The Theory of Moral Sentiments
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The Theory of Moral Sentiments

4.02 of 5 stars 4.02  ·  rating details  ·  1,564 ratings  ·  53 reviews
The foundation for a general system of morals, this 1749 work is a landmark in the history of moral and political thought. Readers familiar with Adam Smith from The Wealth of Nations will find this earlier book a revelation. Although the author is often misrepresented as a calculating rationalist who advises the pursuit of self-interest in the marketplace, regardless of th...more
Paperback, 368 pages
Published December 1st 2006 by Dover Publications (first published January 1st 1767)
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Gary
Like many great thinkers who are scorned by the disciples of collectivism, Adam Smith (1723-1790) displays a depth of understanding that is rather alien to the white noise that too often passes for our intellectual life. Anyone familiar with his work knows that his precision and the organization of his arguments border on perfection.

Another aspect of his writing that stands out is his acknowledgement of reality. This is not to be taken for granted; not long after his death, the flirtation with S...more
Lynn
This book is not easy to read. At times the book is tedious and somewhat difficult to understand. It is long and it sometimes seems wordy. That said, it contains some of the best prose in philosophy, and the numerous insights are incredible.

Most people have heard the common defense of capitalism in the Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations:
"It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest."

They assume Smith...more
James
Reading Adam Smith, like Hume or Gibbon, takes you into a century where the prose styles were more classical than today. I was fortunate to study Latin in high school, but Smith had Greek and Latin studies from an early age. His references to Aristotle, Plato, the Stoics and Cicero are central to his work. But his immediate predecessor was Francis Hutcheson of the University of Glasgow, who divided moral philosophy into four parts: Ethics and Virtue; Private rights and Natural liberty; Familial...more
Zahwil
a difficult book to read, but I was inspired by a series of podcasts that Russell Roberts and Dan Klein (George Mason U) did in the summer of 2009. An idea in the book that I liked is that, counterintuivity, an "impartial spectator" is better company when you're downtrodden than a friend or relative. What you need is not necessarily sympathy but the ability to look at your situation as an impartial spectator would. In the company of strangers, our natural tendency is to bring our emotions down t...more
Brett Ellingson
Probably the most mind-blowing book I read when I was an undergrad and one of the few that I find myself going back to again and again. Smith does for morality what Darwin did to biodiversity - took a phenomenon widely assumed to have been bluntly imposed from above and showed it to be rather something that naturally emerges from the interaction of individuals endowed with certain properties (in this case, instincts both for self-preservation and empathy/sympathy). I finished with an exciting wa...more
AC
Along with On The Wealth of Nations, I re-read this every couple of years. It is Smith's predecessor and guide book to the ideas in On The Wealth of Nations. It is the moral underpinning that needs to be present for a capitalist nation not to become a nation of exploitative, money hungry, soulless power mongers using people as economic ends to gain superiority by an over-valuing of wealth. Alas, we did not take heed.
Don Robertson
There is a lot of good reading here. One need not entirely agree with an author to benefit from reading his thoughts. Knud Haakonssen's introduction to this tome in the 'Cambridge Texts in the History of Philosophy' first published in 2002 is well worth the read.

Adam Smith, more important for having written 'The Wealth of Nations', is here quite cogent if dated. His view of morality is that morality must be supported by ideas of propriety, chivalry, honor, duty etc. I do not hold this view.

Adam...more
Alexander
Adam Smith is a curious figure in the history of thought; economists don't read him because they view him as a philosopher, but philosophers don't read him because they view him as an economist. This curious dichotomy is represented in the Theory of Moral Sentiments, Smith's work on moral virtue. In many ways, Smith's work is a return to the "virtue theory" school of moral philosophy best represented in the ancient tradition by Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics.

Theory of Moral Sentiments is very r...more
Noviny
The Theory of Moral Sentiments is one of two major works that Adam Smith wrote, and to try and understand the man who wrote down and formalised many of the key concepts of a capitalist society, and anyone wanting to understand his more famous book, The Wealth of Nations, should really delve in to this book.

For those more interested in a different take on moral philosophy, this book is one of the best books you can read for defining, outlining and arguing for ethics as our sympathy for other peop...more
Alessandra
Must read book to anyone interested in Economics or Sociology. Smith's observations on human relations and sentiments seem to me very precise. It was written in 1749, but it explains contemporary society so well it could have been written yesterday.
Why are we moral? sympathy, envy, virtue, friendship. Why are some people admired? Our undeniable need of acceptance by society. " Is there bigger happinness than to be loved and to know that we deserve this love? is there bigger disgrace than to be...more
André Heijstek
Part 1 - On the propriety of action


Section 1 - On the sense of propriety


Chapter 1 - Of sympathy

Smith’s begrip van sympathy past beter bij mijn/ons begrip van empathy - het kunnen meevoelen met de blijdschap en het leed van anderen.

Chapter 2 - Of the pleasure of mutual sympathy

Als anderen op eenzelfde manier meeleven als wijzelf geeft dat een intens gevoel van verbondenheid.
Dat anderen meeleven met onze boosheid is belangrijker voor ons dan dat ze meeleven met onze vreugde.

Chapter 3 - Of the mann...more
Michael
I found this book repetative and not clearly structured. The ideas were interesting, but it contained little that Hume or Locke hadn't said better already.
** I wouldn't recommend a friend read this book.
Wealhtheow
Dec 30, 2013 Wealhtheow marked it as to-read
Someday I hope I'll be ambitious enough to read this in its entirety, because the excerpts I've come across have been incredible. Latest example, found in The Better Angels of Our Nature:
It is not the soft power of humanity, it is not that feeble spark of benevolence which Nature has lighted up in the human heart, that it is thus capable of counteracting the strongest impulses of self-love. It is a stronger power, a more forcible motive, which exerts itself upon such occasions. It is reason, pr
...more
Arjun
Probably what the economists should have read before reading the "Wealth of Nations."
Bob Nichols
The "Theory of Moral Sentiments" is based on Smith's assertion that we are both social ("mutally sympathetic") and self-interested beings, and that social order must be based on these two fundamental classes of moral sentiments.

On this foundation, Smith derives three virtues that promote social order. The first is propriety, which is self-command over the passions. This virtue is based on Smith's observation that, as individuals seek their own freedom, the freedom of one is not more important th...more
Alf
Enjoyable to some extent. It keeps its pace all throughout the book so what you get at the begging is of the same quality as what you get towards the end. But that's just it, you get the same thing. Its not a book meant to escalate into deeper parts of the mind with every chapter, its a case by case study of the different "sentiments" we as humans share. Useful? Yes, I would say so. Interesting? Yes, that too. Light reading? No, not quite.

One of the many things I did like however was how many ey...more
David Gross
If you’ve heard of Adam Smith, it’s probably because of his book The Wealth of Nations, which launched the study of economics, or his concept of “the invisible hand” by which individuals, each looking out only for their own personal gain, end up unwittingly contributing to the prosperity of society as a whole.

I have not read The Wealth of Nations, but I’m currently reading Smith’s earlier book, The Theory of Moral Sentiments.

When people argue about the application of moral values, usually implic...more
Zach Augustine
The muddled first draft of the Wealth of Nations except it's about "feelings" instead of rationalism.

The premise of the book is confusing and bloated at best and nonsensical at worst. Unlike the Wealth of Nations, Smith's Theory of Moral Sentiments appears very dated and unnecessary when read today. Either these ideas are so ingrained in public consciousness from a book no one remembers, or Smith is restating the obvious. Technically, there are several philosophical assumptions that Smith makes...more
Chris
My copy was 300 pages, but accounting for my frequent trips back up the page to try again at deciphering Smith's tangled wording, the book is 700 pages of reading. Unlike many older books in which the value and difficulty of the writing style are fundamentally interwoven, the antiquated style here is nothing more than a barrier. But the contents are worth struggling for. Don't get me wrong, Smith falls into all the traps you would expect - conflating West European cultural history with human nat...more
Mike
This is a really bad book. Any sentimentalists out there who are inclined to cite this as a foundational book for their viewpoint should think twice. The scholarship is horrifyingly irrelevant and speculative, even for books of the period, and you have to work so hard to get a positive theory out of it that it's scarcely worth it. No, I changed my mind. It's not worth it. Adam Smith should have stuck with economics.

Addendum: I'll throw Smith one bone. He brings up some of the puzzles surroundin...more
Pamela Day
Required reading. Foundational thought of capitalism and the introduction of 'the invisible hand'. Very interesting, and imho accurate conclusions on what Smith calls 'sympathy' - what we call empathy.
What Smith didn't envision is what we are currently faced with, is the same model of self-interest without the empathy. Where is the invisible hand now?
Doyle
Can I really rate or review a work responsible for changing the world? There are some classics were an individual rating or review means little to nothing because the literary work changed the world and created or changed a society and—living in this society—changed the way we think. Those individuals who rate something like this as one star… it is because they did not enjoy the book or do not understand the book. The star does not represent the quality of the book. As such, I rated this as four...more
Talmadge East
I walked into this book looking for economics and instead found a gem of a book about humanity itself. I had also expected a "dry" book, but was immediately enamored with how easy the book was to read compared to other books of similar topics. Smith basically makes observations about humanity, its moral center, and how man goes about life applying the aforementioned. Certainly one would have to be looking for a book of this type of subject (as Smith was a Professor of Moral Philosophy in Scotlan...more
Sarah
Smith's treatise on personal and social morality and their relationship to economics is a foundational text in philosophy and a valuable perspective on the ethics of economics and capitalism. His imperatives to monitor the "man within the breast" (akin to conscience) and to act (or not act) not according to one's own interests but according to those of an objective "impartial spectator" resonate still, especially in the current climate, contentious over the dispersion of wealth. Smith's lingerin...more
Patrice
I love Adam Smith! He has this logical way of explaining things.

He's partly following in Aristotle's footsteps. Trying to explain how people behave in a systematic way. He's trying to derive a rational system that explains why religious values make sense. He's also a psychologist. He's also a political scientist. My head is swirling. He's trying to do so much!

I kept thinking, as I read, that the founders of the US were coming out of a philosophical gold mine of ideas. The US is a country founde...more
Chris
Just a note: I'm "currently reading" this in the sense that I started it several years ago, pick it up every now and then, fail to make much progress, and set it back down. So far, it's an interesting (but often tedious) analysis of why we act the way we do: out of concern for the theoretical "disinterested observer". I understand this was an innovation for political philosophy at the time, but I don't feel too blown away by it. Maybe one day I'll finish it. It is worth knowing that Adam Smith w...more
Noha Shaker
It sums it all! Providing answers and solutions to the political turmoils driven by economic crisis!
Tracy
Mar 16, 2013 Tracy is currently reading it
I've been hearing about "Wealth of Nations," but was also told that we really need to start with "The Theory of Moral Sentiments." That is why I'm reading this. It's not a super easy read. No exciting twists and turns or rousing of emotion. But it's also not complete torture. The reviews I've read on here are even over head. I don't feel nearly as scholarly as these people. Just an average American woman wanting to future my understanding and gain more knowledge. I agree that what I've read so f...more
Ross Emmett
As much as I love Wealth of Nations, I have come to realization that Smith's first book, The Theory of Moral Sentiments, is not only a necessary companion, but an even better book. The "Kirkaldy Smith," as opposed to the "Chicago Smith," comes through clearly here from the first page. I now include it in the syllabus for my course on Enlightenment era political philosophy (Locke to Tocqueville) and wish more economists would read it, for they, as much as anybody, are prone to become Smith's "man...more
Savannah S
Of the two books we read by Adam Smith (this and Wealth of Nations), I by far preferred this one. Not a fan of economic theory at all, so I enjoyed that Smith took a look at society and the way it works from a moral perspective in this work. It was an interesting work to discuss and analyze in class, and I'm glad that I had the chance to read it (and honestly, learn of its existence) because I otherwise probably would not have.
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  • Elements of the Philosophy of Right
  • Lectures on the History of Moral Philosophy
  • Essays: Moral, Political and Literary
  • A Letter Concerning Toleration: Humbly Submitted
  • The New Organon
  • The Principles of Political Economy and Taxation
  • Reflections on the Revolution in France
  • Theological-Political Treatise
  • On Liberty and Other Essays
  • On the Aesthetic Education of Man
  • Critique of Practical Reason (Texts in the History of Philosophy)
  • The Fragility of Goodness: Luck and Ethics in Greek Tragedy and Philosophy
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14424
Although the exact date of Smith's birth is unknown, his baptism was recorded on 16 June 1723 at Kirkcaldy.

A Scottish moral philosopher and a pioneer of political economy. One of the key figures of the Scottish Enlightenment, Smith is the author of The Theory of Moral Sentiments and An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations. The latter, usually abbreviated as The Wealth of Nat...more
More about Adam Smith...
The Wealth of Nations: An Inquiry into the Nature & Causes of the Wealth of Nations The Wealth of Nations, Books 1-3 The Invisible Hand An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, Volume 1 The Essential Adam Smith

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“The great source of both the misery and disorders of human life, seems to arise from over-rating the difference between one permanent situation and another. Avarice over-rates the difference between poverty and riches: ambition, that between a private and a public station: vain-glory, that between obscurity and extensive reputation. The person under the influence of any of those extravagant passions, is not only miserable in his actual situation, but is often disposed to disturb the peace of society, in order to arrive at that which he so foolishly admires. The slightest observation, however, might satisfy him, that, in all the ordinary situations of human life, a well-disposed mind may be equally calm, equally cheerful, and equally contented. Some of those situations may, no doubt, deserve to be preferred to others: but none of them can deserve to be pursued with that passionate ardour which drives us to violate the rules either of prudence or of justice; or to corrupt the future tranquillity of our minds, either by shame from the remembrance of our own folly, or by remorse from the horror of our own injustice.” 168 likes
“Never complain of that of which it is at all times in your power to rid yourself.” 53 likes
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