William Blake's Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience, the latter of which contains "The Human Abstract," are intended to present different interpretations of human life. The first presents an idyllic, childlike view of the world, in which both people and God are fundamentally good. The second presents a view tainted by the experience of suffering and injustice; many of the poems contained within it directly refute the ideas expressed in the poems of the first. "The Human Abstract" is no exception to this pattern. It is intended to refute the claims of the Songs of Innocence poem "The Divine Image," which describes a set of purely good "virtues of delight" (3). Mercy, pity, peace, and love are described in "The Divine Image" as the manifestation of all that is good, with the implication that their opposite vices are purely evil. It is this specific type of binary morality that Blake complicates in "The Human Abstract."
"The Human Abstract" points out that none of the virtues in "The Divine Image" are purely good. Pity and mercy would not need to exist if there was not suffering in the world. Therefore, as long as they remain virtues, suffering cannot be eliminated; all that the virtues do is make people feel good about themselves without actually solving the root problems. Peace, Blake writes, is brought about by "mutual fear" (5), as people are only prevented from hurting others for their own gain out of fear of what may happen to them in return. Love, too, is described as "selfish" (6), implying that people only express love in order to receive some personal benefit. These selfish virtues give rise to cruelty, the cause of the suffering that makes the virtues desirable in the first place. Enduring cruelty humbles people, creating the virtue of humility. Humility, since it hides people's true natures, creates an air of mystery which allows them to be deceitful. All of this increases the threat of death, the usual symbolic meaning of the raven in the poem. Thus, human virtues and vices create and bleed into one another, complicating the binary morality presented in "The Divine Image."