NYU Stern


“Prudence is the principle of all these things and is the greatest good. For this reason prudence is more valuable than the other virtues. For prudence is the source of all the other virtues, teaching that it is impossible to live pleasantly without living prudently, honorably, and justly; and impossible to live prudently, honorably, and justly without living pleasantly. For the virtues have grown into one with the pleasant life, and the pleasant life is inseparable from them.” Epicurus, Letter to Menoeceus, 132

“It is impossible to live a pleasant life without living prudently, honorably, and justly; and it is impossible to live prudently, honorably, and justly without living pleasantly.” Epicurus, Principal Doctrines, V

“[M]oral distinctions depend entirely on certain peculiar sentiments of pain and pleasure, and that whatever mental quality in ourselves or others gives us a satisfaction, by the survey or reflection, is of course virtuous; as everything of this nature, that gives uneasiness, is vicious.” Hume, Treatise of Human Nature, Book III, Part III, section I

“Every quality of the mind is denominated virtuous, which gives pleasure by the mere survey; as every quality, which produces pain, is called vicious. This pleasure and this pain may arise from four different sources. For we reap a pleasure from the view of a character, which is naturally fitted to be useful to others, or to the person himself, or which is agreeable to others, or to the person himself.” Hume, Treatise of Human Nature, Book III, Part III, section V

“Most people will readily allow, that the useful qualities of the mind are virtuous, because of their utility. This way of thinking is so natural, and occurs on so many occasions, that few will make any scruple of admitting it. Now this being once admitted, the force of sympathy must necessarily be acknowledged. Virtue is considered as means to an end. Means to an end are only valued so far as the end is valued. But the happiness of strangers affects us by sympathy alone. To that principle, therefore, we are to ascribe the sentiment of approbation, which arises from the survey of all those virtues, that are useful to society, or to the person possessed of them. These form the most considerable part of morality.” Hume, Treatise of Human Nature, Book III, Part III, section VI

“The social virtues must, therefore, be allowed to have a natural beauty and amiableness, which, at first, antecedent to all precept or education, recommends them to the esteem of uninstructed mankind, and engages their affections. And as the public utility of these virtues is the chief circumstance whence they derive their merit, it follows, that the end, which they have a tendency to promote, must be some way agreeable to us, and take hold of some natural affection. It must please, either from considerations of self-interest, or from more generous motives and regards.” Hume, Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals, Section V, Part One

“It appears also, that, in our general approbation of characters and manners, the useful tendency of the social virtues moves us not by any regards to self-interest, but has an influence much more universal and extensive. It appears, that a tendency to public good, and to the promoting of peace, harmony, and order in society, does always, by affecting the benevolent principles of our frame, engage us on the side of the social virtues. And it appears, as an additional confirmation, that these principles of humanity and sympathy enter so deeply into all our sentiments, and have so powerful an influence, as may enable them to excite the strongest censure and applause. The present theory is the simple result of all these inferences, each of which seems founded on uniform experience and observation.” Hume, Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals, Section V, Part Two

“[B]y the word Virtue can only be understood, a desire of the general happiness, that consequently the public welfare is the object of virtue, and that the actions it enjoins, are the means it makes use of to accomplish that end.” Helvetius, De L’Esprit Essay II, chapter 13

“If pleasure be the only object of man’s pursuit, we need only imitate nature, in order to inspire a love of virtue. Pleasure informs us of what she would have done, and pain what she forbids, and man will readily obey her mandates.” Helvetius, De L’Esprit Essay III, chapter 16

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