Adam Smith's Simplified Theory of Moral Sentiments, Part 1, Section 3, Chapter 3: Corruption of morality

Chapter 3: Corruption of Morality by this disposition to admire the rich and despise the poor

The similarity between the respect for greatness and respect for virtue corrupts morality

28We have a disposition to:

Both of these are necessary to establish and maintain:


However, it is also the most universal cause of the corruption of our moral sentiments.


29 We desire:

We dread to be contemptible and to be condemned.

The great objects of ambition are to deserve, acquire, and enjoy mankind's respect and admiration.

  30 Our respect for wisdom and virtue is different from our respect for wealth and greatness.  

31 In equal degrees of merit, everyone respects the rich and the great more than the poor and the humble.


32 In the middle and lower ranks, the road to virtue and the road to reasonable fortune are often happily nearly the same.


33 In the upper classes, the case is unhappily not always the same.

In such societies, the abilities to please are more regarded than the abilities to serve.

A 'man of fashion' is an impertinent and foolish thing.

The duke of Sully was called on by Lewis XIII for his advice in some great emergency.  

34 The rich and the great can set or lead fashion because of our disposition to admire and consequently to imitate them.

Vain men often give themselves airs of a fashionable profligacy.

There are hypocrites of wealth and greatness, as well as of religion and virtue.


In the lower ranks, the road to fortune is through virtue, but in the upper ranks, the road is through vice

35 The candidates for fortune too frequently abandon the paths of virtue to attain this envied situation.

In many governments, the candidates for the highest positions are above the law.

The ambitious man really pursues honour, though frequently a very misunderstood honour, and not ease or pleasure.


Notes for this chapter

The feeling of approbation is always agreeable.

  1. The observer's sympathetic feeling
  2. The observer's feeling (Feeling C) after he sees the perfect coincidence between his sympathetic feeling (Feeling B) and the original feeling (Feeling A) in the the observee.
    • The feeling of approbation is in the last emotion (Feeling C) and is always agreeable.
    • The second emotion (Feeling B) may be agreeable or disagreeable, according to the nature of the original emotion (Feeling A).
    • That second emotion must always retain some features of the original emotion.

Words: 1,977
Next: Part 2, Section 1, Chapter 1: Reward and Punishment