Objects of Gratitude Deserve Reward and Objects of Resentment Deserve Punishmentby Adam Smith
1 Merit and Demerit are another set of qualities ascribed to mankind’s actions and conduct, distinct from propriety or decency.
- Merit is the quality deserving reward.
- Demerit is the quality deserving punishment.
These are the objects of a distinct species of approbation.
2 Feelings have two aspects or relations:
- In relation to the cause which excites it
- An action’s propriety or decency depends on the suitableness of the feeling, which creates the action, to the cause which excites it.
- In relation to the end which it proposes or the effect it tends to produce.
- An action’s merit depends on the beneficial or hurtful effects of the sentiments creating the action.
Part 1 explained what makes up our sense of the propriety or impropriety. Part 2 will explain what makes up our sense of merit or demerit.
Chapter 1: Objects of Gratitude Deserve Reward and Objects of Resentment Deserve Punishment
3 An action deserves reward if it is the proper object of that feeling which immediately and directly prompts us to reward or do good. In the same way, an action deserves punishment if it is the proper object of that feeling which immediately and directly prompts us to punish or inflict evil.
4 Gratitude most immediately and directly prompts us to reward. Resentment most immediately and directly prompts us to punish.
5 An action must appear to deserve reward if it appears to be the proper object of gratitude. On the other hand, an action must appear to deserve punishment if it appears to be the proper object of resentment.
6 To reward is to recompense, remunerate, or return good for good received. To punish is to recompense, remunerate, in a different manner, to return evil for evil that has been done.
7 Gratitude and resentment are the feelings which most directly interest us in the happiness or misery of others. Love and hatred also makes us interested, but not directly.
Our love is fully satisfied even if the good fortune of our loved ones comes without our help. Love only wants to see them happy, without regarding who caused it. But gratitude is not satisfied in this way. A person to whom we owe many obligations can become happy without our help. This pleases our love, but not our gratitude. We feel loaded with our debt to him until we=
- have recompensed him, and
- have been instrumental in promoting his happiness.
8 Hatred and dislike grow on habitual disapprobation. These often lead us to take a malicious pleasure in the misfortune of the person we hate. Hatred and dislike:
- harden us against all sympathy and
- can even sometimes dispose us to rejoice at another’s distress.
But hatred would not naturally lead us to bring distress to others if there is no resentment nor provocation. Even if there is, we would rather have it happen by other means and not by ourselves. A person full of hate would prefer to see his enemy killed by some accident. It would hurt him very much to cause the accident, even if he had the least spark of justice. The thought of voluntarily contributing to it would shock him. Even if he could imagine himself doing it, he would regard himself in the same odious light as the person he hated.
But it is quite otherwise with resentment. For example, if the person who murdered our brother dies of a fever or is executed because of some other crime, it would not fully gratify our resentment. But it might sooth our hatred. Resentment would prompt us to want him punished by our means, because of the injury he did to us.
Resentment cannot be fully gratified unless the offender is made:
- to grieve in his turn, and
- to grieve for that wrong which we have suffered from him.
He must be made to repent and be sorry for his deed, so that others may be terrified from doing the like offence. The natural gratification of resentment naturally produces all the political ends of punishment, such as:
- the correction of the criminal, and
- the example to the public.
9 Therefore, gratitude and resentment are the feelings which most immediately and directly prompt us to reward and punish.
- We are grateful to those who deserve reward, and
- We are resentful to those who deserve punishment.