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The foundation for a general system of morals, this 1749 work is a landmark in the history of moral and political thought. Readers familiar with Adam Smith from The Wealth of Nations will find this earlier book a revelation. Although the author is often misrepresented as a calculating rationalist who advises the pursuit of self-interest in the marketplace, regardless of th The foundation for a general system of morals, this 1749 work is a landmark in the history of moral and political thought. Readers familiar with Adam Smith from The Wealth of Nations will find this earlier book a revelation. Although the author is often misrepresented as a calculating rationalist who advises the pursuit of self-interest in the marketplace, regardless of the human cost, he was also interested in the human capacity for benevolence — as The Theory of Moral Sentiments amply demonstrates. The greatest prudence, Smith suggests, may lie in following economic self-interest in order to secure the basic necessities. This is only the first step, however, toward the much higher goal of achieving a morally virtuous life. Smith elaborates upon a theory of the imagination inspired by the philosophy of David Hume. His reasoning takes Hume's logic a step further by proposing a more sophisticated notion of sympathy, leading to a series of highly original theories involving conscience, moral judgment, and virtue. Smith's legacy consists of his reconstruction of the Enlightenment idea of a moral, or social, science that embraces both political economy and the theory of law and government. His articulate expression of his philosophy continues to inspire and challenge modern readers.


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The foundation for a general system of morals, this 1749 work is a landmark in the history of moral and political thought. Readers familiar with Adam Smith from The Wealth of Nations will find this earlier book a revelation. Although the author is often misrepresented as a calculating rationalist who advises the pursuit of self-interest in the marketplace, regardless of th The foundation for a general system of morals, this 1749 work is a landmark in the history of moral and political thought. Readers familiar with Adam Smith from The Wealth of Nations will find this earlier book a revelation. Although the author is often misrepresented as a calculating rationalist who advises the pursuit of self-interest in the marketplace, regardless of the human cost, he was also interested in the human capacity for benevolence — as The Theory of Moral Sentiments amply demonstrates. The greatest prudence, Smith suggests, may lie in following economic self-interest in order to secure the basic necessities. This is only the first step, however, toward the much higher goal of achieving a morally virtuous life. Smith elaborates upon a theory of the imagination inspired by the philosophy of David Hume. His reasoning takes Hume's logic a step further by proposing a more sophisticated notion of sympathy, leading to a series of highly original theories involving conscience, moral judgment, and virtue. Smith's legacy consists of his reconstruction of the Enlightenment idea of a moral, or social, science that embraces both political economy and the theory of law and government. His articulate expression of his philosophy continues to inspire and challenge modern readers.

30 review for The Theory of Moral Sentiments

  1. 4 out of 5

    Amit Mishra

    Though Adam Smith is regarded as the father of modern economics from the core of his heart he was a sound philosopher. He was a professor of moral philoshy and logic in Scotland. His most of the economic ideas are derived from the method of introspection. The theory of moral sentiment brought him into the limelight in the 1760s. This one is the finest treatise on moral philosophy and sentiments.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Brett Ellingson

    Probably the most mind-blowing book I read when I was an undergrad and one of the few that I find myself going back to again and again. Smith does for morality what Darwin did to biodiversity - took a phenomenon widely assumed to have been bluntly imposed from above and showed it to be rather something that naturally emerges from the interaction of individuals endowed with certain properties (in this case, instincts both for self-preservation and empathy/sympathy). I finished with an exciting wa Probably the most mind-blowing book I read when I was an undergrad and one of the few that I find myself going back to again and again. Smith does for morality what Darwin did to biodiversity - took a phenomenon widely assumed to have been bluntly imposed from above and showed it to be rather something that naturally emerges from the interaction of individuals endowed with certain properties (in this case, instincts both for self-preservation and empathy/sympathy). I finished with an exciting way to conceptualize human relations, and greater skepticism for claims that morality is "just a cultural construct" that can be discounted or arbitrarily molded.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Lynn

    This book is not easy to read. At times the book is tedious and somewhat difficult to understand. It is long and it sometimes seems wordy. That said, it contains some of the best prose in philosophy, and the numerous insights are incredible. Most people have heard the common defense of capitalism in the Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations: "It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest." They assume Smith This book is not easy to read. At times the book is tedious and somewhat difficult to understand. It is long and it sometimes seems wordy. That said, it contains some of the best prose in philosophy, and the numerous insights are incredible. Most people have heard the common defense of capitalism in the Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations: "It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest." They assume Smith is the prototypical defender of man as primarily selfish, materialistic, and concerned only with the utilitarian and practical aspects of economics. Nothing could be further from the truth. Even in the Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith shows that man is much more than homo economicus, the economic man. All morality is based on sympathy and how we interpret the perceptions of others, including the impartial spectator that Adam Smith claims is part of us. That is the essence of Smith’s morality and it doesn’t conflict with the Wealth of Nations as he expands and extends these ideas in the Theory of Moral Sentiments. There is a lot of information and a lot of insight throughout the book. As I was reading the Theory of Moral Sentiments I also was reading, Born to be Good. It was striking how Adam Smith, sitting in his armchair, had a better understanding of human nature than the PhD author of this popular psychology book. It brought to mind Richard Feynman’s view of social science which you can see on YouTube (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_EZcpT...). It doesn’t appear social science has advanced much since the times of Smith, but maybe I’ll change my opinion about that since I’m now reading a much better book, The Happiness Hypothesis. I also watched some of Crimes and Misdemeanors while reading the Theory of Moral Sentiments. People think of Adam Smith as being cynical about morality based they remember him from of his defense of classical liberalism and capitalism in Wealth of Nations. Like the author who wrote Born to be Good, they assume Ayn Rand and Adam Smith share the same philosophy. I have not yet read The Wealth of Nations from beginning to end, and it has been a while since I have read major portions of it, but I’m pretty sure anyone who understands Adam Smith would not hold this opinion. Woody Allen is the real cynic. Although Adam Smith recognizes that men are not perfect and society cannot be perfected, he believes there is a moral sense inherent in man and that guilt, regret, and remorse are indicators. I think Smith would say Dostoevsky’s Raskolnikov is a more accurate depiction of man than Woody Allen’s Judah. However, this doesn't mean there are no Judah’s. I really enjoyed the insights in the passages about the Chinese earthquake and how similar they are to current psychological research regarding active versus passive acts in moral decision making (the railroad switch). I also loved reading about the man of system and how relevant it is to today’s current political economy. Even though it is hard, it is worth reading at least some of Adam Smith, so I will provide these short two passages to give you a taste of his genius: The Chinese Earthquake - Part III chapter 3 “If he [this man:] was to lose his little finger tomorrow, he would not sleep tonight; but, provided he never saw them [i.e, the people of China:], he would snore with the most profound security over the ruin of a hundred million of his brethren, and the destruction of that immense multitude seems plainly an object less interesting to him than this paltry misfortune of his own … To prevent, therefore, this paltry misfortune to himself, would a man of humanity be willing to sacrifice the lives of a hundred millions of his brethren, provided he had never seen them? Human nature startles with horror at the thought, and the world, in its greatest depravity and corruption, never produced such a villain as could be capable of entertaining it.” … Human nature startles with horror at the thought, and the world, in its greatest depravity and corruption, never produced such a villain as could be capable of entertaining it. The Man of System – Part VI chapter 2 "The man of system, on the contrary, is apt to be very wise in his own conceit; and is often so enamoured with the supposed beauty of his own ideal plan of government, that he cannot suffer the smallest deviation from any part of it... He seems to imagine that he can arrange the different members of a great society with as much ease as the hand arranges the different pieces upon a chess-board. He does not consider that the pieces upon the chess-board have no other principle of motion besides that which the hand impresses upon them; but that, in the great chess-board of human society, every single piece has a principle of motion of its own, altogether different from that which the legislature might chuse to impress upon it...." see http://www.scottmooreart.com/gallery/... for an artist’s rendition of this idea).

  4. 5 out of 5

    E. G.

    Introduction & Notes Suggestions for Further Reading A Note on the Text --The Theory of Moral Sentiments --Considerations concerning the first formation of languages Biographical Notes Textual Notes Index Introduction & Notes Suggestions for Further Reading A Note on the Text --The Theory of Moral Sentiments --Considerations concerning the first formation of languages Biographical Notes Textual Notes Index

  5. 4 out of 5

    Trey Malone

    It really is a shame this book wasn't the cornerstone of economics instead of its more famous counterpart. While I truly appreciate the insights delivered in "Wealth of Nations" and have read sections of it countless times during my PhD studies, I find this book to be more informative of the type of economics I want to study. I strongly recommend this book for anyone who is interested in how individuals make decisions, as many of the insights "discovered" in behavioral economics actually came fr It really is a shame this book wasn't the cornerstone of economics instead of its more famous counterpart. While I truly appreciate the insights delivered in "Wealth of Nations" and have read sections of it countless times during my PhD studies, I find this book to be more informative of the type of economics I want to study. I strongly recommend this book for anyone who is interested in how individuals make decisions, as many of the insights "discovered" in behavioral economics actually came from this text.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Sidharth Vardhan

    I once used to read philosphical works a lot. Back then, I came across someone saying it is a young man's game and thought that it was a snobbish comment. However my own love for philosophy dried out very quickly, I still maintain that to call it a young man's game is snobbish. Russell defends the supposed uselessness of philosophy on grounds that when a part of it becomes useful, it takes form of some other science. Aristotle has been called father of sciences. While Adam Smith and Sigmeund Freu I once used to read philosphical works a lot. Back then, I came across someone saying it is a young man's game and thought that it was a snobbish comment. However my own love for philosophy dried out very quickly, I still maintain that to call it a young man's game is snobbish. Russell defends the supposed uselessness of philosophy on grounds that when a part of it becomes useful, it takes form of some other science. Aristotle has been called father of sciences. While Adam Smith and Sigmeund Freud who are considered fathers of their respective fields - economics and psychology; had as much as the element of Philospher in them as forerunners of their sciences. Studies of economics, mind, physics, law, governments, composition of earth, geometry etc were all philosphy before they grew as seperated and sometimes 'useful' sciences. Even today and in worlds of exact sciences too, the most valued scientists such as Stephan Hawking, Richard Dawkins etc continue to have an element of philospher in them, clearly visible in thier works. I think what differentiates them most when compared to other classic philosphers is that their studies, their ideas are more observational rather than their pure fancies. They are forever talking about things that actually are rather than as they 'should be'. No philosphers who make assumptions that have nothing to do with real world interest me much. Adam Smith falls in this category. His wealth of nations doesn't need much praies and actually turned economics into a separate science. In here though he is talking about morality, a subject that continues to part of philosphy despite all the Kants and Nietzsches it has seen. Smith's approach to it is not trying to define rights or wrongs - or how they should be defined. Instead he is focused on how morality is nothing but our sentiments. His theory of an inner being with a higher moral compass is interesting. I think I read somewhere Dawkins agree to someone else whom he quoted as saying morality is the feeling that you are being watched. Equally is interesting is his ideas about how little we are affected by tragedies that happen at a physical distance. He also points out how out sentiments, reflected in our laws, are affected by both intentions of a person as well as consequences of his actions. He distinguishes vanity from pride. Except for a few starking observations; I don't think there is a lot of uselessness in it except for those who have curious mind (like me). He is very clear and in the observations he make and often looking at same thing from different aspects without ever giving his own opinion.

  7. 4 out of 5

    AC

    Along with On The Wealth of Nations, I re-read this every couple of years. It is Smith's predecessor and guide book to the ideas in On The Wealth of Nations. It is the moral underpinning that needs to be present for a capitalist nation not to become a nation of exploitative, money hungry, soulless power mongers using people as economic ends to gain superiority by an over-valuing of wealth. Alas, we did not take heed.

  8. 4 out of 5

    David Gross

    If you’ve heard of Adam Smith, it’s probably because of his book The Wealth of Nations, which launched the study of economics, or his concept of “the invisible hand” by which individuals, each looking out only for their own personal gain, end up unwittingly contributing to the prosperity of society as a whole. I have not read The Wealth of Nations, but I’m currently reading Smith’s earlier book, The Theory of Moral Sentiments. When people argue about the application of moral values, usually implic If you’ve heard of Adam Smith, it’s probably because of his book The Wealth of Nations, which launched the study of economics, or his concept of “the invisible hand” by which individuals, each looking out only for their own personal gain, end up unwittingly contributing to the prosperity of society as a whole. I have not read The Wealth of Nations, but I’m currently reading Smith’s earlier book, The Theory of Moral Sentiments. When people argue about the application of moral values, usually implicit in their arguments is the theory that morality either arises from a system or that it ought to be systematized. In these arguments, showing that some ethical assertion or other is unsystematic or is systematically inconsistent seems equivalent to showing it to be disproven or wrong. Therefore much ethical philosophy has involved systematizing morality in various ways and then trying to test the soundness of the resulting systems. “Experimental” ethical philosophy takes a different tack: taking human moral judgement as a pre-systematization given and trying to describe its contours rather than force it into a rationally-invented mold. The Theory of Moral Sentiments is in this camp, though Smith’s “experimentation” isn’t very rigorous — mostly amounting to introspection and examination of the opinions of well-considered men of his time, place, and class. Anyone writing a book of experimental ethics today would spend a little time writing a prelude like this one that explains the difference in outlook and goals that motivates such a project and distinguishes it from most other ethical philosophy. Smith, though — curiously — just jumps in and starts describing human moral judgement without any such throat-clearing. It is not until part two of the book, in a footnote that looks as though it were added to respond to critics who misunderstood this very nature of his project, that he makes things explicit: …[T]he present inquiry is not concerning a matter of right, if I may say so, but concerning a matter of fact. We are not at present examining upon what principles a perfect being would approve of the punishment of bad actions; but upon what principles so weak and imperfect a creature as man actually and in fact approves of it.… To Smith, the instinct to make moral judgements, like the instincts that make us hungry or horny, is built-in. And like those, the acts it prompts us to do tell us something about human nature and about how our creator (or Creator) intends to guide us. We feel hunger to prompt us to sustain our bodies; we feel lust to prompt us to reproduce. Our feelings of resentment, gratitude, and other such moral emotions, Smith feels, must also have been implanted in us for the purpose of guiding our behavior toward certain ends. Rather than assuming the ends ahead of time and then trying to systematize an ethics that conforms to them, wouldn’t it be wiser (Smith feels) to carefully examine these emotions and try to derive these ends from what we find? In every part of the universe we observe means adjusted with the nicest artifice to the ends which they are intended to produce; and in the mechanism of a plant, or animal body, admire how every thing is contrived for advancing the two great purposes of nature, the support of the individual, and the propagation of the species. But in these, and in all such objects, we still distinguish the efficient from the final cause of their several motions and organizations. The digestion of the food, the circulation of the blood, and the secretion of the several juices which are drawn from it, are operations all of them necessary for the great purposes of animal life. Yet we never endeavour to account for them from those purposes as from their efficient causes, nor imagine that the blood circulates, or that the food digests of its own accord, and with a view or intention to the purposes of circulation or digestion. … But though, in accounting for the operations of bodies, we never fail to distinguish in this manner the efficient from the final cause, in accounting for those of the mind we are very apt to confound these two different things with one another. When by natural principles we are led to advance those ends, which a refined and enlightened reason would recommend to us, we are very apt to impute to that reason, as to their efficient cause, the sentiments and actions by which we advance those ends, and to imagine that to be the wisdom of man, which in reality is the wisdom of God. Our moral emotions serve us. They sustain us and help us to propagate by prompting us to actions that strengthen useful friendships and discourage human enemies, predators & parasites. For example, our acts and declarations of gratitude, prompted by our moral emotions, further encourage those who have shown themselves to be able & inclined to do us useful service. Smith, — remarkably, in 1759 — had written a book of evolutionary psychology. He didn’t know that was what he was doing, of course (Darwin’s On the Origin of Species was still a century away), but his book is agnostic enough about the nature of this creator who “implanted the seeds of [moral emotion] in the human breast” — sometimes it is “Nature,” other times “the author of nature,” other times “God” or “the Deity” — that it is not particularly awkward to fill in the blank today, now that we know the answer. Smith at times comes awfully close to this himself, as for instance when he describes the different emotional bonds that connect parents and children: Nature, for the wisest purposes, has rendered in most men, perhaps in all men, parental tenderness a much stronger affection than filial piety. The continuance and propagation of the species depend altogether upon the former, and not upon the latter. The edition I got from the library was published by Regnery Publishing for the “Conservative Leadership Series” of the “Conservative Book Club.” It’s not a very good advertisement for that brand, being riddled with typographical errors, misspellings (applause ringing in our “cars,” for instance), missing words, and other awkwardnesses that demonstrate that optical character recognition software is no substitute for a dutiful editor. I suspect that a book club selection like this is meant more for ostentatious display than for reading, however, so perhaps such niceties are superfluous. In some ways, Adam Smith is a sensible choice for the conservative pantheon. His free-trade / free-market viewpoints, once considered de rigueur for good liberals, are now mostly honored (and mostly in the breach) by American conservatives. But this book doesn’t seem to harmonize well with contemporary American conservativism: Moral descriptivism is far too godless. I expect most Conservative Book Club members would be horrified if their children were being taught by some liberal professor about how morality was implanted in us by nature to promote the survival of the individual and the propagation of the species, and that you could derive morality from human ethical emotions without any reference to preexisting moral absolutes. But back to Smith: When I first read Smith’s description of conscience, I was lulled by how sensible it seemed and at first I didn’t notice what an unusual explanation (for its time, anyway) it was. To Smith, “conscience” isn’t the insight by which we discern good & evil or the nagging voice prompting us to resist temptation, but is instead the faculty by which we simulate the perspective of an impartial observer who observes our own headspace and behavior, using the same criteria we naturally use when judging others. It is an application of the same, innate judgements we already have access to by virtue of being human, but using a difficult and specialized variety of imagination in which we cast that judgement through a point of view that is not our own and not (as) prejudiced by self-interest. Because this process is so difficult, especially when our minds are distracted by particularly strong temptations or crisis circumstances of quick change and the need for rapid action, we tend to supplement our consciences by inventing and memorizing heuristics that we can apply to situations so that we can quickly flag those that require conscientious scrutiny. This process of inventing heuristics, Smith believes, is the source of the ethical philosopher’s suspicion that ethics is or ought to be systematized: It is thus that the general rules of morality are formed. They are ultimately founded upon experience of what, in particular instances, our moral faculties, our natural sense of merit and propriety, approve, or disapprove of. We do not originally approve or condemn particular actions because, upon examination, they appear to be agreeable or inconsistent with a certain general rule. The general rule, on the contrary, is formed by finding from experience that all actions of a certain kind, or circumstanced in a certain manner, are approved or disapproved of. When these general rules, indeed, have been formed, when they are universally acknowledged and established by the concurring sentiments of mankind, we frequently appeal to them as to the standards of judgement, in debating concerning the degree of praise or blame that is due to certain actions of a complicated and dubious nature. They are upon these occasions commonly cited as the ultimate foundations of what is just and unjust in human conduct; and this circumstance seems to have misled several very eminent authors to draw up their systems in such a manner as if they had supposed that the original judgments of mankind with regard to right and wrong were formed like the decisions of a court of judicatory, by considering first the general rule, and then, secondly, whether the particular action under consideration fell properly within its comprehension. The book has some flaws. For one thing, Smith is wordy and repetitive. He seems to think if a point is worth making, it’s worth making three times just to make sure. I’ve never read a book that cried out more for a Readers’ Digest abridged edition. But aside from points of style, the major flaw is Smith’s insistence that an examination of human morality is equivalent to an examination of the opinions of well-bred, enlightenment-minded, well-to-do English men of the 18th century. His curiosity isn’t sufficient to consider other points of view as also being manifestations of human nature, or as anything but inferior versions of the mature morality of his fellows. Some of his conclusions follow comfortably and obviously from his biased choice of exemplars, and are unconvincing to the modern, more cosmopolitan reader. But it’s ahead of its time and thought-provoking, and a well-needed perspective on ethical philosophy that ought to be more influential today than it appears to be.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Jim

    Reading Adam Smith, like Hume or Gibbon, takes you into a century where the prose styles were more classical than today. I was fortunate to study Latin in high school, but Smith had Greek and Latin studies from an early age. His references to Aristotle, Plato, the Stoics and Cicero are central to his work. But his immediate predecessor was Francis Hutcheson of the University of Glasgow, who divided moral philosophy into four parts: Ethics and Virtue; Private rights and Natural liberty; Familial Reading Adam Smith, like Hume or Gibbon, takes you into a century where the prose styles were more classical than today. I was fortunate to study Latin in high school, but Smith had Greek and Latin studies from an early age. His references to Aristotle, Plato, the Stoics and Cicero are central to his work. But his immediate predecessor was Francis Hutcheson of the University of Glasgow, who divided moral philosophy into four parts: Ethics and Virtue; Private rights and Natural liberty; Familial rights (called Economics); and State and Individual rights (called Politics). In contrast to Hutcheson, Smith, in The Theory of Moral Sentiments, divided moral systems into: 1) Categories of the nature of morality: These included Propriety, Prudence, and Benevolence; and 2) Categories of the motive of morality: These included Self-love, Reason, and Sentiment. Hutcheson had abandoned the psychological view of moral philosophy, claiming that motives were too fickle to be used as a basis for a philosophical system. Instead, he hypothesised a dedicated "sixth sense" to explain morality. This idea, to be taken up by David Hume (see Hume's A Treatise of Human Nature), claimed that man is pleased by utility. Smith rejected his teacher's reliance on this special sense. Starting in about 1741, Smith set on the task of using Hume's experimental method (appealing to human experience) to replace the specific moral sense with a pluralistic approach to morality based on a multitude of psychological motives. Throughout the work the Smith demonstrates a superior ability to observe in detail the human experience. The Theory of Moral Sentiments begins with the following assertion: "How selfish soever man may be supposed, there are evidently some principles in his nature, which interest him in the fortunes of others, and render their happiness necessary to him, though he derives nothing from it, except the pleasure of seeing it. Of this kind is pity or compassion, the emotion we feel for the misery of others, when we either see it, or are made to conceive it in a very lively manner. That we often derive sorrow from the sorrows of others, is a matter of fact too obvious to require any instances to prove it; for this sentiment, like all the other original passions of human nature, is by no means confined to the virtuous or the humane, though they perhaps may feel it with the most exquisite sensibility. The greatest ruffian, the most hardened violator of the laws of society, is not altogether without it." Smith departed from the "moral sense" tradition of Shaftesbury, Hutcheson, and Hume, as the principle of sympathy takes the place of that organ. "Sympathy" was the term Smith used for the feeling of these moral sentiments. It was the feeling with the passions of others. It operated through a logic of self projection, in which a spectator imaginatively reconstructed the experience of the person he watches. This process allows a person to build and maintain a sense of propriety which sense is of utmost importance for Smith's theory. Also important is the relevance of this book for Smith's more famous tome, The Wealth of Nations, published in 1776. P. J. O'Rourke has this to say about this connection: "The Wealth of Nations was part of a larger enterprise in moral philosophy. The first installment of Adam Smith's great undertaking was The Theory of Moral Sentiments, published 17 years before Wealth. Smith finished an extensive revision of Moral Sentiments the year before he died. He considered it his most important work. The book is not much read or referred to nowadays, but his theories in The Wealth of Nations cannot be understood without The Theory of Moral Sentiments. "Smith devoted most of his career to the project of bettering human existence. A modern person_or a modern person who doesn't wear Birkenstocks_is tempted to laugh. It is a hilariously big job. But most of us have undertaken hilariously big jobs such as raising children. We were lured into the enterprise by the, so to speak, pleasures of conception. New beginnings are always fun. And the prospect of making wholesale improvements in ordinary life was as novel and fascinating in the 18th century as the prospect of making life simpler and less stressful and blocking e-mail spam are today." (P.J. O'Rourke, "Smith's Law,'" The Weekly Standard July 17, 2006). Adam Smith's book was well-received and sold well. More importantly it influenced thinkers from political philosophers to literary stylists. Just read Jane Austen (Sense and Sensibility) to get a flavor of Smith's influence. This is an important and original book to read for all who are interested in the development of the philosophy of the enlightenment.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Bob Nichols

    The "Theory of Moral Sentiments" is based on Smith's assertion that we are both social ("mutally sympathetic") and self-interested beings, and that social order must be based on these two fundamental classes of moral sentiments. On this foundation, Smith derives three virtues that promote social order. The first is propriety, which is self-command over the passions. This virtue is based on Smith's observation that, as individuals seek their own freedom, the freedom of one is not more important th The "Theory of Moral Sentiments" is based on Smith's assertion that we are both social ("mutally sympathetic") and self-interested beings, and that social order must be based on these two fundamental classes of moral sentiments. On this foundation, Smith derives three virtues that promote social order. The first is propriety, which is self-command over the passions. This virtue is based on Smith's observation that, as individuals seek their own freedom, the freedom of one is not more important than the other's. Self-command therefore generates admiration ("approbation") and its lack generates disapproval. Smith writes at considerable length about the "the manhood of self-command," admiring in particular the Stoics (and the North American "savage") who, in Taoist fashion, control what is in their own power and accept what is not. The central thrust of self-command is the negative form of justice, which is to do no harm (i.e., to respect the freedom of others). Given the length Smith spends on this virtue, he may regard it as the most important of the three. The second virtue is prudence. Here, Smith acknowledges with the Epicureans that we seek pleasure and avoid pain, and that prudence involves accepting pain now for greater pleasure later or foregoing pleasure now to avoid pain later, which is in essence the same thing. We also avoid, for example, ostentatious displays so that we don't incite envy. The third virtue is benefice which is - and this is not so clear in Smith - promoting the generic happiness of humankind because god is said to command it (not because we are especially inclined to do so). This involves the positive form of justice which is to actively promote the happiness of others. Our task (and that of our leaders) is "to produce the greatest quantity of happiness." These three virtues work together as too much of one detracts from the other. Too much self-command neglects our softer side; too much self-love ignores the "amiable" side'; too much benefice lacks the discipline to protect one's self-interest. Although tedious and difficult to read, Smith is better than other classical writers about identifying who we are and how we operate. At times, writing 100 years before Darwin's Origin, he sounds as though he is a modern NeoDarwinan as our most basic life impulse is not just survival but replication ("...self-preservation, and the propagation of the species, are the great ends which nature seems to have proposed in the formation of all animals.") Freedom to pursue self-interest serves as the means to these life ends. When we each pursue our self-interest, we conflict with others who do the same, thereby necessitating the three Smithian virtues to preserve order. Overseeing our application of these virtues is the fictitious impartial spectator who in conscience-like fashion reminds us that our freedom is, in the grand cosmic scheme, not more important than another's. That self-control is a challenge, Smith is well aware. Unlike most other writers, but like Veblen later, Smith identifies the prevalence of rank and reputation as driving forces because these have a direct bearing on our ability to command resources to survive, including garnering the assistance of others. Also, unlike most other theorists, Smith discusses throughout this long book the importance of looking good to one's community. This conformist tendency, which foreshadows Darwin's assertion about our tribal nature, has survival value as we receive benefits and avoid harm when we maintain ourselves as group members in good standing. Also better than most theorists, Smith identifies the role of imagination in magnifying pleasure and pain. The body, he says, experiences both in an immediate way. With mind and imagination, we can hold vast amounts of past pain and we can entertain vast hopes for future pleasure. Interestingly, Smith gives us a beginning theory of boredom when he writes that "Our imagination, which in pain and sorrow seems to be confined and cooped up within our own persons, in times of ease and prosperity expands itself to every thing around us." This hope for "the pleasures of wealth and greatness" is a "deception which rouses and keeps in continual motion the industry of mankind." Smith, like most other theorists, lodges "motive" in the external world so that we react to stimuli. He refers seamlessly to "objects of fear" and to "objects of self-interest" but this somewhat misrepresents the dialectical exchange between the self and the world. Why do objects create fear if we do not first have the capacity for fear inside? Is the motive - that which moves us - inside or outside? It is the same question with the more general notion of self-interest. Why do we seek food, sexual mates, conformity to the group, and rank and reputation unless we have an internal need for such things because they serve our self-interest? After all, Smith does say that the passions of pride and resentment and "ambition, animosity, the love of honour and the dread of shame, the desire of victory, superiority, and revenge" all "defend us against injuries," and that the passions "founded in love of pleasure" all "provide for the support and necessities of the body." Smith takes human nature as it is in all its flaws (e.g., we live for the opinions of others, to be loved and admired; we admire the rich and indulge them in their excesses and sins because they are industrious as compared to those good-natured people who are slothful or to "the effeminate man") and Smith builds on that weak foundation by specifying what we ought to be (follow the three virtues). Where Smith's theory breaks down is in his assumption that we are all the same. That is at odds with the variability of human nature that lies at the heart of Darwinian evolution. We are not all the same. Self-regard and other-regard both serve self-interest, but we all have more of one than the other. That's particularly true of self-interest, which is relatively void of other-regardedness, particularly for those who are not of our group. If the rich and powerful, or Joe Blow, can screw others and get away with it, what do they care about benefice or what the impartial spectator thinks? And that's the problem with free markets and unfettered capitalism.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Dino

    a difficult book to read, but I was inspired by a series of podcasts that Russell Roberts and Dan Klein (George Mason U) did in the summer of 2009. An idea in the book that I liked is that, counterintuivity, an "impartial spectator" is better company when you're downtrodden than a friend or relative. What you need is not necessarily sympathy but the ability to look at your situation as an impartial spectator would. In the company of strangers, our natural tendency is to bring our emotions down t a difficult book to read, but I was inspired by a series of podcasts that Russell Roberts and Dan Klein (George Mason U) did in the summer of 2009. An idea in the book that I liked is that, counterintuivity, an "impartial spectator" is better company when you're downtrodden than a friend or relative. What you need is not necessarily sympathy but the ability to look at your situation as an impartial spectator would. In the company of strangers, our natural tendency is to bring our emotions down to the level at which others can tolerate. People are inherently selfish (as Smith says, the foreknowledge of losing a single finger is more disruptive to our peace of mind than a horrible calamity in a far-away place), and it is other people and their unwillingness to indulge our self-love that gives us our moral characters. I see this with my 2 year old son, who is relatively even temperered, and self-controlled when interacting with his peers and teachers in pre-school, and impatient, wild, and tantrum-prone when with me and my wife.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Xander

    After reading The Wealth of Nations (1776), I decided to read Smith's work on ethics - The Theory of Moral Sentiments. I read that this book has to be read in order to fully understand the moral implications The Wealth of Nations. But after making it halfway through The Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759), I couldn't bear it any longer. What a terrible book this is! It is written in prose, which is supposedly appreciated by many readers commenting on Goodreads, but in my opinion this whole book is After reading The Wealth of Nations (1776), I decided to read Smith's work on ethics - The Theory of Moral Sentiments. I read that this book has to be read in order to fully understand the moral implications The Wealth of Nations. But after making it halfway through The Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759), I couldn't bear it any longer. What a terrible book this is! It is written in prose, which is supposedly appreciated by many readers commenting on Goodreads, but in my opinion this whole book is not worth the effort. Prose is all fine, but Smith takes page after page after page to make his points. His theory of ethics can be summed up in 20 pages; but he decided to write 350. After working my way through more than 1000 pages of Wealth of Nations, this was a bit too much for my patience. Smith's conception of ethics is rather revolutionary - in his time. He sees our morality as a product of nature. Smith, in other words, uses social psychology to understand morality, as opposed to most other philosophers (ancient as well as contemporary) who saw morality as a product of reason. We, says Smith, are social animals, and are dealing with fellow human beings each and every day. The interaction between human beings is guided by feelings of propriety, merit and praise. We try to be the object of propriety, merit and praise; we try to avoid being the object of impropriety, demerit and disapproval. But this according to Smith, is not enough, we also have this inner voice - our conscience - that leads us to really want to be proper, meritorious and approvable. This is independent of the judgment of other people. For example, we can try to be proper to score points in the eyes of our fellows, but this is not true morality - we WANT to be proper, whether others notice it or not. To judge the conduct of others and ourselves, we aply the concept of 'the impartial spectator'. According to Smith, we try to envision how a neutral person would view a particular action. We strive to act in such a way that this impartial spectator can be content with the action. This 'yardstick' we apply to ourselves, as well as others, in our everyday lives. So, in a sense, this mechanism of the impartial spectator is some sort of invisible hand that guides our moral decisions. When we follow our conscience, we promote human happiness - according to Smith. Smith clearly follows David Hume (or is it the other way around?) in claiming that our morality derives from sympathy with our fellow human beings. Ethics is sympathy: we try to project ourselves in the situation of another person and are able to feel the joy or sorrow of that particular person, albeit in a lesser degree. When we see a person who is sad (for example, he/she just lost a loved one), we feel sad too; when we see a person who is happy (for example, he/she just got a promotion), we feel happy too. This was a revolutionary standpoint at the time, since almost all preceding moral philosophy dealt with duty, virtue, and reason. For Smith (and Hume), ethics is nothing but human nature - no need for a reasonably designed system of rules. One of the major insights of Smith's Theory of Moral Sentiments, is the fact that law is ineffective as a means to promote morality. Smith clearly argues that morality has to come from within: prudence is the driving force. We WANT to behave in such a way that the impartial spectator is happy with our behaviour, whether our conduct is noticed by others or not. Without a conscience, morality wouldn't exist. We can formulate laws and promote justice, but this will only prevent us from, or limiting us in, harming others: it will NOT provide a guide for ethical behaviour. Benificence cannot be forced. It is only a logical conclusion for Smith to claim that freedom is the way to go. We should be free to do what we want, being led by the impartial spectator (i.e. our conscience) all the way. If we, as human beings, all do this, a happy society will emerge. Just like in pursuing our desires and needs the market economy will emerge. Smith's message: we don't need reason to be moral: it's in our nature. If we all just follow our nature, the world will be a happy place. Maybe that's a bit naive, but at least it's a break with the equally naive view that ethics (or law) is something altogether different from humanity. Montesquieu showed in his d'Esprit de Lois that a system of law is void if viewed independently from culture, traditions, accepted modes of conduct, and sociological factors. Smith does the same for morality. Viewing morality as an independent system of rules - thought up by moral philosophers using their reason - is void; only by accepting morality as part of human nature do we truly understand it. The only question, of course, is if Smith is talking about morality in a descriptive or a prescriptive way. He doesn't make this distinction very clearly and at many times seems to mix them, and this is problematic. If Smith means to say that morality is a part of human nature and that we are (so to speak) programmed to behave in a certain way with regard to our fellow human beings, he is absolutely vindicated by modern day evolutionary psychology and neuroscience. If he means to derive morals from this story, he clearly makes the naturalistic fallacy (deriving norms from facts). So, for example, when Smith is talking about benificence or jusitice, is he describing human behaviour? Or is he giving a moral judgment on what is the right human behaviour? He seems to explain how human beings behave towards eachother, but at the same time he contrasts these terms with their opposites (malevolence and injustice respectively), implying with these labels that there is a 'good' and 'bad' way to behave. Anyway, this is 'all' that I have got out of this book. I'm glad I tried it and made it halfway through, but I'm also glad I decided to put it down. I cannot bear a single sentence in prose anymore. Maybe I'm too impatient a reader, but I have an antipathy to authors that cannot formulate their points in a clear and concise way... Hence, I cannot recommend this book. It is badly written, it is dry, it is way too long, and it is unnecessarily complicated. Too bad...

  13. 5 out of 5

    Tyler

    I thought this book was exceedingly great. I enjoyed everything within it very well indeed. It is only a matter of sitting down and concretely analyzing ethics scientifically and then you will be able to see the perspective from Adam Smith's point of view. My edition (the penguin classics) also included a writing by Adam Smith on the formation of languages that I much enjoyed as well. I would recommend this to anyone just trying to get into Adam Smith or moral philosophy in general. Five stars.

  14. 4 out of 5

    João Vaz

    Remarkable. Smith's theory of an impartial spectator formulating our demand for fairness predates the categorical imperative and yet, Adam, the first, is under Kant's imposing shadow. Not fair. Perhaps because of the way economists (mistakenly) reduced his ideas in Wealth of Nations about human motivations as being attributable to self-interest alone. We're so much more.

  15. 5 out of 5

    8314

    It is very difficult, if not impossible, consistently with the brevity of our design, to give the reader a proper idea of this excellent work. A dry abstract of the system would convey no juster idea of it, than the skeleton of a departed beauty would of her form when she was alive; at the same time the work is so well methodified, the parts grow so naturally and gracefully out of reach other that it would be doing it equal injustice to shew it by broken and detached pieces. There will, in a work It is very difficult, if not impossible, consistently with the brevity of our design, to give the reader a proper idea of this excellent work. A dry abstract of the system would convey no juster idea of it, than the skeleton of a departed beauty would of her form when she was alive; at the same time the work is so well methodified, the parts grow so naturally and gracefully out of reach other that it would be doing it equal injustice to shew it by broken and detached pieces. There will, in a work of this kind, always be great deficiencies; but we are far from professing to make our accounts stand to the reader in the place of the books on which we remark. Had we thought that this is any degree would happen, as should certainly think ourselves obliged totally to omit this article in the Register, as it would be an effect the farthest in the world from our design, which is in the strongest manner to recommend to the attention of our readers, some of these books which we think deserving of it; we shoes none which we cannot recommend; we give our judgment with candour and impartiality; but never aiming to impose our opinions dogmatically on the public, we think it but justice to the authors and the readers, to give some specimen, however imperfect, of each writer’s way of thinking and expression. We mean to raise, not to satisfy curiosity. There have been of late many books written on our moral duties, and our moral sensations. One would have thought the matter had been exhausted. But this author has struck out a new, and at the same time a perfectly natural road of speculation on this subject. Had it been only an ingenious novelety on any other subject, it might have been praised; but with regard to morals, nothing could be more dangerous. We conceive, that here the theory is in all its essential parts just, and founded on truth and nature. The author seeks for the foundation of the just, the fit, the proper, the decent, in our most common and most allowed passions; and making approbation and disapprobation the tests of virtue and vice, and shewing that those are founded on sympathy, he raises from this simple truth, one of the most beautiful fabrics of moral theory, that has perhaps ever appeared. The illustrations are numerous and happy, and shew the author to be a man of uncommon observation. His language is easy and spirited, and puts things before you in the fullest light; it is rather painting than writing. . . . [huge chunk of Theory of Moral Sentiments reprinted] —Edmund Burke, review of Adam Smith, Theory of Moral Sentiments, Annual Register 2 (1759): 484-489. Source of Edmund Burke's review: http://www.theimaginativeconservative... This book, and the review of Burke, kind of threw me in an awkward position. On the one hand I still revere and admire Burke and see him as one of the most underrated political philosophers of our time. On the other hand, I can't agree with him on this, especially since I have read some psychoanalysis, Hume and Nietzsche. One could observe many similarities between Hume and Smith, given the fact that they are close friends and Smith once entrusted his drafts to Hume. Both men sought to undo the monopoly of the Church when it comes to moral theory. Both men spoke against the waning moeur of aristocracy, the whole package of disposing one's passions (Norbert Elias is a damn good reader!). But when it comes to the origin of morality, Hume is that "nothing could be more dangerous" person. Hume didn't just undo the Church's role -- he undid sacredness/absolutism in general, which is a daring endeavor later on to be picked up by Nietzsche. Smith is different. He made a God the origin of all moral feelings. Smith made the two "natural" tendencies, self-love and compassion, the basis of his theory. Being a man of pre-French Revolution, his theory of self-love is inevitably too "cleansed", in the sense that the ambivalence of self-love is absent. Self-love, and the love for the people that are close to us, is always presented in a pure and positive way. Eros is completely detached from Thanatos. It would be after French Revolution, Nietzsche, psychoanalysis that people would have a chance to understand this quote: So it's kind of a torture for me, a very ambivalent person, to read his logic. The one thing that made up this frustration is Smith's testimony on the shift of psychological structure. I have heard about people's arguments on the role of gods in Homer's works. One of them is that the experience of gods (e.g. the bright-eyed Athena blew courage into a hero's chest) is actually the spark of ego and self-consciousness. When a psyche develops, it would experience its development as something external and divine. When Smith ceaselessly wrote about the impartial third-party observer that "the Creator" planted into us, he is talking about none other than the bud of superego -- and behold, it's really experienced as something divine. But this impartial observer is more than a token. It also colored Smith's theory with Egalitarianism. To behave according to the judgment of this observer necessarily means that one has the capacity to judge every other person, with the underlying premise that every person is equal and essentially "the same". This comes naturally for Smith since he believes that 100% sympathy and understanding of another individual is possible. (And by assuming this, Smith denied the possibility of transforming the self, whether he liked it or not.) Once again, it's natural for Smith, a person of 18th century, to think like that. The refutation of this belief would not come until 19th century. So much for Smith's moral theory. Let's see what will happen in Wealth of Nations.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Jeffrey Romine

    I'm glad to be finished! Yeah! The reason, however, I must confess, is that I didn't find Smith's work all that engaging. He discusses virtues in the greater context of social order, nobly promoting self-command, admiring the Stoics, and prudence. I liked a few things very much, for example, when he speaks of the Stoic's outlook on danger (pg 329). I also liked what he said (pg 209) when thinking of Hume, "an ingenious and agreeable philosopher, who joins the greater depth of thought to the grea I'm glad to be finished! Yeah! The reason, however, I must confess, is that I didn't find Smith's work all that engaging. He discusses virtues in the greater context of social order, nobly promoting self-command, admiring the Stoics, and prudence. I liked a few things very much, for example, when he speaks of the Stoic's outlook on danger (pg 329). I also liked what he said (pg 209) when thinking of Hume, "an ingenious and agreeable philosopher, who joins the greater depth of thought to the greatest elegance of expression, and possesses the singular and happy talent of treating the abstruesest subjects not only with the most perfect perspicuity, but with the most lively eloquence." We need to read both current and older works because that's where we'll find depth and elegance, perspicuity and eloquence. They are worth reading for, even if the gems among the rough are a little harder to find at times, yet nonetheless, they sparkle.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Alexander

    Adam Smith is a curious figure in the history of thought; economists don't read him because they view him as a philosopher, but philosophers don't read him because they view him as an economist. This curious dichotomy is represented in the Theory of Moral Sentiments, Smith's work on moral virtue. In many ways, Smith's work is a return to the "virtue theory" school of moral philosophy best represented in the ancient tradition by Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics. Theory of Moral Sentiments is very r Adam Smith is a curious figure in the history of thought; economists don't read him because they view him as a philosopher, but philosophers don't read him because they view him as an economist. This curious dichotomy is represented in the Theory of Moral Sentiments, Smith's work on moral virtue. In many ways, Smith's work is a return to the "virtue theory" school of moral philosophy best represented in the ancient tradition by Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics. Theory of Moral Sentiments is very readable (the edition I read was the Glasgow edition published by Liberty Fund) and well-annotated. As an attempt to reconcile a theory based on virtue with living in a capitalist society, the TMS is fairly unique in ethical philosophy and well worth reading.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Victoria Hawco

    Say approbation one more time... also that last chapter wasn't even relevant.

  19. 4 out of 5

    thethousanderclub

    Adam Smith's magnum opus and perhaps the first work of modern economics is The Wealth of Nations. For those who know of Smith it is The Wealth of Nations and not his earlier The Theory of Moral Sentiments that receives all of the attention and commentary. After having read both books I think this is a mistake. The Theory of Moral Sentiments is an incredible work of observation and commentary which I believe will more directly impact my thinking than Smith's more well known work. What I found so i Adam Smith's magnum opus and perhaps the first work of modern economics is The Wealth of Nations. For those who know of Smith it is The Wealth of Nations and not his earlier The Theory of Moral Sentiments that receives all of the attention and commentary. After having read both books I think this is a mistake. The Theory of Moral Sentiments is an incredible work of observation and commentary which I believe will more directly impact my thinking than Smith's more well known work. What I found so impressive about The Theory of Moral of Sentiments is Smith's unparalleled ability to observe and comment on the human condition without the assistance of modern science, statistical significance, regressions, data dredging, and the multitude of other tools—some more useful and honest than others—with exceptional precision. His writing is clear but challenging (especially for a modern reader), and his insights are deeply provocative. As an example of his expert insights long before the advent of modern science, see the several selections below: "We suffer more ... when we fall from a better to a worse situation, than we ever enjoy when we rise from a worse to a better." (See Nudge and Influence) "Of all the corrupters of moral sentiments, therefore, faction and fanaticism have always been by far the greatest." (See our current political and national condition) "We are all naturally disposed to overrate the excellencies of our own characters." (See Thinking, Fast and Slow) "The man who feels the most for the joys and sorrows of others, is best fitted for acquiring the most complete control of his own joys and sorrows." (See Emotional Intelligence) These are but a few examples of what Adam Smith has accomplished in this incredible book. Much more than many books, The Theory of Moral Sentiments requires and compels deep reflection. Is Smith overly influenced by his particular culture to write broadly about the human condition? Are his insights universally applicable, regardless of culture, nation, race, or language? If they are, then there is more than enough to pay attention to in this book. Furthermore, The Theory of Moral Sentiments shows unequivocally that Smith's critics who focus solely on The Wealth of Nations and Smith's role as "the father of capitalism" to be missing a great deal of nuance in his viewpoints and arguments. (Most have not read The Wealth of Nations anyway, so their critiques are generally lacking). Perhaps more than any other observation made by Smith in his book I was most impressed by the following: "Man naturally desires, not only to be loved, but to be lovely; or to be that thing which is the natural and proper object of love." This alone can and should initiate a host of conversations and debates regarding the nature and definition of love and what it means to be lovely. As a proponent and believer in a universal truth I think it's possible to answer those questions, but others of a more relative bent may find it much more challenging or believe it impossible. So let the debate begin! It is no accident that though The Theory of Moral Sentiments was published in 1756 it continues to be read and its influence has extended through many generations. A small but significant complaint against the book is its latter portion, which is Smith's response and critique of other philosophical perspectives. It's tiresome, and I lacked the needed background to truly understand and appreciate the critique. In addition, the last 30 or so pages is Smith's treatise on language and its origins. Again, I lacked the necessary educational background to appreciate what I was reading. The Theory of Moral Sentiments is a brilliant and challenging book. Smith's observations are captivating, provocative, and I think for the most part true. Smith is among some of the greatest thinkers and writers of all time; The Theory of Moral of Sentiments is the most compelling case for him to be so honored. http://thethousanderclub.blogspot.com/

  20. 4 out of 5

    bartosz

    Before diving into Adam Smith's The Wealth of Nations I decided to take a detour through Smith's other great work The Theory of Moral Sentiments. A book on ethics, it explores Smith's theory of sympathy. Sympathy, or co-feeling, is the basis of all authors's further considerations. Sympathy is the sharing of feelings, and Smith argues, is built into human beings: we imagine the pain and suffering of someone who's injured, we feel happiness for our friends, we are glad when someone likes the book Before diving into Adam Smith's The Wealth of Nations I decided to take a detour through Smith's other great work The Theory of Moral Sentiments. A book on ethics, it explores Smith's theory of sympathy. Sympathy, or co-feeling, is the basis of all authors's further considerations. Sympathy is the sharing of feelings, and Smith argues, is built into human beings: we imagine the pain and suffering of someone who's injured, we feel happiness for our friends, we are glad when someone likes the book that we love. Inadequate sympathy is repulsive to us: we consider callus one who doesn't mourn his loved one, and we consider it odd when person who laughs too much at a joke. We feel less sympathy for feelings that come from the body such as pain, or hunger and we admire people who can control them e.g people who will not flinch when they are in pain. We feel more sympathy for the feelings that come from imagination but only if we ourselves can imagine having that feeling. But we sympathize most for feelings that Smith calls social passions: love, gratitude, kindness. Those passions cannot be repulsive even when taken to the extremes: a too caring mother, a too kind uncle or a too grateful man won't be though badly. The social passions are contrasted with unsocial ones such as anger, those passions make us usually more sympathetic to the victim of the feeling and not the feeler. A third category of passions - selfish passions such as grief and joy - are neither social nor unsocial. Smith understood that we feel more sympathy for our family members, neighbors and acquaintance than to people we do not know. We feel more sympathy for the famous and the rich than to the poor - even as he explains that we shouldn't consider riches as a proxy for morality. Propriety of conduct depends on whether or not we can sympathize with the motives of person performing the deed. To analyze morality and ethics, Smith introduces an impartial observer (The Man Within the Breast). As the author puts it - as with vision sometimes to see clearly we need to consider something from a distance. Although self-love is a natural feeling, from the perspective of an impartial observer, we shouldn't sacrifice our neighbor for our gain because we are indistinguishable. We judge ourselves as we judge others - by assuming the role of an impartial observer. Therefore, we are only really happy for the praise that is merited (only the weak and vain people are satisfied by unearned praise). As humans we don't strive for praise but praiseworthiness, to embody some virtue even if it doesn't benefit us directly. A soldier tries to embody sacrifice or bravery when he dies valiantly in battle. People deduce rules of conduct by analyzing the cases which were agreeable (or which were not). Smith believes we were given those mechanisms (sympathy, the feeling of justice and other feelings) to be able to live in society, but whether or not the causality is reversed isn't central to his argument. Reading philosophy is always a chore for me, but The Theory of Moral sentiments wasn't half bad. Despite the dated language Smith writes cleanly and presents his arguments well. My only complaint is that different parts of the books aren't cohesive and there' no natural flow to the reading. All in all, I'm happy for the experience, it tickled my brain and it's always fun to reconsider and rethink things taken for granted.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Edward Weiner

    Adam Smith is one of my intellectual heroes. This book written in the mid-eighteenth century sets forth a philosophy that remains current and valid in 2019. The day after I finished reading this book (I read The Wealth of Nations years ago), I came across this excellent podcast, which I highly recommend. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=29PBq... Adam Smith is one of my intellectual heroes. This book written in the mid-eighteenth century sets forth a philosophy that remains current and valid in 2019. The day after I finished reading this book (I read The Wealth of Nations years ago), I came across this excellent podcast, which I highly recommend. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=29PBq...

  22. 4 out of 5

    Yuri Glasgow

    Morality is one of the most important subjects of human cognition, as it is (or should be) a guide to all our actions and designs. The Theory of Moral Sentiments is a great work to deliver a wider and deeper understanding of this topic and, for those who do not know the "philosophical side" of Adam Smith (like me before reading the book), it is an excellent opportunity to comprehend this author beyond economics. Contrary to my expectations, Smith does not build a structured system of moral philo Morality is one of the most important subjects of human cognition, as it is (or should be) a guide to all our actions and designs. The Theory of Moral Sentiments is a great work to deliver a wider and deeper understanding of this topic and, for those who do not know the "philosophical side" of Adam Smith (like me before reading the book), it is an excellent opportunity to comprehend this author beyond economics. Contrary to my expectations, Smith does not build a structured system of moral philosophy directly, but, throughout the whole book, he defines concepts, gives clear examples of his ideas and explains almost all his prepositions. In the last part of the book, Part VII - Of Systems of Moral Philosophy, he analyzes briefly some systematic ideas of two crucial questions of moral philosophy: 1) Wherein does virtue consist?; and 2) What are the principles, powers or faculties that define approbation and rules of conduct? Even though it is a short approach considering the number of authors he’s cited (I counted seven), this last part clarified most of my doubts on Smith’s conception of morality, as he points out the defects and errors of others and wrote in what aspects he agreed with what was formulated in these other systems. As someone mentioned before, The Theory of Moral Sentiments is not flawless: the fact that Smith does not make a structured system of moral philosophy may force the reader to return to pages he has already read just to be sure that what Smith writes is congruent, which might fatigue some of us; and there are some difficult passages to understand, like part of the chapter V of part III, as well as some excerpts of part VII. However, these are minor problems on this work, because Smith writes in a didactic way, his examples helps to materialize his theories; and it is normal to face and endeavor some difficult paragraphs in a philosophical book. Sometimes the reader may think that Smith is self-indulgent or pedant in his statements since he analyzes topics that are ordinary to all human-being: intentions, actions, relationships and societal paradigms. Notwithstanding this, the great value of his work is to take these common sense ideas and bring them in a rational and analytical view, making common ideas become defined and interesting concepts. And that is not easy to do. Below, I wrote some of the ideas that I found most important in each part of Theory of Moral Sentiments. PART I - OF PROPRIETY OF ACTION Sympathy, according to Smith, is defined as "our fellow-feeling with any passion" and is a natural disposition of human-beings. We can only sympathize with someone or some action by our imaginations, as it is impossible for our body and mind to experience the same situation of the one we are observing. However, it is also crucial to understand the context of the action, which helps our understanding of the virtue of action (he talks about it also in part II). We can sympathize with actions (like a friendly laugh of one of our friends) or with virtues (forbearance, gaiety, tolerance, patience); analogously, we antipathize with actions or passions which are disagreeable to us. Approval, on the other hand, belongs to a different category. It happens when he entirely sympathizes with a passion - and yes, it is possible, according to Smith, to sympathize and disapprove at the same time. An example: if you see a beggar asking for money, you may disapprove his action, but feel pity of his situation (which is a sign of sympathy). Even though Smith does not define passion, it is possible to understand that it is our sentiments. The propriety of an action, therefore, is related to the intensity of our passions and, socially, there's an adequate level of each passion - an excess or lack of any passion is seen as a vice or a fault. As a consequence, we tend to sympathize with proper actions and antipathize with improper actions - even though propriety is not a synonym of morality. The phrase "[...] when there is no envy in case, our propensity to sympathize with joy is much stronger than our propensity to sympathize with sorrow." means a lot to me and summarizes, in some extent, Smith's view of virtue. PART II - OF MERIT AND DEMERIT; OR, OF THE OBJECTS OF REWARD AND PUNISHMENT Merit and demerit are, respectively, consequences of beneficial (deserving reward) or dreadful (deserving punishment, an "evil reward") actions. The act itself, nonetheless, it is not sufficient: it is also important to know what motivates it. If the reason behind a good action is trivial or immoral, we tend not to sympathize with the one who made it - but we may do. Why? Because merit is an indirect sympathy with the gratitude of the benefited and demerit is an indirect antipathy with the sentiments of the action (or a sympathy with the resentment of the suffer). What I found most interesting here is that Smith affirms that what defines our pleasure or blame towards someone it is not the action itself, nor its consequences (affected by Fortune), but intention or affection of heart. Using this proposition as a basis, he explains that the conditions for gratitude or resentment are: 1) to be the cause of an action; 2) to be capable of feeling it; 3) to produce the action by own design. PART III - OF THE FOUNDATION OF OUR OWN JUDGMENTS CONCERNING OUR OWN SENTIMENTS AND CONDUCT, AND THE SENSE OF DUTY Self-judgment is a reflex of the society we live in. It is the impartial spectator - a real or imaginary person who judges our passions without the influence of our own sentiments - who guides our actions. Despite the notion of propriety may vary according to each society, propriety - or, in other words, the sense of duty - cannot be our sole guide to morality, as there are two main problems with it: 1) these general rules can be very imprecise; 2) there is a natural agreeableness or deformity independent of all regards to general rules. Except Justice, a virtue which needs to be highly precise like a book of grammatical rules, it is hard to define a strict "book of conduct" to any other virtue and that is why other parameters to virtue, like the sense of natural conduct and the moral rules of Divine Providence, are important to our behavior. For our own virtues, Smith agrees mostly with the Stoical vision and recommends the practice of self-command, which will increase our self-approbation and will make us happier in the long term - an ancient recommendation that is still extremely popular nowadays. Discipline is the path to develop the most admired virtues of mankind. PART IV - OF THE EFFECT OF UTILITY UPON THE SENTIMENT OF APPROBATION Utility is an important characteristic that increases our sense of approbation - and so does beauty. In some cases, beauty is more relevant than utility; or, in other words, the fitness of an object (or objects) is more relevant than the very end for which it was intended and designed. For example: a man of eighteenth century feels uncomfortable with the fact that his watch is two minutes late (an almost irrelevant imprecision) and goes to the watchmaker irritated with the error. When he does it, he is more worried with the fitness of the object than with its use. However, utility tend to be a more relevant parameter for approbation than beauty (especially considering that an excess of worry on beauty may lead human-beings to some of the most detestable vices). But it is important to reinforce that our approbation comes from the propriety of an action, and not from utility - and these are two different things. The virtue of reason and understanding, which is highly admired and is observed, especially in mathematicians and philosophers, it is not always useful (or at least it is not useful in the present, but may be in the future). Moreover, naturally, when we evaluate values and virtues like justice and humanity, we rarely think about if the virtue was useful or not - the first thing that comes to our mind is: "That's the right thing to do!" PART V - OF THE INFLUENCE OF CUSTOM AND FASHION UPON THE SENTIMENT OF MORAL APPROBATION AND DISAPPROBATION This is a similar case to the previous one: fashion and custom may also alter the propriety or impropriety of an action. These two elements are extremely variable according to each country - Smith writes that, for example, the "savages", persons of Africa and America on the eighteenth century, are extremely self-commanded under pain and death (like on anthropophagic rituals) and a little sign of fear is considered a weakness (for people who speak Portuguese, I recommend reading "I-Juca Pirama). In Europe at that period, on the other hand, it was quite common to complain even under minor pains. Custom defines the degree of propriety. But, again, custom can't define totally the propriety of our actions because there is a natural propriety of action. During the Classical Greek period, it was common to hurt and kill infants and even Plato and Aristotle supported this practice. However, even though this was a custom of that society, it does not make it moral for two main reasons: first, because it is immoral according to the natural propriety; and second because "no society could subsist a moment in which the usual strain of men's conduct and behaviour was a piece with the horrible practice I have now just mentioned." PART VI - OF THE CHARACTER OF VIRTUE When we are babies, our only focus is our own survival (that's why we cry a lot, even when the cause of our trouble is almost irrelevant). However, when we grow up, we notice that survival is not sufficient to social approbation (we are naturally social :p) and then we start to desire respect of our equals by external fortune. And external fortune does not consist only of an amount of money that is socially approved, but also on our virtues. The inner/individual virtues can be summarized with the concept of Prudence, which consist of a set of other virtues like forbearance, self-command and moderation. We also have social, which are related to the way we behave with other people. This includes our family, our friends and even strangers and the two basic virtues are Justice and Benevolence. Obviously our passions and virtues towards them vary according to the degree of intimacy, but it is important to practice with everyone these two essential virtues. Smith also believes in "universal benevolence", which depends on your belief on the existence of God - otherwise it is the most melancholic feeling of all. To sum up, the three crucial virtues are Prudence, Justice and Benevolence and, of course, it is not sufficient to know them, but also to practice them. These are the paths to get closer to a "perfect virtuous model". PART VII - OF SYSTEMS OF MORAL PHILOSOPHY This is such a dense part that I cannot do justice to it - at least not without writing a huge text which probably nobody will read. Oh, and if you read my text until now, congratulations hahahaha. But I can analyze it briefly with the rest of the book to finish my review/summary. For the question "Wherein does virtue consist?", there are three answers from different systems of philosophy: "Propriety"; "Prudence" and "Benevolence". Smith does not agree with the first one for reasons that I explained before; he does not think that the second one, whose main defensor is Epicurus, is right because he affirms that a virtuous action is more important than the social consequences (especially social praise and rewards); and he criticizes the last one saying that it does not pay attention at "minor virtues" and also at self-love virtues. For the question of the principle of approbation, he explores three answers: "Self-love"; "Reason"; and "Sentiment". His opposition to the first current (he cites Hobbes) is that sympathy is not always originated on our own selfish feelings ("[...] arise from an imaginary change of situation with the person principally concerned, yet this imaginary change is not supposed to happen to me in my own person and character, but in that of the person with whom I sympathize [...]."). With the other two, he agrees partially with both: "The general maxims of morality are founded, like all other general maxims, from experience and induction."; but induction is a faculty of the mind - therefore, reason is one source of the general maxims of morality. However, it is hard to define in every situation what is the source of it (or if it is both). In this part, he recommends us to read the works of Francis Hutcheson, his biggest influence on this book without a doubt. From all this, we can conclude that the "decentralized" system of moral philosophy of Adam Smith is based upon the idea of the virtues, especially Prudence, Justice and Benevolence, and that the origin of the sense of approbation is on a mix of reason and experience. Approved and disapproved actions may vary in each society, but this does not make morality to be subservient to any set of customs or to the sense of utility; the natural rules of propriety (which he does not cite) and the sense of Deity that are stronger than any sense of duty. Smith surely does not belong to the moral relativism school. In the end, sympathy is the essence of all. TERMS Throughout "The Theory of Moral Sentiments", Adam Smith has used some important terms, which are relevant for an accurate understanding of the book. Some of them are explicit, others are not - in the latter case, I interpreted them, using the book as reference, the best as I could. SYMPATHY: our fellow-feeling with any passion. APPROVAL: when he entirely sympathize with the passion or action of the person who we observe. DISAPPROVAL: the opposite of "approval". VIRTUE [implicit]: an action or passion which exceeds propriety; an attitude beyond social expectations. PASSION [implicit]: sentiments; they may be virtuous or vicious. PROPRIETY [implicit]: an adequate social behavior. MERIT: the quality of deserving reward. DEMERIT: the quality of deserving punishment. SENSE OF DUTY: the general rules of a society which models our moral behavior towards different situations. LAWS OF THE DEITY: religious paradigms (Christians in this case) that guide our morality. PRUDENCE: the care of health, fortune, rank and reputation.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Sara

    Machiavelli for the people of 'commercial societies' (without the irony), or a sentimental education for empire builders [Through my ratings, reviews and edits I'm providing intellectual property and labor to Amazon.com Inc., listed on Nasdaq, which fully owns Goodreads.com and in 2013 posted revenues for $74 billion and $274 million profits. Intellectual property and labor require compensation. Amazon.com Inc. is also requested to provide assurance that its employees and contractors' work con Machiavelli for the people of 'commercial societies' (without the irony), or a sentimental education for empire builders [Through my ratings, reviews and edits I'm providing intellectual property and labor to Amazon.com Inc., listed on Nasdaq, which fully owns Goodreads.com and in 2013 posted revenues for $74 billion and $274 million profits. Intellectual property and labor require compensation. Amazon.com Inc. is also requested to provide assurance that its employees and contractors' work conditions meet the highest health and safety standards at all the company's sites]. Dangerous, scary book, artificially and deliberately modelling ethics, i.e. 'virtue', in such relative and flexible terms that religions all of a sudden look not that bad. Smith puts on a classical, serene tone of voice to sound like a modern Seneca, dismisses the deity by referring to god as the 'Author of Nature' who allegedely (and blasphemously) appointed human beings to be their own judges, and then states that virtue consists in pleasing the 'impartial spectator' we all host in our divine breasts. Beware of the 'casuists', i.e. all those primitives who say what you can do or musn't do in every circumstance! Feel free to kill softly, if your impartial spectator approves. In crystal clear English, Smith lays down the foundations for a sentimental education that perfectly fits the need for order and calmness of 'commercial countries', whereby mass starvations in the colonies can be frowned upon by the casuists but certainly not by the enlightened citizens who never lose sight of their impartial spectator. Never get worked up: even humanitarian catastrophes are "contrived for advancing the two great purposes of nature, the support of the individual, and the propagation of the species". Smith was already socially 'darwinian' one hundred years before the Beagle, which is admirable. Smith's sentimental education, largely rejected by Victorian piety, will find a safe haven in political economy, later in neoclassical economics, and finally in Hayek's neoliberalism, where the 'market' will replace the impartial spectator, and any reference to absolute principles of justice will be dismissed as 'irrational'. Not convinced? Please see quotes below. p. 48: "The sentiment of love is, in itself, agreeable to the person who feels it. It sooths and composes the breast, seems to favour the vital motions, and to promote the healthful state of the human constitution; and it is rendered still more delightful by the consciousness of the gratitude and satisfaction which it must excite in him who is the object of it". p. 63: "Upon this disposition of mankind, to go along with all the passions of the rich and the powerful, is founded the distinction of ranks, and the order of society". p. 64: "We are eager to assist them [the rich and the powerful] in completing a system of happiness that approaches so near to perfection; and we desire to serve them for their own sake, without any other recompense but the vanity or the honour of obliging them". p. 68: "It is the loss of this easy empire over the affections of mankind which renders the fall from greatness so insupportable". p. 102: "In every part of the universe we observe means adjusted with the nicest artifice to the ends which they are intended to produce; and in the mechanism of a plant, or animal body, admire how every thing is contrived for advancing the two great purposes of nature, the support of the individual, and the propagation of the species". p. 131: "When I endeavour to examine my own conduct, when I endeavour to pass sentence upon it, and either to approve or condemn it, it is evident that, in all such cases, I divide myself, as it were, into two persons; and that I, the examiner and judge, represent a different character from that other I, the person whose conduct is examined into and judged of". p. 151: "When his judgments are steadily and firmly directed by the sense of praise-worthiness and blame-worthiness, he seems to act suitably to his divine extraction". p. 262: "In commercial countries,where the authority of law is always perfectly sufficient to protect the meanest man in the state, the descendants of the same family, having no such motive for keeping together, naturally separate and disperse, as interest or inclination may direct". p. 401: "It may be said in general of the works of the casuists that they attempted, to no purpose, to direct by precise rules what it belongs to feeling and sentiment only to judge of".

  24. 5 out of 5

    Ari

    We remember Adam Smith as the founder of modern economics, but he was for many years a professor of moral philosophy, and first acquired fame in that role. This book sets out his general moral scheme. It is highly polished, and dazzles despite its age. The book was adapted from Smith's lectures at the University of Glasgow, and has a distinctly conversational feel. His narrative feels broken into lecture-sized chunks, each with an introduction and conclusion. The overall tone is conversational, a We remember Adam Smith as the founder of modern economics, but he was for many years a professor of moral philosophy, and first acquired fame in that role. This book sets out his general moral scheme. It is highly polished, and dazzles despite its age. The book was adapted from Smith's lectures at the University of Glasgow, and has a distinctly conversational feel. His narrative feels broken into lecture-sized chunks, each with an introduction and conclusion. The overall tone is conversational, almost casual, mixing definitions, deduction, explanation and advice. It's what you would say to a bright undergraduate if you wanted them to understand how morality works, both theoretically and in practice. As near as I can tell, the substance of Smith's theory is an improvement on everything before it -- and much that came after. The first big idea in the book is implicit in the title -- this is a theory of moral _sentiments_, not moral reasoning. In Smith's view, the root of morality is being pleased or displeased by particular emotions and actions in others. From this, we gradually learn which actions and emotions are appropriate (pleasant, praiseworthy) in which situations. Once we know that, we learn to judge ourselves by the same standard we judge others. Smith thinks that our moral behavior relies on cultivating and listening to "the impartial spectator within the breast" -- not on deduction, but on trying to emotionally react to our situation from the outside. Smith is disdainful of 'axiomatic' approaches to morality, the kind of thing that first Kant and then the utilitarians would try to pursue. "The general rules of almost all the virtues, the general rules which determine what are the offices of prudence, of charity, of generosity, of gratitude, of friendship, are in many respects loose and inaccurate, admit of many exceptions, and require so many modifications, that it is scarce possible to regulate our conduct entirely by a regard to them." Smith believes that we have a wide range of 'natural' moral impulses and that we improve as moral actors by refining and regularizing these, not by ignoring them. The point of general rules is not for us to follow them unthinkingly and regardless of context, but rather because if we have firm general principles in mind, self-interest will be less likely to blind us about particulars. General moral principles work more like legal canons or heuristics, rather than as commandments. To quote a representative paragraph: "Nature, for the wisest purposes, has rendered, in most men, perhaps in all men, parental tenderness a much stronger affection than filial piety. The continuance and propagation of the species depend altogether upon the former, and not upon the latter. In ordinary cases, the existence and preservation of the child depend altogether upon the care of the parents. Those of the parents seldom depend upon that of the child. Nature, therefore, has rendered the former affection so strong, that it generally requires not to be excited, but to be moderated; and moralists seldom endeavour to teach us how to indulge, but generally how to restrain our fondness, our excessive attachment, the unjust preference which we are disposed to give to our own children above those of other people. They exhort us, on the contrary, to an affectionate attention to our parents, and to make a proper return to them, in their old age, for the kindness which they had shown to us in our infancy and youth. In the Decalogue we are commanded to honour our fathers and mothers. No mention is made of the love of our children. Nature had sufficiently prepared us for the performance of this latter duty." Smith's style tends towards elegantly composed paragraphs; it's hard to find a few sentences worth excerpting, but once you start excerpting, hard to stop. His writing flows more smoothly than any other writer I can think of. My sense is that discoveries in psychology, philosophy, and anthropology have largely strengthened Smith's overall view here. A messy pluralistically-based theory looks much better than something simple, clear-cut, and wrong. Compared to the craziness of the last few centuries, Smith comes off as remarkably humane, thoughtful, understated, and overwhelmingly sensible.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Ross

    The mind, therefore, is rarely so disturbed, but that the company of a friend will restore it to some degree of tranquility and sedateness. The breast is, in some measure, calmed and composed the moment we come into his presence. We are immediately put in mind of the light in which he will view our situation, and we begin to view it ourselves in the same light; for the effect of sympathy is instantaneous. The Theory of Moral Sentiments is not what Smith is known for, but it should be. In it, he a The mind, therefore, is rarely so disturbed, but that the company of a friend will restore it to some degree of tranquility and sedateness. The breast is, in some measure, calmed and composed the moment we come into his presence. We are immediately put in mind of the light in which he will view our situation, and we begin to view it ourselves in the same light; for the effect of sympathy is instantaneous. The Theory of Moral Sentiments is not what Smith is known for, but it should be. In it, he argues comprehensively that to the extent that we sympathize with the passions of another person, we find their passions proper. Specifically, we "approve of another man's judgment, not as something useful, but as right, as accurate, as agreeable to truth and reality: and it is evident we attribute those qualities to it for no other reason but because we find that it agrees with our own." I especially appreciate Smith's observation that our desire for praise is largely derived from our desire for praiseworthiness, not the other way around. When we impartially imagine our own conduct or character as praiseworthy, and it is subsequently praised by others, we feel confirmed and reassured; however, we feel our blameworthy actions no more praiseworthy simply because they were improperly praised by others. As other reviewers have noted, the prose is certainly 18th century, but articulate and clear nonetheless. Smith covers sympathy's role in determining propriety, merit, duty, justice, and utility. He is commonly understood as utilitarian of sorts, but this is not truly accurate. His version of moral sentimentalism is something more akin to a hybrid of virtue ethics and utilitarianism—almost a precursor to modern day social intuitionism. I definitely recommend TMS for anyone who is interested in less rigid moral systems that reflect the indeterminate and vague nature of human morality.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Bradley Dowell

    Smith provides a deep and rich picture of humanity and can be roughly summarized by Smith’s claim that our moral judgement are enveloped in some type of spectoral sympathy—whether the man within or the man outside—which paints a picture of the disturbing side of humans who care so deeply about what others think of them but also a realistic picture which captures the human experience: “Man naturally desires, not only to be loved, but to be lovely; or to be that thing which is the natural and prop Smith provides a deep and rich picture of humanity and can be roughly summarized by Smith’s claim that our moral judgement are enveloped in some type of spectoral sympathy—whether the man within or the man outside—which paints a picture of the disturbing side of humans who care so deeply about what others think of them but also a realistic picture which captures the human experience: “Man naturally desires, not only to be loved, but to be lovely; or to be that thing which is the natural and proper object of love. He naturally dreads, not only to be hated, but to be hateful; or to be that thing which is the natural and proper object of hatred. He desires, not only praise, but praiseworthiness; or to be that thing which, though it should be praised by nobody, is, however, the natural and proper object of praise.” An important takeaway from this work is the idea of our Active vs. Passive faculties—a concept developed through Smith’s oft incorrectly quoted Chinese earthquake parable. The summary of this parable—strikingly contrasting the typical pure self-interest reading Smith receives from his Wealth of Nations butcher and baker parable—is to seek what is virtuous: “the love of what is honourable and noble.” Smith rightly asks: "When our passive feelings are almost always so sordid and so selfish, how comes it that our active principles should often be so generous and so noble?" This question is answered through his development of the “impartial spectator,” but needs no deeply philosophical implementation. Modern political rhetoric and policy largely ignores that humans are capable of righteousness—to use Smith’s term—in their active faculties. We don’t lose any sleep over the death of 100 million people in our passive (purely self-interested) state, but no rational individual in their active state would murder millions purely for their own self-interest. While there are philosophical distinctions between Adam Smith and Graham Greene’s brilliant film The Third Man, everyone realizes the horror of the active faculties of Orson Wells’ character discussing the murder of strangers seen far below in the famous Ferris wheel scene. While highly political, discussions regarding welfare (for example) should consider the implications of the government largely leaving poverty alleviation to government programs funded through taxpayers passively paying their taxes under the assumption the government will handle the problem. Active people tend to be quite generous with their money, a phenomenon quite distinct from the typical understanding of the self-interested person who spends most of their time thinking of themselves. Additionally, people are often better equipped to help people they can more easily sympathize with, people in their immediate community and family. Discussions regarding sweatshops largely ignore the major knowledge/un-knowability problem with critiquing these systems. In a discussion were people are so unable to sympathize with the motives of people so far removed from our immediate context, it is unclear the positive or negative effects associated with even the purest motives to help others. While the motives of giving every child in Africa a Real Madrid jersey are pure, what are the implications? The philosophical context of TMS must be considered while attempting to read Smith in a political and economic context, but I believe TMS can be systematically read as a foundation to classic liberalism. I’m not sure I can recommend this book to anybody, you’ll only finish the book if you want to for your own personal desire. However, I hope people consider the “Adam Smith Problem” in a nuanced manor before critiquing the typical misinterpretation of Smith: the incompatibility between many of his claims of the self-interest and simultaneous generosity and virtuousness of people exists because life itself consists of paradoxes, this “incompatibility” in Smith may actually point to a deeper understanding of humanity that many people are even able to consider.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Cary Giese

    This book is its sixth edition, published by Adam Smith in 1790, the year he died, though it was first published in 1759. His more famous historic book, “The Wealth of Nations’,” was published in 1776, the year of the United State’s Declaration of Independence. Adam Smith was a contemporary of the founders of the US, and was known to them. The publication dates validate that both books ideas were simultaneously in his mind during that time. He believed in both! Samuel Adams recommended the books This book is its sixth edition, published by Adam Smith in 1790, the year he died, though it was first published in 1759. His more famous historic book, “The Wealth of Nations’,” was published in 1776, the year of the United State’s Declaration of Independence. Adam Smith was a contemporary of the founders of the US, and was known to them. The publication dates validate that both books ideas were simultaneously in his mind during that time. He believed in both! Samuel Adams recommended the books be included in the Library of Congress. No doubt he had some influence on our Founders. His argument in this book was that humans behavior towards each other is naturally moral! He implies that churches adopted and stressed the exhibited natural instincts as moral! Quote: “there are evidentially some principals in his nature, which interests him in the fortune of others, and render their happiness necessary to him, though he derives nothing from it except for the pleasure of seeing it.” His most famous quote from “Wealth of Nations:” is “It is not from from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner. But from their regard to their own interest. We address ourselves, not to their humanity but to their self-love.” So, as I read this, he believed in both! In “Wealth of Nations” he rails against mercantilism, the colonial system of acquiring colonies assuring captive markets for the benefit of the colonialist. He believed that this policy limited colonist self interest to their detriment. It is not established how much he contributed to the US establishment, however that and the beginning of capitalism were contemporary! His thoughts are now clearly attributed to the idea of capitalism! Smith simultaneously thought that humans naturally believe in the care of each other, and that there are benefits to all of “self love” (enlightened self interest)! My thought, he would probably also have thought that today’s huge and powerful corporations are the new mercantilist, and their power of monopoly should be regulated by government. One more comment, he believed in the rule of law, and he encouraged the law to follow the “principles of our nature” This is a difficult book to read. Not only because of the difference in writing style of then and now! Too many commas, qualifying his thought, in most sentences. The book is long, describing in details the reason for human behaviors. He believe in “senses of propriety, as observed by impartial observers,” prudence, the basis of his thesis of moral judgement! Bottom line, the ideas of father of Capitalism, a term he never used, have not been widely taught in the nuanced way he surely intended. He was a philosopher trying mightily to describe human motivations. He wanted us to understand each other and to describe how we could be successful in all of our interest! Policy makers must read this book!

  28. 4 out of 5

    CadBot

    This is the best book I have ever read. A TA in college recommended this book to me, because I told him I liked Wealth of Nations, so I gave it a read a couple years later. I have read this book two times in a row back to back. I keep going back to to this book as a reference for a lot of aspects of my life. I am an engineer, but the info in this book was more helpful to me then most people. I say that because a lot my skills required a lot of anti-social practice. I am not a big reader and my v This is the best book I have ever read. A TA in college recommended this book to me, because I told him I liked Wealth of Nations, so I gave it a read a couple years later. I have read this book two times in a row back to back. I keep going back to to this book as a reference for a lot of aspects of my life. I am an engineer, but the info in this book was more helpful to me then most people. I say that because a lot my skills required a lot of anti-social practice. I am not a big reader and my vocabulary is questionable at best, but that's what online dictionary's are for! I had to search 100s of words probably, but once I understood their meaning, the info in this book was invaluable.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Noviny

    The Theory of Moral Sentiments is one of two major works that Adam Smith wrote, and to try and understand the man who wrote down and formalised many of the key concepts of a capitalist society, and anyone wanting to understand his more famous book, The Wealth of Nations, should really delve in to this book. For those more interested in a different take on moral philosophy, this book is one of the best books you can read for defining, outlining and arguing for ethics as our sympathy for other peop The Theory of Moral Sentiments is one of two major works that Adam Smith wrote, and to try and understand the man who wrote down and formalised many of the key concepts of a capitalist society, and anyone wanting to understand his more famous book, The Wealth of Nations, should really delve in to this book. For those more interested in a different take on moral philosophy, this book is one of the best books you can read for defining, outlining and arguing for ethics as our sympathy for other people, going in to both how such sympathetic ethics would work as well as addressing some of the major concerns.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Alessandra

    Must read book to anyone interested in Economics or Sociology. Smith's observations on human relations and sentiments seem to me very precise. It was written in 1749, but it explains contemporary society so well it could have been written yesterday. Why are we moral? sympathy, envy, virtue, friendship. Why are some people admired? Our undeniable need of acceptance by society. " Is there bigger happinness than to be loved and to know that we deserve this love? is there bigger disgrace than to be Must read book to anyone interested in Economics or Sociology. Smith's observations on human relations and sentiments seem to me very precise. It was written in 1749, but it explains contemporary society so well it could have been written yesterday. Why are we moral? sympathy, envy, virtue, friendship. Why are some people admired? Our undeniable need of acceptance by society. " Is there bigger happinness than to be loved and to know that we deserve this love? is there bigger disgrace than to be hated and to know that we deserve this hate? " (p. 143)

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