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The Theory of Moral Sentiments

4.02  ·  Rating Details ·  2,415 Ratings  ·  76 Reviews
Best known for his revolutionary free-market economics treatise The Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith was first and foremost a moral philosopher. In his first book, The Theory of Moral Sentiments, he investigated the flip side of economic self-interest: the interest of the greater good. Smith's classic work advances ideas about conscience, moral judgement and virtue that have ...more
Paperback, 528 pages
Published May 6th 2010 by Penguin Classics
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Feb 22, 2009 Gary rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Introduction & Notes
Suggestions for Further Reading
A Note on the Text

--The Theory of Moral Sentiments

--Considerations concerning the first formation of languages

Biographical Notes
Textual Notes
Aug 27, 2009 Lynn rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Nov 15, 2010 Zahwil rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jul 16, 2014 James rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Brett Ellingson
Jun 30, 2012 Brett Ellingson rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: philosophy
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
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
Apr 12, 2008 AC rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
Bob Nichols
Mar 30, 2014 Bob Nichols rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Sep 14, 2008 Alexander rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Jan 17, 2015 Sara rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: empire
Machiavelli for the people of 'commercial societies' (without the irony), or a sentimental education for empire builders

[Through my ratings, reviews and edits I'm providing intellectual property and labor to Inc., listed on Nasdaq, which fully owns and in 2013 posted revenues for $74 billion and $274 million profits. Intellectual property and labor require compensation. Inc. is also requested to provide assurance that its employees and contractors' work con
Aug 01, 2015 CadBot rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is the best book I have ever read. A TA in college recommended this book to me, because I told him I liked Wealth of Nations, so I gave it a read a couple years later. I have read this book two times in a row back to back. I keep going back to to this book as a reference for a lot of aspects of my life. I am an engineer, but the info in this book was more helpful to me then most people. I say that because a lot my skills required a lot of anti-social practice.

I am not a big reader and my v
May 31, 2013 Noviny rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Nov 24, 2012 Alessandra rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: em-português, papel
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
Jan 30, 2016 Franz rated it it was amazing
Smith is well known as a the father of economics from his book The Wealth of Nations. But as professor of moral philosophy at the University of Glasgow this book is more fundamental to his thinking. The benefit of this particular edition is that the helpful introduction by Amarty Sen, a Nobel laureate in economics, shows how Smith's two major books are connected. In fact, contrary to the views of many economists, The Wealth of Nations depends on the views of morality and human nature presented b ...more
Karen Chung
May 07, 2016 Karen Chung rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book was published in 1759 by a prolific author best known as the father of modern economics, the iconic Adam Smith. It is impressive in the scope and depth with which it plumbs the human spirit. Smith put down on paper many of the things we learn simply through living, experiencing the world, and having interactions with all kinds of people, but he carefully carded and teased the fibers with a fine-tooth comb first, and often comes up with things we may not have explicitly considered ourse ...more
André Heijstek
Jan 12, 2014 André Heijstek rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: filosofie, economie
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
Apr 14, 2011 Teresa rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"As to love our neighbour as we love ourselves is the great law of Christianity, so it is the great precept of nature to love ourselves only as we love our neighbour, or what comes to the same thing, as our neighbour is capable of loving us."
Jul 14, 2010 Michael rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: philosophy
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.
Glenn Murphy
This book isn't terribly informative as a work on philosophy and psychology in general, but it is a somewhat fascinating look into the mind of Adam Smith himself.
Peter Wolfley
Nov 23, 2014 Peter Wolfley rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The idea that sympathy is the root of all benevolent acts and that our entire society is governed by this exchange of getting and giving sympathy was really cool to think about. Before taking class from Dr. Hart, I didn't know Adam Smith wrote anything besides the Wealth of Nations, which you are likely to misunderstand if you don't read this one as well.

One of my favorite bits of advice from the book is we should always try to have the best qualities of both the young and old. We are at our be
Michael Tarpinian
Interesting but I have read a lot of material that has built upon this work like Milton Friedman and Thomas Sowell. So it seemed derivative but I know this work came first. Still, it had a feeling of been there, read that.

Listened to the Libvivox audio. This was the first Librivox I listened to that had more than one reader. This was disconcerting because they read at different paces, volumes, and pitches. At high speed, this was tough. One reader was from Russia and one man was hispanic. Not th
Dec 30, 2013 Wealhtheow marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
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
Mar 19, 2007 Arjun rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: academic
Probably what the economists should have read before reading the "Wealth of Nations."
Zachary Slayback
Sep 25, 2013 Lance rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: philosophy, rhetoric
Adam Smith's treatise on morality and ethics was far more interesting than I first anticipated. Much of the book struck me more as a work of rhetorical theory than one of philosophy or ethics. One might describe Smith's approach to morality as phenomenological; he is observing how morality comes to be or is made to appear to us. In the process, he often takes a contextual approach that shows how visions of morality come to be different in various times and places. This interesting approach is co ...more
Nov 08, 2012 Alf rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: academic
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
Zachary G. 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
Sep 11, 2016 David rated it liked it
Adam Smith provides an interesting and insightful take on what leads people to perceive different actions as right or wrong. He proves surprisingly relevant and relatable two and a half centuries later (well, except when he tries to explain how people perceived nobility -- the closest analog this American could think of was the way some people view celebrities). I would give it four stars except that the writing style, so typical of the enlightenment, put me to sleep within 20 minutes nearly eve ...more
May 21, 2013 Chris rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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General Discussion 1 6 Nov 14, 2013 09:34PM  
Smith's Theory of Moral Sentiments 3 18 Nov 14, 2013 09:30PM  
  • The Constitution of Liberty
  • The Spirit of the Laws (Cambridge Texts in the History of Political Thought)
  • Essays on political economy
  • The Principles of Morals and Legislation
  • On the Aesthetic Education of Man
  • Lectures on the History of Moral Philosophy
  • Essays: Moral, Political and Literary
  • Reflections on the Revolution in France
  • A Letter Concerning Toleration: Humbly Submitted
  • Elements of the Philosophy of Right
  • Principia Ethica (Philosophical Classics)
  • Principles of Political Economy: And Chapters on Socialism
  • Theological-Political Treatise
  • Adam Smith: An Enlightened Life
  • Political Writings (Texts in the History of Political Thought)
  • The Methods of Ethics
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 about 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.” 268 likes
“Never complain of that of which it is at all times in your power to rid yourself.” 84 likes
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