Adam Smith's Simple Theory of Moral Sentiments, Part 2, Section 1, Chatper 5: The Analysis of the Sense of Merit and Demerit
Chapter 5: The analysis of the sense of Merit and Demerit
The Sense of Merit arises from sympathy
221. Our sense of merit on a subject-person's actions comes from a direct sympathy with the subject-person's feelings and motives.
- Our sense of its merit arises from an indirect sympathy with the gratitude of the action's receiver or its object-person.
23 We cannot thoroughly enter into the beneficiary's gratitude, unless we approve of the benefactor's motives beforehand.
- Thus, the sense of merit is a compounded feeling.
- It is made up of two distinct emotions:
- A direct sympathy with the subject-person's feelings
- An indirect sympathy with the gratitude of its object-person
24 Many times, we may plainly distinguish those two emotions uniting together in our sense of the good desert of a particular character or action.
- After we read about actions of beneficent greatness of mind, we:
- eagerly enter into such designs,
- are animated by their high-spirited generosity
- become keen for their success
- grieve at their disappointment
- We imagine that we are the subject-person.
- In imagination, we bring ourselves to the scenes of those adventures.
- We think ourselves acting the part of a Scipio, Camillus, Timoleon or Aristides.
- So far, our feelings are founded on the direct sympathy with subject-person.
- The indirect sympathy with the object-persons who receive the actions' benefit are not less sensibly felt.
- Whenever we place ourselves in their situation:
- we feel as thankful towards those who served them, with a warm fellow-feeling
- we embrace their benefactor along with them
- our heart readily sympathizes with their grateful affection
- We think that no honours, no rewards can be too great for them to bestow on him.
- When they make this proper return, we heartily applaud them.
- But we are shocked if they appear to have little sense of the obligations conferred on them.
- In short, the sympathetic emotions of gratitude and love is the source of our whole sense of:
- the merit and good desert of such actions,
- the propriety and fitness of recompensing them, and
- making the person who performed them rejoice in his turn.
- With the emotions of gratitude and love, we bring home to our own breast the situation of those who feel the gratitude.
- We feel naturally transported towards the man who acted with such noble beneficence.
The Sense of Demerit arises from lack of sympathy
25 2. Our sense of demerit on the subject-person's action arises from a lack of sympathy or a direct antipathy to the subject-person's feelings and motives.
- Likewise, our sense of its demerit arises from an indirect sympathy with the resentment of the object-person.
26 We cannot enter into the object-person's resentment unless our heart beforehand:
- disapproves the subject-person's motives and
- renounces all fellow-feeling with them.
Likewise, the sense of merit and demerit are compounded sentiments made up of two distinct emotions:
- a direct antipathy to the subject-person's feelings, and
- an indirect sympathy with the object-person's resentment.
27 Here we can plainly distinguish those two emotions uniting in our sense of demerit of an action.
- When we read about the cruelty of a Borgia or a Nero, our heart:
- rises up against the detestable feelings which influenced their conduct, and
- horridly renounces all fellow-feeling with such execrable motives.
- So far, our feelings are founded on:
- the direct antipathy to the subject-person's feelings, and
- the indirect sympathy with the object-person's resentment which is still more sensibly felt.
- When we bring home to ourselves the situation of the persons they insulted, murdered, or betrayed, we feel indignation against such oppressors.
- Our sympathy with the distress of the innocent sufferers is just as real and lively with our fellow-feeling for their just resentment.
- Our sympathy for their distress only heightens our sympahty for their resentment.
- When we think of the sufferers' anguish, we take part with them more earnestly against their oppressors.
- We more eagerly enter into their schemes of vengeance.
- We feel wreaking that punishment, which our sympathetic indignation tells us their oppressors must receive.
- The sympathetic indignation naturally boils up in the spectator's breast whenever he thoroughly brings home to himself the sufferer's case.
- This indignation causes:
- our sense of the horror of such conduct,
- our delight in hearing that it was properly punished,
- our indignation when it escapes this punishment, and
- our whole sense and feeling of its badness:
- of the propriety and fitness of inflicting evil on the guilty person, and
- making him grieve in his turn.
Next: Part 2, Section 1, Chapter 1: Justice and Beneficence