more depraved and mischievous it shows his
disposition to have been. For the goodness of his disposition is measured by
the degree of his sensibility to the action of the social motives: in other words, by the strength of the influence
which those motives have over him: now, the less considerable the force is by
which their influence on him has been overcome, the more convincing is the
proof that has been given of the weakness of that influence.
Again, The degree of a man's sensibility to the force of the social motives
being given, it is plain that the force with which those motives tend to
restrain him from engaging in any mischievous enterprise, will be as the
apparent mischievousness of such enterprise, that is, as the degree of mischief
with which it appears to him likely to be attended. In other words, the less
mischievous the offence appears to him to be, the less averse he will be, as
far as he is guided by social considerations, to engage in it; the more
mischievous, the more averse. If then the nature of the offense is such as must
appear to him highly mischievous, and yet he engages in it notwithstanding, it
shows, that the degree of his sensibility to the force of the social motives is
but slight; and consequently that his disposition is proportionably depraved.
Moreover, the less the strength of the temptation was; the more pernicious and
depraved does it show his disposition to have been. For the less the strength
of the temptation was, the less was the force which the influence of those
motives had to overcome: the clearer therefore is the proof that has been given
of the weakness of that influence.
XLII. From what has been said, it seems, that, for
judging of the indication that is afforded concerning the depravity of a man's
disposition by the strength of the temptation, compared with the
mischievousness of the enterprise, the following rules may be laid down:
Rule 1. The strength of the temptation being given, the mischievousness
of the disposition manifested by the enterprise, is as. the apparent
mischievousness of the act.
Thus, it would show a more depraved disposition, to murder a man for a
reward of a guinea, or falsely to charge him with a robbery for the same
reward, than to obtain the same sum from him by simple theft: the trouble he
would have to take, and the risk he would have to run, being supposed to stand
on the same footing in the one case as in the other.
Rule 2. The apparent mischievousness of the act being given, a man's
disposition is the more depraved, the slighter the temptation is by which he
has been overcome.
Thus, it shows a more depraved and dangerous disposition, if a man kill
another out of mere sport, as the Emperor of Morocco, Muley Mahomet, is said to
have done great numbers, than out of revenge, as Sylla and Marius did
thousands, or in the view of self-preservation, as Augustus killed many, or
even for lucre, as the same Emperor is said to have killed some. And the
effects of such a depravity, on that part of the public which is apprised of
it, run in the same proportion. From Augustus, some persons only had to fear,
under some particular circumstances. From Muley Mahomet, every man had to fear
at all times.
Rule 3. The apparent mischievousness of the act being given, the evidence
which it affords of the depravity of a man's disposition is the less
conclusive, the stronger the temptation is by which he has been overcome.
Thus, if a poor man, who is ready to die with hunger, steal a loaf of bread,
it is a less explicit sign of depravity, than if a rich man were to commit a
theft to the same amount. It will be observed, that in this rule all that is
said is, that the evidence of depravity is in this case the less conclusive: it
is not said that the depravity is positively the less. For in this case it is
possible, for any thing that appears to the contrary, that the theft might have
been committed, even had the temptation been not so strong. In this case, the
alleviating circumstance is only a matter of presumption; in the former, the
aggravating circumstance is a matter of certainty.
Rule 4. Where the motive is of the dissocial kind, the apparent
mischievousness of the act, and the strength of the temptation, being given,
the depravity is as the degree of deliberation with which it is
For in every man, be his disposition ever so depraved, the social motives
are those which, wherever the self-regarding ones stand neuter, regulate and
determine the general tenor of his life. If the dissocial motives are put in
action, it is only in particular circumstances, and on particular occasions;
the gentle but constant force of the social motives being for a while subdued.
The general and standing bias of every man's nature is, therefore, towards that
side to which the force of the social motives would determine him to adhere.
This being the case, the force of the social motives tends continually to put
an end to that of the dissocial ones; as, in natural bodies, the force of
friction tends to put an end to that which is generated by impulse. Time, then,
which wears away the force of the dissocial motives, adds to that of the
social. The longer, therefore, a man continues, on a given occasion, under the
dominion of the dissocial motives, the more convincing is the proof that has
been given of his insensibility to the force of the social ones.
Thus, it shows a worse disposition, where a man lays a deliberate plan for
beating his antagonist, and beats him accordingly, than if he were to beat him
upon the spot, in consequence of a sudden quarrel: and worse again, if, after
having had him a long while together in his power, he beats him at intervals,
and at his leisure.
XLIII. The depravity of disposition, indicated by an
act, is a material consideration in several respects. Any mark of extraordinary
depravity, by adding to the terror already inspired by the crime, and by
holding up the offender as a person from whom there may be more mischief to be
apprehended in future, adds in that way to the demand for punishment. By
indicating a general want of sensibility on the part of the offender, it may
add in another way also to the demand for punishment. The article of
disposition is of the more importance, inasmuch as, in measuring out the
quantum of punishment, the principle of sympathy and antipathy is apt to look
at nothing else. A man who punishes because he hates, and only because he
hates, such a man, when he does not find any thing odious in the disposition,
is not for punishing at all; and when he does, he is not for carrying the
punishment further than his hatred carries him. Hence the aversion we find so
frequently expressed against the maxim, that the punishment must rise with the
strength of the temptation; a maxim, the contrary of which, as we shall see,
would be as cruel to offenders themselves, as it would be subversive of the
purposes of punishment.
1. It might also be termed virtuous, or vicious. The
only objection to the use of those terms on the present occasion is, the great
quantity of good and bad repute that respectively stand annexed to them. The
inconvenience of this, their being apt to annex an ill-proportioned measure of
disrepute to dispositions which are ill-constituted only with respect to the
party himself: involving them in such a degree of ignominy as should be
appropriated to such dispositions only as are mischievous with regard to
others. To exalt weaknesses to a level with crimes, is a way to diminish the
abhorrence which ought to be reserved for crimes. To exalt small evils to a
level with great ones, is the way to diminish the share of attention which
ought to be paid to great ones.
2. See ch. viii.
3. See ch. ix.
4. To suppose a man to be of a good disposition, and at
the same time likely, in virtue of that very disposition, to engage in an
habitual train of mischievous actions, is a contradiction in terms: nor could
such a proposition ever be advanced, but from the giving, to the thing which
the word disposition is put for a reality which does not belong to it.
If then, for example, a man of religious disposition should, in virtue of that
very disposition, be in the habit of doing mischief, for instance, by
persecuting his neighbours, the case must be, either that his disposition,
though good in certain respects, is not good upon the whole: or that a
religious disposition is not in general a good one.
5. See ch. xii. [Consequences], and Code, B. I. tit.
6. See ch. x. [Motives].
7. The bulk of mankind, ever ready to depreciate the
character of their neighbours, in order, indirectly, to exalt their own, will
take occasion to refer a motive to the class of bad ones as often as they can
find one still better, to which the act might have owed its birth. Conscious
that his own motives are not of the best class, or persuaded that if they be,
they will not be referred to that class by others; afraid of being taken for a
dupe, and anxious to show the reach of his penetration; each man takes care, in
the first place, to impute the conduct of every other man to the least laudable
of the motives that can account for it: in the next place when he has gone as
far that way as he can, and cannot drive down the individual motive to any
lower class, he changes his battery, and attacks the very class itself. To the
love of reputation he will accordingly give a bad name upon every occasion,
calling it ostentation, vanity, or vain-glory.
Partly to the same spirit of detraction the natural consequence of the
sensibility of men to the force of the moral sanction, partly to the influence
of the principle of asceticism, may, perhaps, be imputed the great abundance of
bad names of motives, in comparison of such as are good or neutral: and, in
particular the total want of neutral names for the motives of sexual desire,
physical desire in general, and pecuniary interest. The superior abundance,
even of good names, in comparison of neutral ones, would, if examined, be found
rather to confirm than disprove the above remark. The language of a people on
these points may, perhaps, serve in some measure as a key to their moral
sentiments. But such speculative disquisitions are foreign to the purpose of
the present work.
8. See the case of Duels discussed in B. I. tit.
9. See B. I. tit. [Offences against Religion].
10. Love of the pleasures of the palate.
11. Pecuniary interest.
12. Supra, par. xxvii, xxviii.
13. See B. I. tit. [Confinement].
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