3. Self-Approbation and Sense of Duty

We respond to the emotions of others with gratitude and contempt, but on occasion focus the same judgment upon ourselves - and while "gratitude" and "contempt" are largely reserved for others, we do have a sense of approval or disapproval of our own emotions and their precipitating conduct.

We can never objectively survey our own sentiments and motives, nor trust entirely in our assessment of them. We are, however, far more cognizant of our own motives and have the ability, if not the habit, of being better able to recognize them accurately, though our judgment is always tinged to some degree by narcissism or, on occasion, self-loathing. This engenders as much or more bias than our general assessment of the character of others in interpreting their motives.

Society forms a mirror for the individual - and causes him to recognize in others the things he cannot perceive in himself, and in doing so to begin the task of perceiving them. That is, we may not recognize our actions as evil until we see another person doing the very same thing and feel revulsion at him.

(EN: Smith discusses, for a time, his ideas of man living in isolation from society - but this seems entirely fanciful and moot. Especially given that morality is a social phenomenon, the actions performed in solitude to not bear moral scrutiny. They are effective or ineffective, beneficial or harmful, but they impact no other person.)

Smith suggests that this is similar to our ideas about beauty and deformity. It is only in witnessing our attraction or revulsion to others that we begin to recognize the qualities that cause us to feel thus, and then to account for our own qualities in determining whether we are beautiful or repugnant. This is also tainted by the way that others react to our persons, as their praise and criticism shapes our self-perception: if we are complimented often enough on our eyes, we will begin to believe our eyes to be beautiful.

And in the same manner our first moral criticisms arise from witnessing the conduct of other people, considering how our own conduct matches theirs, and at last considering the censure of applause we receive from others. We may suppose ourselves spectators of our own behavior, though this is speculative and generally done in advance or in arrears rather than in the course of acting.

Our self-assessments also influence the way in which we accept the assessments of others: to feel unworthy of praise dilutes the effect of the praise we receive from others, and the same can be said of contempt. Our happiness is greatest when we are loved and know we deserve to be beloved, and our misery most profound when we are deservedly hated.

(EN: I'm not entirely certain of the degree to which a person's self-assessment serves to mitigate or reinforce the assessment of others. It seems entirely logical, but there are those for whom the judgment of others is deemed more valid than self-assessment. It is not, I think, a particularly healthy perspective but it is one that is not as uncommon as it likely should be.)

Praise, Blame, and Worthiness

Man wishes to be worthy of praise more than to be praised, and dreads being worthy of blame more than being blamed. He may in fact be more motivated by the desire to be worthy of a reaction even when he does not expect the reaction to be granted.

We do not necessarily conform to behaviors for which we witness others to demonstrate approval, but wish to be approved of such as we are, as individuals rather than conformists to social norms. To change one's behavior or character for the sole purpose of winning the approval of others is considered a grave weakness. (EN: This has also likely changed since the author's time - there is greater tendency to seek approval, and less disapproval of those who do so.)

People engage in flattery to win the approval of others, but are often deeply offended when they are the subjects of flattery. To be unjustly praised is uncomfortable - if the other party feels their praise is rightful, it makes us aware of the difference in values as well as having the sense of engaging in deceit by accepting their favor; if the other party is knowingly attempting to flatter, it makes us regard them as deceitful and we feel their guile to be an insult to our intelligence.

Vanity, which is perceived to be a vice, entails a willingness to accept praise even when it is undeserved, and those who are vain are regarded as dishonest and shallow. Yet at the same time, we loathe to be dismissed as vain, as we believe the basis for our self-esteem to be valid. The desire for praise is regarded as contemptible, all the more so in those who seek to be praised for acts that are not at all worthy of praise.

The desire to do what is honorable, even if there is no expectation it will be honored by anyone, is a strong motivating factor. Men have "thrown away their lives" to perform acts of valor that they had no expectation would be regarded or recognized. And to some, the knowledge that others will show no appreciation serves to make an honorable deed seem all the more honorable - as there are no ulterior motives.

On the negative side, we likewise wish to avoid doing that which is improper or shameful. While we dread being (justly) shamed by others, we are reviled at the thought of performing deeds that are shameful even if no-one will discover them. We cannot escape our own judgment, which sickens us more deeply than that of other men.

(EN: I think this has changed much in the present day, in which people will gladly perform the most dreadful deeds if they think others will not know - and some of whom will gladly perform them for the sake of getting attention and being renowned even in a negative way. But quite often people are simply dull and shallow and take the praise and shame of others as their primary motivation, lacking the integrity to value their own judgment.)

There's a rather extended example of an innocent man, unjustly accused and punished. It is an affront to his dignity, and an insult, to be accused at all - but this is because his self-esteem is intact. He may be concerned what other people think of him, and fear the consequences if the falsehood is not discovered and the accusation undone. But what he "knows" about himself enables him to bear their false accusation. Religion serves such men well, as their belief that they will be all the more rewarded in the afterlife for the injustice done to them in the present one.

Even in smaller offenses, those who are self-assured care little for the unfounded accusations and insults, which they regard as inconceivable. An honorable man laughs in the faces of their accusers, mocking their stupidity, but remaining indifferent. Where the actions are conceivable, there is some indignation. It is only where the accusation is well-founded that a man can be made to feel guilt - or more aptly, to recognize that he has just cause to feel guilty.

(EN: Again, my sense is that Smith is considering the ideal of a person of strong character. Those who are weak are more deeply influenced by others, and feel guilt or something akin to it at the mere accusation, as he values the opinions of others more than his own.)

There follows some consideration of the vanity borne of ignorance, or perhaps merely of experience. The amateur poet and novice painter has an exaggerated level of pride in their meager skills, likely because they recognize that their skills have developed greatly during their learning experience. In much the same way an individual who hasn't done much good or evil feels an exaggerated sense of pride or guilt from even the most minor act of heroism or villainy they may perform. That an act constitutes the most heroic thing he has ever done swells his breast, even if it is not very heroic.

This tendency is particularly pronounced in areas of endeavor in which success lacks functional proof. A carpenter may take pride in producing a table that does not collapse (functional success), but when an artist creates a painting there is no test that can determine whether it really is a beautiful work of art. And so it is in moral matters as well: those actions that accomplish a result that is capable of being assessed can easily be defined as good or evil, but those that do not accomplish a result are difficult to assign and prone to subjective evaluations.

And so it follows that what is praiseworthy but receives no praise falls into the category of moral qualities that do not yield to an objective assessment. Especially when a man refuses temptation due to his moral character, the functional value of "not doing" something cannot be objectively measured, and at best subjectively imagined what might had occurred had he failed to resist temptation.

Very few men can be completely self-assured of their own meritorious qualities, until they have received justified praise to validate their self-perceptions. Likewise, a man cannot completely accept that he lacks merit, or is contemptible, except for the contempt of others. The degree to which men feel the need others to validate their self-image may vary considerably - some seem entirely immune to it, others seem to crave it and value it above their own assessment. The latter are generally regarded as vain and manipulable, and the former as arrogant and incorrigible. Neither is the degree to which praise and criticism are desired equal - some may seem indifferent to praise but mortified by criticism.

Smith suggests men are naturally inclined to warm to praise and shrink from criticism, but the wise man does this in moderation - to judge the value of the judgment of others rather than accept it without consideration. It is also wise to consider the agendas others have in giving praise or criticism to others, and what they may be attempting to achieve for themselves.

There is no impartial opinion, not even our own, and as such there must be a careful balance between the degree to which we accept the judge within and the judge without, and reconcile their disagreements with a careful process of thought. But ultimately, any pride or dignity we feel is the result of this internal process - when we are affected by insult from without, it is because we have chosen to accept rather than disregard it. And the same can be said of praise, which is all the more dangerous because we are inclined to accept praise without reservation.

The Influences of Authority and Conscience

The degree to which a man is contented with the approval of his own conscience or requires the praise of other men varies widely, though Smith reckons that both must be present to some degree. While his culture favored self-confidence, too much of it can lead a man to be unsociable.

Not all experiences are equal, as some have greater magnitude than others. He speaks of vision as a metaphor: an object may seem to be large because it truly is, or merely because it is very close to the eye, or there may be a lens that magnifies it. Likewise, the emotions we feel as the result of sensory input may seem large because they are, because they are "close" to us, or because they are artificially magnified. And it is in the same way foolish of a man to shrink in horror of a "giant" fly that has lighted on his spectacles.

Our experience in the distant past, or those experience we anticipate in future, are less influential on our emotional state than those of the immediate present and the very recent past/future, which appear larger by magnitude due to their proximity.

Unusual experiences also have greater magnitude, as the little joys and disappointments of everyday life seem to be part of normality, and men can become accustomed to them - ungrateful for the usual conveniences of everyday life and unaffected by its usual tragedies.

(EN: Here, reflect upon the unusual instances of those whose daily lives include what would seem to be extremes of emotion: the staff at a funeral whom who are daily surrounded by grief, or that at a wedding chapel who are daily surrounded by joy. There are many professions that dampen emotional reaction in this manner.)

We also have greater sympathy to those who are "close" to us. This may pertain to physical distance - if a village in China is razed, those in Europe barely take notice as the inhabits are strangers whom they never met and are perceived to have little impact. It also pertains to the benefit we receive from others - such that a man may be unmoved should "a tailor" perish, but distressed to some degree if it were "his tailor" who has expired. And naturally, any small convenience to oneself is of greater concern than the tragedy that may befall someone else, however well we know or depend upon them.

Some may take, or at least feign, concern for the welfare of others - but our most immediate feelings are always selfish. This is often criticized, but likely functional because there is a limit to the power of man to have a positive influence - he is not omnipotent and cannot tend to the welfare of all the world. That he should see to himself first, his family afterward, his neighbor afterward, his countryman afterward, etc. is practical - as if each man took good care of himself and his family, there would be little need for assistance of others.

And again, we regard as noble those who are willing to take hardships on himself for the welfare of others - and likely encourage this behavior with the hope and expectations that we may be the personal benefactors of his generosity. Even the demand for altruism is inherently selfish. But again, this has its limits: a man who accepts too much misfortune for the trifling convenience of others is foolish.

When a man's happiness or misery depends on the actions of others, he is their servant and can be easily manipulated. When he cares not at all for the actions of others, he becomes a tyrant. Those who offer moral advice vary in their opinion of what constitutes a healthy balance.

It is generally accepted that an individual should not pursue his agenda if it entails doing injury to others. Where the injury to one clearly exceeds the benefit to another there is little room for argument. Where they are imbalance, or where the injury is less than the benefit, argument arises as to whether it is worthwhile in aggregate.

(EN: This overlooks the assessment of injury and benefit, particularly when the two are not quantifiable - and even when they are, whether quantification is realistic or at all applicable.)

Smith suggests that the capacity of one party to bear a loss should not figure into the moral assessment - to steal or defraud a person is wrong, even if that person is wealthy enough to bear the loss. (EN: some would argue that this mitigates the crime, or even in some instances justifies it, though I'm inclined to agree with Smith's position - that a wound will heal does not justify doing injury.)

He also suggests that there is no imperative upon man to be proactive in serving the interests of others. It is a reasonable expectation that a man will serve his agenda, and that he should take care to avoid harming others in doing so. But it is not a reasonable expectation that a man will go out of his way to help others in all but the severest of situations. (EN: there is some argument over how "severe" a person's misfortune may be to justify or even require others to render aid.)

Smith regards the balance between self and others to be "the hardest of all the lessons of morality" and feels that many philosophers tend to go to extremes.

The "whining and melancholy moralists" who demand that we should be unhappy so long as anyone is unhappy place far too much obligation, as there will always be unhappiness and man is not omnipotent in this regard. Moreover, there are many who would take great advantage of sympathy by feigning perpetual unhappiness.

On the opposite extreme are those who preach a callus indifference to our fellow man and the belief that suffering is justly meted out by mystical forces to correct the character of others, who will fail to obey these divine signals if someone intervenes in their suffering. Without some concern for others, society would fail to provide security for its members, which is among the chief benefits of civilized existence. Each man is subject to misfortune, and in order to have the assistance of others in his time of need, he must be willing to render assistance to them in theirs.

(EN: He saws this back and forth quite a while, and I doubt the matter can be resolved. The conflict between individualism and collectivism is a distinguishing mark of cultures, but is seldom ever settled to anyone's full satisfaction.)

It has already been observed that we have greater compassion emotions that originate from the mind than those that originate from the body - our reaction to witnessing physical harm is strong but short-lived and outside of traumatic situations it is expected that individuals should come to terms with their somatic conditions. It is likewise for physical circumstances - the mere lack of wealth excites little compassion, and more often contempt for the person who has failed to take the necessary actions to suffice for their own needs.

The reaction to poverty is not one of commiseration, but avoidance, and beggars are despised more than pitied. While we can be sympathetic to those who have suffered misfortune, we also recognize that persistent poverty is the consequence of persistent misconduct. It is expected that men will recover from misfortune in time, and their failure to do so is a failure of character.

Tolerance of the emotions of others in regard to their ongoing circumstances depends greatly upon their age and experience. A mature adult is expected to be of moderate temperament, accustomed to his lot in life whatsoever it should be. A young man is expected to be more ambitious but less capable of achieving his ambitions on his own. A very young child is not expected to have any self-control whatsoever, and is utterly dependent on a parent to care for it, and as such uses his emotion to signal its need to be cared for - and gradually, as childhood progresses, to become more self-sufficient.

Experience is likewise a factor: a young man overreacts to an inconvenience as if it is the worst thing that has ever happened to him in his entire life ... because it likely is. A more experienced man has experienced suffering on many occasions and can contextualize any new experience in light of the old. His present experience is not as negative as his previous one, and merits little alarm - and even if it is worse, he remembers that he was able to withstand it before and has the skills to cope with it again.

The same can be said of triumph as tragedy. A poor man may rejoice enormously at a windfall of ten pounds, but a rich man sees it as a trifle. An inexperienced artist is dazzled with his mediocre creations, whereas a more seasoned one is less elated and may even have some disappointment at producing work of the same quality.

Another expectation is that men will attempt to conceal rather than show off their weaknesses: a man who is sick, when visited by a friend (or more still b a stranger) will bear up to demonstrate his capability to cope with his condition. Proper deportment is to bear suffering with grace, and this is expected in all but the most extreme circumstances - and those who can maintain their composure during extreme duress are regarded as heroic.

Smith reckons that this is considered to be proper because a person's emotions at his own misfortune match those of others, who are not particularly concerned for his welfare. While he may feel the pain of his own injury, others do not feel it and do not sense a need for distress - and by showing little concern for himself, a man matches the emotions of others and does not unduly perturb them.

When an individual is weak, particularly when they are aggrieved, it is considered proper protocol for all but their most intimate friends to shun their company. A person may display their sorrow to those who are familiar because they are familiar enough to recognize that sorrow is not their constant state, and to forgive them their weakness. But in the company of strangers who do not know them well, they are unable to let themselves go, to purge themselves of their grief.

The degree to which a man takes pride in his self-control is also proportionate to the degree of self-control that is required by a given situation. A man who has merely scratched his finger does not applaud himself much for maintaining his composure in the face of such a paltry misfortune. A man who has lost his leg by a cannon shot takes great pride in his ability to maintain his composure through the pain and panic of such a trauma.

Smith posits that a man who has pride in himself cannot be altogether overcome by misery, and whatever criticisms come his way there remains within him a measure of self-assurance that enables him to persevere. He perseveres through hardship and, while daunted by the difficulty of the actions he must take, never doubts in his ability to ultimately overcome them.

"Agony can never be permanent," and even a person with a permanent disability, such as a wooden leg, adapts to his condition, to have an acceptance of his limitations, but a realistic one: he recognizes there is much he can still do in his condition, and focuses his attention on achieving what he can rather than regretting what he cannot. "Happiness consists in tranquility and enjoyment." Tranquility is the acceptance of one's permanent situation, whatever it may be.

Our emotional state is focused on novelties, rather than ongoing conditions. A poor man becomes inured to his poverty and a rich man inured to his wealth. It is only when there is a change that we take notice, and if the change has long-lasting consequences, then the changed state becomes our new normality and the conditions taken for granted.

Our compassion to others also follows in the same way: when misfortune befalls a neighbor, we feel pity for his sorrow, but this fades over time and we accept his changed condition as his normal state, and expect him to do the same.

Smith also suggests that the ability to feel emotion and the ability to sympathize with others' emotions are linked - because emotions are reactions. If a man experiences little pleasure in a good meal, he is unable to understand why anyone else would do so - he doesn't understand their reaction, and likely considers it to be improper that they should be having an emotional reaction at all.

Thus, those who have suffered hardship themselves are more likely to be sympathetic to the suffering of others in the face of hardship. The rich man, who has never known poverty, has less inclination to give alms than the man of modest means who has known poverty and can sympathize with those who suffer it.

(EN: This does not necessarily translate into the same action for everyone. The man who has overcome hardship may be more sympathetic, but he also recognizes that he has overcome his hardship. And if he has raised himself out of misery without assistance from others, he sees little need to give assistance to others who are in the same situation - believing that if he could overcome it, so should anyone else.)

He briefly considers human achievement. A man who is unperturbed is inclined to intellectual pursuits, as he is not distracted by practical matters. A man who suffers hardships is inclined to more mundane activities to address his situation, and feels he hasn't the leisure for intellectual pursuits. As such, the "golden age" of cultures occur when the material needs of men in general are well met and they have the leisure to pursue philosophy and the arts - but in times of hardship men are most inclined to matters of production, and innovate in that manner. This seems entirely justified and proper.

The Nature of Self-Deceit

Ideally, the manner in which we assess our own character should be fair and equal to the manner in which we would assess the character of another person - but things are not always thus. Most men tend to be too forgiving of themselves, and some too little. While we should be aware of our own intentions, far better than knowing the intent of others, we are biased and can be quite unobservant.

A decision to act is assessed by the intent of the actor prior to taking action. When a person takes action, his eagerness to act will often prevent him from considering his motives - or lead him to pervert his motives to the cause. The more passionately we experience an emotion, the less reason we employ and the less we can trust in the objectivity of any reason we might attempt to employ.

After an action is taken, and the consequences are known, we can more coolly speculate to what our motives must have been, and can attempt to be more objective. But even then, there is a bias that will lead most men to sanctify their action and contrive positive motives even when they were absent prior to taking the action. It is "disagreeable to think ill of ourselves" and we will pointedly ignore evidence of our own faults and misdeeds.

Smith regards self-deceit as a "fatal weakness of mankind" that often prevents us from having a realistic perception of ourselves - and more importantly, it prevents us from learning from our mistakes and correcting our way of thinking. A wise man recognizes the need to be stern with himself - to avoid justifying past behavior as a means to take lessons from it.

Our general rules for morality are often formed by observing the behaviors of others, in reality or in literature, to decide what is desirable or contemptible in ourselves. But once we have formed this general framework, we begin to expect others to obey our own personal code of morality. These rules also form standards, which are less flexible than our judgments of the moment that enable us to consider our own behavior in a more consistent manner.

The Influence and Authority of Rules of Morality

Adherence to the general rules of conduct is called "sense of duty," and it is this sense that keeps many men rom behaving decently thought the whole of their lives - even in instances where there is no expectation of reward or punishment from any external source.

There are instances in which men act in a manner than is unnatural to make an impression on others, which is sufficient to keep their behavior in check but stems from a disingenuous motive. But on most occasions, men behave according to their natural inclination - not because they have any ulterior goal or motive, but because it is their nature to be themselves. In this sense, a person's sense of duty is not onerous. (EN: And so it follows that when duty becomes onerous, we should consider our motives.)

A man treats his friends well not because he wishes to gain something specific from them, but out of a reverence and because he values his association with them. We have a duty to be benevolent to those people whose character we respect, in reward for the effort of maintaining their character. (EN: And to extrapolate, the way we treat everyone, including strangers and enemies, follows the same principle, though our assessment of their character is often biased and inaccurate.)

It is adherence to the rules of conduct that gives a man integrity, and our knowledge of his personal rules that makes him seem dependable: we can accurately predict what he will do in a given situation, and take a sense of comfort and safety in the predictability of his action. And in this sense, a person's integrity and predictability are what cause others to consider him a man of honor, rather than a worthless person.

We revile inconsistent people, even more than those whom we despise. A despicable man can be counted on to behave in a despicable manner, and knowing such enables us to avoid him rather than trust in him. That is, we expect a dishonest man to lie and choose not to believe him - and if we are deceived, our frustration is with ourselves for having believed him in spite of our knowledge of his poor character.

There is some manner of consistency in the character of men - people have moods, or temporary states of mind that cause them to deviate from the expected path. We must also acknowledge that our own moods impact others: our own temporary mental state may cause us to find a friend to be disagreeable, though his behavior is consistent. Tolerating bad conduct to some degree is necessary to preserving society - as not all men are at their best in all moments.

There's a mention of religion as an institution that provides a ready-made set of rules, and an expectation that those who adhere to a given religion will follow them. This can become problematic because men who merely adhere to external moral codes have little integrity - until the moral code is internalized, it is seldom considered in advance of action, but only in judging the actions afterward, and more often in judging others than onself. As such, extremely religious people tend to be disingenuous and hypocritical.

He also posits that in the previous age of paganism and polytheism, the fractured nature of society stemmed from fractured moral codes, and codifying a single religion overcame this to some degree - but again, enforcement of religious beliefs is an imperfect solution because they impose external rules on people - and so they will pretend to obey them while acting according to their nature, adding deceit to the hypocrisy.

The true morality of a person will be evident in his behavior, whereas the professed morality of a person will be evident only in his words. It is therefore by observing a man's actions, rather than listening to his claims, that his true character will be revealed.

And in the religious sense, we can readily see that the true values of a culture determine the way men relate to one another, in spite of the professed values of a common religion. Dogma is set aside for practical concerns and actual values, in groups as much as in individuals.

In a more positive light, it can be observed that men generally act in ways that promote their own well-being, and that they seem to recognize that others will do the same - but rather than a fractured and hostile society, it most often leads to a unified and supportive one, as men have affection for one another, and except in moments of immediate distress demonstrate that they value one another and recognize that other men are necessary to one's own prosperity. And as such instances in which men are benign or even amiable to one another far outnumber instances in which they are hostile - though the drama of hostility garners greater attention.

In other worse, there does seem to be a "natural" moral code that arises and perpetuates without needing to be forced upon the majority of mankind. There are certainly exceptions, but the damage they do to society in the aggregate is negligible. Were it not so, society would disintegrate rather than progress.

(EN: Smith goes on to enumerate and provide many examples of qualities of character that society expresses, both vices and virtues, and takes a few more shots at the gross misconduct of people who profess to be religious. Some of it is specific to his culture and time but much of it has broader application, though the tedious amount of detail seems excessive, so I'm not taking close notes.)

Strength of Morality

A person whose actions and conduct are perfectly aligned at al times with their sense of duty is regarded as a moral person - but it is not realistic to expect men to be flawless in this regard.

Doing the same thing does not always result in the same results. Our belief that it is so is dependent on assumptions and conditions. Even science fails outside the rigidly controlled environment of the laboratory, acknowledging that conditions "in the field" are different and unpredictable. It is no different with philosophy.

Smith touches upon the notion of expectations in morality. Merely doing what one should do is not considered morally remarkable. A mother tends to her sick child as a matter of course, and it is not commendable because it is expected. Performing the same service for an orphan is commendable because it is unexpected.

From a societal perspective, morality is generally more concerned with restrain than compulsion - in Western culture we are more concerned when a person does something they should not rather than when they fail to do something they should.

The degree to which assumptions and conditions impact our assessment of morality can readily be seen in the judicial system: the punishment meted out to two men for some act of misconduct differs greatly due to the circumstances in which they chose to take action and the related expectations.

Some time is spent on the "selfish passions" and the interests a man pursues for his own sole benefit. Morality is (or ought to be) little concerned with such matters except to the extent that others are affected - and even then to consider whether the harm or benefit is beyond a negligible amount.

A the same time, there are certain values that we expect individuals to hold, which form our expectations: a gentleman is expected to gain or sustain an estate and we expect him to act accordingly, and may be unable to fathom the reason he should not be inclined to pursue this goal, even though it has little bearing on the welfare of society.

Another important consideration is the veracity of the rules of morality themselves. Where a man does not match a moral standard, it is our first inclination to assume it to be the failing of the man - but it is also likely to be a failing of the standard itself.

Every moral standard has an armada of exceptions and contradictions, such that rigid moral standards cannot be practiced but only imagined. Hence, when a moral code of conduct is too rigid, it is impractical and is generally soon discarded. As well it should be.

Per the previous consideration, there are instances in which a "rule" is contradicted by an exception, and we can understand the reason the rule might not have applied in a given situation - but in such instances we allow the exception but maintain the rule as written. Where a rule fails in situations that are commonplace (rather than acceptable) then it is the rule itself that must be modified or discarded.

Rules of morality are often brief and general for mnemonic purposes: it is easy to remember "don't steal" but impossible to commit to ready memory the conditions under which theft may be justified or those qualifications that mean a given action can be rightly qualified as being theft. As such the vague and general guidance of simplified moral rules provide poor guidance unless the conditions under which they are presumed to be of value hold true in a majority of circumstances in which an individual would be faced with that precise moral choice.

There's a clever analogy to be made between the rules of morality and the rules of manner - those who create them are rather narcissistic and think themselves "sublime and elegant" in devising a system of rules without considering the circumstances in which they will be applied. But more to the point, a man can write nonsense while obeying every rule of grammar - and he can just as well behave in foolish and harmful ways while obeying every rule of a given code of morality.

It is therefore incumbent upon men, particularly in the social context, to consider the purpose of the rules, rather than obeying the rules as a matter of course.