Adam Smith's Simplified Theory of Moral Sentiments, Part 1, Section 1, Chapter 1: Sympathy

Chapter 1: Sympathy


1 However selfish man may be, his nature has pity or compassion which:

Pity or compassion is our feeling for the misery of others.

2 We have no immediate experience of what other men feel.

  • We then shudder at the thought of what he feels.
  • Pain or distress excites the most excessive sorrow.
  • The Source of our Compassion is our conception of the pain of others

    3This is the source of our fellow-feeling for the misery of others.

  • When a crowd gazes at a dancer on the slack rope, they naturally writhe and twist their own bodies, as they see him do.
  • Sensitive people complain that they feel an uneasy sensation in their own bodies in looking on the beggars' sores.
  • The force of this conception is enough to produce that itching or uneasy sensation in their feeble frames.
  • Strong men feel soreness in their own eyes in looking on the sore eyes of others.
  • Fellow-feeling, as sympathy, drives this conception into Compassion

    4 Circumstances that create pain or sorrow are not the only ones that call forth our fellow-feeling.

    5 Pity and compassion signify our fellow-feeling with the sorrow of others.

    6 Sometimes, sympathy may arise merely from seeing another person's emotions.

    7 However, this is not universal with every feeling.

  • The angry man's fury is more likely to exasperate us against himself than against his enemies.
  • But we see the violence awaiting the people whom he is angry with.
  • We readily:
  • 8 Seeing grief and joy in others gives us grief and joy because they suggest that person's good or bad fortune.

  • Nature teaches us to be more averse to anger and resentment until we know its cause.

    9 Even our sympathy with another person's grief or joy is always extremely imperfect, before we know its cause.

  • The first question which we ask is: What has befallen you?
  • Until this is answered, our fellow-feeling is not very considerable, although we are uneasy from his misfortune
  • 10Therefore, sympathy arises more from the situation which excites it.

  • We blush for the rudeness of another, even if he himself did not know the impropriety of his own behaviour.
  • 11 The loss of reason is the most dreadful of all conditions.

    12 A mother feels pangs when she hears the cries of her baby who cannot express what it feels?

  • From of all these, she forms the most complete image of misery and distress.
  • Its innocence is an antidote against fear and anxiety.
  • When it grows up to be a man, its innocence will be replaced by reason and philosophy
  • 13We even sympathize with the dead.
  • We think that it is miserable to be:
  • Surely, we imagine that we can never feel too much for the dead.
  • Our fellow-feeling gives double tribute to the dead when they are in danger of being forgotten by everybody.
  • However, the happiness of the dead, most assuredly, is not affected by these.
  • Our imagination naturally ascribes the idea of endless sadness to the dead.

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    Next: Chapter 2: Pleasure of mutual sympathy