Today's Quote of the Day...

…is from Henry Home, Lord Kames’ 1751 treatise Essays on the Principles of Morality and Natural Religion and can be found on page 87 of the 2005 Liberty Fund edition:

It is agreed on all hands, that justice is established among men for making them good citizens, or, in our author’s words, for public utility; consequently that public utility is the sole end of justice. It ought however carefully to be attended to, that in no case is it made our duty to act for the public good: we are left at liberty by the moral sense to act for the public good if we incline; but the moral sense lays us under no obligation. The good of mankind, or even of our own country, resulting from an endless variety of combined circumstances, is an object too complex and intricate to be taken under consideration by a creature so limited in capacity as man.

JMM: For Lord Kames, a duty is something that is compelled by a [natural] law. It is something heavily imbued within us that goes beyond mere approval or disapproval and can often be compelled. They are “plain and simple acts” (this quote appears later on the same page): things like obeying parents, being grateful to benefactors, not robbing or causing violence, etc. It does not entail benevolence, as these rules are (as Adam Smith would put it about 8 years later) loose and vague and what constitutes a “public good” is highly complicated. Thus our duties are simple to one another, and other virtuous acts are applauded but not compelled; what is virtuous and what is vicious can depend heavily on the situation at hand.