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The Theory of Moral Sentiments (Penguin Classics) Paperback – January 26, 2010
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-Amartya Sen, from the Introduction
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Smith's first section deals with the "Propriety of Action". The very first chapter of the book is entitled "Of Sympathy". This is very telling of Smith's view of life, and his approach to how men should conduct their lives. "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, though he derives nothing from it, except the pleasure of seeing it." (p 1:1). Later Smith asserts that this "sympathy, however, cannot, in any sense, be regarded as a selfish principle." (p 2:178)
This propriety of conduct undergirds all social, political and economic activities, private and public. When Smith observes that "hatred and anger are the greatest poisons to the happiness of a good mind" (p 1:44) he is speaking not only of interpersonal relationships but of its moral extensions in the community and world.Read more ›
Smith takes our moral nature as a given. Humans are born with an innate capacity for sympathy. We identify others as like ourselves and unless otherwise provoked, do not want to hurt others. We also have an innate desire for esteem. We learn early that treating others kindly gains us admiration in the same way that we naturally admire kind people. This is the core of Smiths thesis and from here he puts examines these principles across an array of human behaviors. Why do we tell truths when we could tell undetected lies? Why would we do kindly to others even if esteem of peers is not gauranteed? Why would some die for their family members or their country?
Probably the trait Smith admires most is prudence; the art of knowing what is and is not appropriate action both in our subjective judgement and that of an imagined 'impartial spectator.' The prudent person is able and willing to put herself in the context of other people. 'Although an action seems justified to me, would others see it that way?' 'Would satisfying small desire X of mine be an obstacle to other's fulfillment of larger desires?'
It goes on from there. Smith puts these ideas well to the test going through scenario after scenario. Because of this, I would say this book should be shelved in psychology, not philosophy as it simply tries to give an account of the way we think. Thus the philosopher looking for a forcefully stated, internally consistent and completely reasoned 'moral system' will not find it in these pages.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
It is difficult to read and poorly written. It was frustrating and confusing. Distinguishing the author's writing from those he referenced was the biggest challenge. Read morePublished 6 days ago by Marie Campbell
I was extremely disappointed with this purchase. It was not the item I wanted and I feel that I was tricked into purchasing it. Read morePublished 2 months ago by Amazon Customer
I think it is very important to go back and read these great works the wisdom is applies to all times and all ages.Published 3 months ago by Nicholas p. Rottunda
Meh! a book about how people think that reiterates itself 20x's to say one thing. Lost my attention and interest after chapter 1.Published 5 months ago by jason
The literature itself is excellent, as one would expect when reading any great classic work of western civilization. Read morePublished 6 months ago by Alexhill