William Hazlitt, Biographical note Essayist and critic, born at Maidstone, was the son of a Unitarian minister. His interests, however, were much more philosophical and political than theological.
It is the design of the following Essay to shew that the human mind is naturally disinterested, or that it is naturally inte- rested in the welfare of others in the same way, and from the same direct motives, by which we are impelled to the pursuit of our own interest. The objects in which the mind is in- terested may be either past or present, or future.
These last alone can be the ob- jects of rational or voluntary pursuit ; for neither the past, nor present can be al- tered for Hazlitt essay principles human action better, or worse by any ef- forts of the will. It is only from the in- 2 terest excited in him by future objects that man becomes a moral agent, or is deno- minated selfish, or the contrary, according to the manner in which he is affected by what relates to his own future interest, or that of others.
I propose then to shew that the mind is naturally interested in it's own welfare in a peculiar mechanical man- ner, only as far as relates to it's past, or present impressions.
I have an interest in my own actual feelings or impressions by means of consciousness, and in my past feelings by means of inemory, which I cannot have in the past, or present feelings of others, because these faculties can only be exerted upon those things which imme- diately and properly affect myself.
As an affair of sensation, or memory, I can feel no interest in any thing but what re- lates to myself in the strictest sense. But this distinction does not apply to future objects, or to those impressions, which determine my voluntary actions.
I have not the same sort of exclusive, or mecha- 3 nical self-interest in my future being or welfare, because I have no distinct faculty giving me a direct present interest in my future sensations, and none at all in those of others. The imagination, by means of which alone I can anticipate future ob- jects, or be interested in them, must carry me out of myself into the feelings of others by one and the same process by which I am thrown forward as it were into my future being, and interested in it.
I could not love myself, if I were not capable of loving others. Self-love, used in this sense, is in it's fundamental principle the same with disinterested benevolence. Those who have maintained the doc- trine of the natural selfishness of the hu- man mind have always taken it for grant- ed as a self-evident principle that a man must love himself, or that it is not less absurd to ask why a man should be inte- rested in his own personal welfare, than it would be to ask why a man in a 4 state of actual enjoyment, or suffering likes what gives him pleasure, and dis- likes what gives him pain.
They say, that no such necessity, nor any positive reason whatever can be conceived to exist for my promoting the welfare of another, since I cannot possibly feel the pleasures, or pains which another feels without first be- coming that other, that our interests must be as necessarily distinct as we ourselves are, that the good which I do to another, in itself and for it's own sake can be no- thing to me.
Good is a term relative only to the being who enjoys it. The good which he does not feel must be mat- ter of perfect indifference to him. How can I be required to make a painful exer- tion, or sacrifice a present convenience to serve another, if I am to be nothing the better for it?
I waste my powers out of my- self without sharing in the effects which they produce. Whereas when I sacri- fice my present ease or convenience, for the sake of a greater good to myself at 5 a future period, the same being who suffers afterwards enjoys, both the loss and the gain are mine, I am upon the whole a gainer in real enjoyment, and am therefore justified to myself: I act with a view to an end in which I have a real, substantial interest.
The human soul, continue some of these writers, na- turally thirsts after happiness; it either enjoys, or seeks to enjoy. It constantly reaches forward towards the possession of happiness, it strives to draw it to itself, and to be absorbed in it. But as the mind cannot enjoy any good but what it possesses within itself, neither can it seek to produce any good but what it can en- joy: Now I can conceive that a man must be necessarily interested in his own actual 6 feelings, whatever these may be, mere- ly because he feels them.
He cannot help receiving pain from what gives him pain, or pleasure from what gives him pleasure. But I cannot conceive how he can have the same necessary, absolute interest in whatever relates to himself, or in his own pleasures and pains, gene- rally speaking, whether he feels them, or not.
This kind of reasoning, which in it- self is all along founded in a mere play of words, could not have gained the assent of thinking men but for the force with which the idea of self habitually clings to the mind of every man, binding it as with a spell, deadening it's discriminating powers, and spreading the confused asso- ciations which belong only to past and present impressions over the whole of our imaginary existence.
It therefore be- comes difficult to separate ideas which have been thus knit together by custom, or "by a long tract of time, by the use of language, and want of reflection".
I say the sophism here employed consists in comparing the motives by which we are interested in the welfare of others with the mechanical impulses of self-love, as if because we are mechanically affected by the actual impression of objects on our senses in a manner in which we cannot be affected by the feelings of others, all our feelings with respect to ourselves must be of the same kind, and we could feel no in- terest in any thing but what was excited in the same way.
It is plain we are not in- terested in our general, remote welfare in 8 the same manner, or by the same necessity that we are affected by the actual sense of pleasure, or pain. We have no instinc- tive secret sympathy with our future sen- sations by which we are attracted either consciously or unconsciously to our great- est good; we are for the most part indiffe- rent to it, ignorant of it.
We certainly do not know, and we very often care as little what is to happen to ourselves in future: Were it not for this shortsightedness, and insensibi- lity, where would be the use, or what would become of the rules of personal prudence?
It will be said, I know, that this is fo- reign to the purpose; for that whether he feels it, or not, every man has a real inte- rest in his own welfare which he cannot have in that of another person.
First, this is to shift the ground of the argument; for it requires to be made out how a man can be said to have an interest in what he does not feel. There is not evidently the same 9 contradiction in supposing him not to be particularly interested in feelings which he has not, as there is in supposing him not to be interested in his actual, sensible plea- sures and pains.
Secondly, I shall very readily grant that to have and to feel an in- terest in any thing are not always conver- tible terms, that is, an interest may attach or belong to an individual in some way or other though he does not feel it at the time.
My having a real interest in any object may refer to the matter of fact that such an object will some time or other exist: Neither is the reality of another's pleasures, or pains affected by my not feeling such an interest in them as I ought to do.
Another difference that may be insisted on is this, that I shall have a real sensible in- terest in my own future feelings which I cannot possibly have in those of others. I must therefore as the same individual have the same necessary interest in them at pre- sent.
This may either proceed on the sup- position of the absolute, metaphysical iden- tity of my individual being, so that what- ever can be affirmed of that principle at any time must be strictly and logically true of it at all times, which is a wild and absurd no- tion; or it may refer to some other less strict connection between my present and future self, in consequence of which I am considered as the same being, the different events and impressions of my life consti- tuting one regular succession of conscious feelings.
An Essay on the Principles of Human Action: Being an Argument in Favour of the Natural Item PreviewPages: William Hazlitt. William Hazlitt, the son of an Irish Unitarian clergyman, was born in Maidstone, Kent, An Essay on the Principles of Human Action. The following year Hazlitt published Free Thoughts on Public Affairs, an attack on William Pitt and his government's foreign policy. The Collected Works of William Hazlitt: The Plain Speaker. Essay On the Principles of Human Action, Etc [William Ernest Henley] on torosgazete.com *FREE* shipping on qualifying offers. This work has been selected by scholars as being culturally important, and is part of .
In this sense, the saying that 11 have a general interest in whatever concerns my future welfare in fact amounts to no more than affirming, that I shall have an interest in that welfare, or that I am no- minally and in certain other respects the same being who will hereafter have a real interest in it.William Hazlitt.
William Hazlitt, the son of an Irish Unitarian clergyman, was born in Maidstone, Kent, An Essay on the Principles of Human Action. The following year Hazlitt published Free Thoughts on Public Affairs, an attack on William Pitt and his government's foreign policy. The critical discussion of the notion of self-interest in William Hazlitt, An Essay on the Principles of Human Action ( ), remains unknown in sociology and economics even though it resolves a number of key problems associated with the concept and .
The Collected Works of William Hazlitt: The Plain Speaker. Essay On the Principles of Human Action, Etc [William Ernest Henley] on torosgazete.com *FREE* shipping on qualifying offers.
This work has been selected by scholars as being culturally important, and is part of . An Essay on the Principles of Human Action. William Hazlitt. Gainesville, Fla., Scholars' Facsimiles & Reprints Neutral Principles, and the Mobius of State Action.
The "Principles" as a Heartier "Essay Concerning Human Understanding". Essays on the principles of human action [William Hazlitt] on torosgazete.com *FREE* shipping on qualifying offers. This historic book may have numerous typos and missing text.
Purchasers can usually download a free scanned copy of the original book (without typos) from the publisher. The general ambition of William Hazlitt’s Essay On the Principles of Human Action () is to develop an ethical theory of agency predi- cated on the belief that “the human mind is naturally disinterested.