Adam Smith's Simplified Theory of Moral Sentiments, Part 3, Chapter 4: The Nature of Self-deceit and the Origin and Use of General Rule

Chapter 4: The Nature of Self-deceit and the Origin and Use of General Rule

88 The impartial spectator does not always need to be far to pervert our judgments on our own conduct.

89 There are two occasions when we examine our own conduct and try to view it as how the impartial spectator sees it:

  1. When we are about to act
  2. After we have acted.

Our views tend to be very partial in both cases.

90 Before we perform an act, our feeling's eagerness will seldom allow us to think about what we are doing.

We protect our ego through self-deceit, a weakness of humans which creates half of the disorders of human life

91 We can enter more coolly into the indifferent spectator's feeling whens:

What interested us before is almost now as indifferent to us as it always was to the impartial spectator.

However, they are seldomly quite candid even in this case.

Rather than see our own behaviour so disagreeably, we often foolishly try to exasperate those unjust feelings which misled us.

92 Mankind's views on the propriety of their own conduct are so partial, both during the time of action and afterwards.


93Half the disorders of human life is caused by this self-deceit, this fatal weakness of mankind.

Nature's remedy for self-deceit are general rules

94 However, Nature has not left this important weakness without a remedy.

95 Thus, the general rules of morality are formed.

On the contrary, the general rule is formed when we find that certain kinds of actions are approved or disapproved of.

96 When we read in history or romance, we admire the account of actions of generosity or condemn the actions of baseness.

97 An amiable action, a respectable action, an horrid action, are actions which naturally excite the observer's love, respect, or horror for its doer.

98 These general rules are formed and universally established by the concurring feelings of mankind.

99 When those general rules of conduct have been fixed in our mind by habitual reflection, they are very useful in correcting the misrepresentations of self-love on what is moral.

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Next: Chapter 5: Morality as rules of the deity