Adam Smith's Simplified Theory of Moral Sentiments, Part 7, Section 1d: Stoicism
Chapter 1d: Summary of Stoicism and other Propriety-based Moral Philosophies
46 In general, the Stoics admitted that there might be some proficiency in people who had not advanced to perfect virtue and happiness.
- They distributed those proficients into different classes, according to their level of advancement.
- They called the imperfect virtues not as rectitudes, but as proprieties, fitnesses, decent and becoming actions.
- Cicero called these officia
- Seneca more exactly called them convenientia
- The doctrine of those imperfect, but attainable virtues constituted 'the practical morality of the Stoics'.
- It is the subject of Cicero's Offices.
- It was the subject of another book written by Marcus Brutus, but which is now lost.
47 The system which Nature sketched out for our conduct seems different from the Stoical system.
48 By Nature, we are interested with the events that affect our little selves the most.
- Our interest creates our feelings
- Those feelings are often too vehement.
- If they become too vehement, Nature has provided a proper remedy:
- the real or even imaginary presence of the impartial spectator, the authority of the man within the breast, is always there to overawe and moderate our feelings.
49 Nature has left us a consolation if all the events which affect our little selves becomes disastrous.
- That consolation may be drawn from:
- the complete approbation of the man within the breast, and
- if possible, a firm reliance on, and a reverential submission to, that benevolent wisdom which directs human life.
- It is a still nobler principle.
- We would never have suffered those misfortunes if they were not necessary for the good of the whole.
50 Nature did not prescribe this sublime contemplation to us as the great occupation of our lives.
- She only points it out to us as the consolation of our misfortunes.
- On the contrary, the Stoical philosophy prescribes it as the great occupation of our lives.
- Stoical philosophy teaches us to earnestly interest only those events which concern the department of the great Superintendant of the universe.
- We do not have and should not have any management or direction in that department.
- It tries to render us indifferent and unconcerned in the success or failure of everything which Nature has prescribed to us as the proper business and occupation of our lives, by:
- the perfect apathy it prescribes,
- trying to eradicate all our private, partial, and selfish affections, and
- not even letting the impartial spectator's sympathetic feelings make us feel for whatever happens to ourselves, our friends, and country.
51 The reasonings of philosophy may confound and perplex the understanding.
- But they can never break down the necessary connection which Nature established between causes and their effects.
- Despite all the reasonings of Stoicism, the causes which naturally excite our feelings would produce their effects on each individual according to his actual sensibility.
- However, the judgments of the man within the breast might be much affected by those reasonings.
- They might teach that great inmate to attempt to overawe all our private, partial, and selfish affections into a perfect tranquility.
- The great purpose of all moral systems is to direct the judgments of this inmate.
- Stoicism had a very great influence on the character of its followers.
- It might sometimes incite them to unnecessary violence.
- Its general tendency was to animate them to actions of:
- the most heroic magnanimity and
- most extensive benevolence.
Other moral systems which put virtue as propriety
52 Besides these ancient systems, there are some modern systems, according to which virtue consists in propriety.
- Dr. Clark's system places virtue in:
- acting according to the relations of things, and
- regulating our conduct according to the fitness to certain things or relations.
- Mr. Woollaston's system places virtue in acting according to:
- the truth of things, and
- their proper nature and essence, or in treating them as what they really are
- Lord Shaftesbury's system places virtue in:
- maintaining a proper balance of the affections, and
- allowing no passion to go beyond its proper sphere.
- All of them are inaccurate descriptions of the same fundamental idea.
53 None of those systems give any precise measure to judget this propriety of feelings.
- That precise and distinct measure can only be found in the sympathetic feelings of the impartial and well-informed spectator.
54 Some of the modern authors are not very good in expressing things.
- The description of virtue in each of those systems is quite just.
- There is no virtue without propriety.
- Wherever there is propriety, some approbation is due.
- But this description is still imperfect.
- Because even if propriety is an essential ingredient in every virtuous action, it is not always the sole ingredient.
- Beneficent actions have another quality which make them appear deserving, not only of approbation, but also of recompense.
- None of those systems explain:
- the superior esteem due to beneficent actions, or
- the diversity of feelings created by beneficent actions.
- Neither is their description of vice more complete.
- Because in the same way, impropriety is a necessary ingredient in every bad action
- But it is not always the sole ingredient.
- The very harmless and insignificant actions are often the most absurd and improper.
- Deliberately pernicious actions, against those we live with, have other qualities, in addition to their impropriety, which makes them appear:
- deserving of disapprobation and punishment.
- as objects of dislike, resentment, and revenge
- None of those systems easily explain our superior feelings of detestation for vicious actions.
Next: Chapter 2: Prudence