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Theory Of Moral Sentiments Summary Notes

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POL8: Adam Smith

Easter 2018

The Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759)
Part I: of the Propriety of Action

• Sympathy: "how selfish soever man may be supposed, there are evidently some principles in his nature, which interest him in the fortune of others, and render their happiness necessary to him" It is derived from the "imagination" of what sensations of the person principally involved are (9)

• "Fellow-feelings" (10)

• sympathy not just with pain and sorrow. You can sympathise with any emotions (10) but we do not sympathise with all emotions, some emotions "disgust and provoke" us, like the behaviours of an angry man (11)

• therefore, sympathy arises not from the sight of that emotion, but from the imagination of what excites that emotion (12)

• Our sympathy w/ sorrow is much stronger than sympathy with joy, because pain is more pungent sensation than pleasure.
Pleasure of Mutual Sympathy

• nothing is more pleasurable than observing that someone else is sympathising with you, and usually shocked by the absence of that (13)

• pleasure is magnified by sharing with someone else. Misfortune lessened when shared too
How we judge of the propriety or impropriety of the affections of other man

• when the original passions of the person principally concerned are in concord with the sympathetic emotions of the spectator, the emotions appear to be "just and proper" (16)

• the passion of others must be suitable to the objects. We could approve or disapprove of their passions, as well as sympathise or not sympathise w/ them.

• the causes of one's affection constitute propriety and impropriety, and the effects constitute merit or demerit.

• agreeing w/ or approving of someone's sentiment or judgment is seeing it as something right, agreeable to truth, and not as useful. This is what taste is.

• virtues are more than propriety. Whereas virtues should be admired and celebrated,
propriety should be approved of. Virtue is 'something uncommonly great and beautiful'. The great virtues are sensibility and self-command. (25)
Different types of passion

• passion w/ origin from the body e.g. hunger and pain

• passion from imagination (imagination from sympathy)

• unsocial passions: hatred and anger

• social passions: generosity, humanity, kindness, compassion, friendship and esteem.

• selfish passions: middle place between social and unsocial passion. Grief and joy.

• Our ambition: we are naturally inclined to pursue riches and avoid poverty. The 'great purpose of human life' is to better our condition. Why? 'It is the vanity, not the ease, or the pleasure, which interests us'. We long to be observed, to be taken notice of with sympathy.

• The poor man is ashamed of his poverty. He feels like he is not being taken notice of, that no one shares any fellow-feeling w/ his sufferings.

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