"The present ruling passion of the human mind is the love of distinction. "

— Godwin, William (1756-1836)

Place of Publication
Printed for G.G.J. and J. Robinson
"The present ruling passion of the human mind is the love of distinction. "
Metaphor in Context
When we talk of men's sinking into idleness if they be not excited by the stimulus of gain, we have certainly very little considered the motives that at present govern the human mind. We are deceived by the apparent mercenariness of mankind, and imagine that the accumulation of wealth is their great object. But the case is far otherwise. The present ruling passion of the human mind is the love of distinction. There is no doubt a class in society that are perpetually urged by hunger and need, and have no leisure for motives less gross and material. But is the class next above them less industrious than they? I exert a certain species of industry to supply my immediate wants; but these wants are soon supplied. The rest is exerted that I may wear a better coat, that I may clothe my wife with gay attire, that I may not merely have a shelter but a handsome habitation, not merely bread or flesh to eat, but that I may set it out with a suitable decorum. How many of these things would engage my attention, if I lived in a desert island, and had no spectators of my economy? If I survey the appendages of my person, is there one article that is not an appeal to the respect of my neighbours, or a refuge against their contempt? It is for this that the merchant braves the dangers of the ocean, and the mechanical inventor brings forth the treasures of his meditation. The soldier advances even to the cannon's mouth, the statesman exposes himself to the rage of an indignant people, because they cannot bear to pass through life without distinction and esteem. Exclusively of certain higher motives that will presently be mentioned, this is the purpose of all the great exertions of mankind. The man who has nothing to provide for but his animal wants, scarcely ever shakes off the lethargy of his mind; but the love of praise hurries us on to the most incredible achievements. Nothing is more common than to find persons who surpass the rest of their species in activity, inexcusably remiss in the melioration of their pecuniary affairs.
Searching "mind" in on-line offerings at Liberty Fund's Free-Press .
2 entries in ESTC (both 1793).

See An Enquiry Concerning Political Justice, and Its Influence on General Virtue and Happiness. by William Godwin., 2 vols. (London: Printed for G.G.J. and J. Robinson, 1793). <Link to ECCO>
Ruling Passion
Date of Entry

The Mind is a Metaphor is authored by Brad Pasanek, Assistant Professor of English, University of Virginia.