Adam Smith's Simplified Theory of Moral Sentiments, Part 3, Chapter 3a: The Influences and Authority of Conscience

Chapter 3a: The Influences and Authority of Conscience

43 The approbation of man's own conscience can content his own weaknesses only during some extraordinary occasions.

 

The Eye of the Impartial Spectator

44 Objects appear big or small to the eye according to their distance from it, not so much according to their real dimensions.

 

45 In the same way, the loss or gain of our own very small interest appears to be vastly more important to the selfish and original passions of human nature.

 

46 Let us suppose that China was suddenly swallowed up by an earthquake.

Would a man of humanity be willing to sacrifice the lives of millions of his brethren, provided he had never seen them, to prevent this paltry misfortune to himself?

It is reason, principle, conscience the inhabitant of the breast, the man within, the great judge and arbiter of our conduct.

 

47 When the happiness or misery of others depends on our conduct, we dare not, as self-love might suggest to us, prefer the interest of one to the interest of many.

 

48 A person must never prefer himself so much as to hurt or injure others in order to benefit himself, even if his benefit should be much greater than the hurt to the other.

 

49 We do not always need to restrain our natural anxiety on our own affairs or our natural indifference on the affairs of others when:

The most vulgar education teaches us to act with some impartiality between ourselves and others on important times.

 

Two Sets of Negative Moral Philosophers: One increases our fellow-feeling through pessimism, another reduces our ego

50 Two sets of philosophers have tried to teach us this hardest of all the lessons of morality.

 

51 The first are those whining and sad moralists.

But this extreme sympathy with misfortunes which we do not know seems absurd.

Everyone is entitled to our good wishes.

52 We have too little fellow-feeling with the joy of success.

 

53 The second set of philosophers reduce our sensibility to our own interest.


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Next: Chapter 3b: Direct and Indirect Misfortunes