Adam Smith's Simple Theory of Moral Sentiments, Part 1, Section 1, Chatper 5: The Respectable and Amiable Virtues


Chapter 5: Amiable and Respectable Virtues



1.1.40 Two sets of virtues are founded on these two efforts:

  1. The effort of the observer to enter into the sentiments of the person observed
    • On this effort is founded:
      • the soft, gentle, amiable virtues, and
      • the virtues of candid condescension and indulgent humanity.
  2. The effort of the person observed to bring down his emotions to what the observer can go along with
    • From this effort originates the great, respectable virtues of self-denial and self-control.
      • These subject our nature to what our own dignity, honour, and proper conduct requires.

1.1.41 A man is very amiable if his sympathetic heart:

When we bring home to ourselves the situation of his companions, we enter into their gratitude.

1.1.42 On the other hand, we feel noble propriety and grace in those who exert self-command:

We are disgusted with that clamorous grief, which calls on our compassion with sighs, tears, and lamentations.

1.1.43 In the same way, the insolence and brutality of unrestrained anger is most detestable.

1.1.44 Hence, the perfection of human nature consists:

Only these can produce that harmony of sentiments and passions.

1.1.45 Good taste and good judgement imply:

The virtues of sensibility and self-command are as uncommon.

1.1.46 In this respect, there is a big difference between virtue and mere propriety.

1.1.47On the contrary, there might be much virtue in actions which fall short of the most perfect propriety.

1.1.48 In such cases, we frequently use two different standards to determine the blame or applause due to any action:

  1. The idea of complete propriety and perfection, which no human conduct ever can come up to in those difficult situations
    • Everyone's actions must forever appear blameable and imperfect compared to that perfection.
  2. The idea of the distance from this complete perfection, which the actions of most men commonly arrive at.
    • Whatever goes beyond this common degree of propriety seems to deserve applause.
      • Whatever falls short of it seems to deserve blame.

1.1.49 In the same way, we judge works of art which address themselves to the imagination.


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