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The Theory of Moral Sentiments

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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 the human cost, he was also interested in the human capacity for benevolence — as The Theory of Moral Sentiments amply demonstrates.
The greatest prudence, Smith suggests, may lie in following economic self-interest in order to secure the basic necessities. This is only the first step, however, toward the much higher goal of achieving a morally virtuous life. Smith elaborates upon a theory of the imagination inspired by the philosophy of David Hume. His reasoning takes Hume's logic a step further by proposing a more sophisticated notion of sympathy, leading to a series of highly original theories involving conscience, moral judgment, and virtue.
Smith's legacy consists of his reconstruction of the Enlightenment idea of a moral, or social, science that embraces both political economy and the theory of law and government. His articulate expression of his philosophy continues to inspire and challenge modern readers.

368 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1759

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About the author

Adam Smith

1,003 books1,736 followers
For other authors of this name, see Adam Smith.

Wealth of Nations (1776) of Scottish political economist and philosopher Adam Smith laid the foundations of classical free-market theory.

Despite the unknown exact date, authorities recorded his baptism on 16 June 1723 at Kirkcaldy.

This pioneer among the key figures of the Enlightenment authored The Theory of Moral Sentiments . People consider the first modern work of economics as his magnum opus and widely cite this father.


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Displaying 1 - 30 of 234 reviews
Profile Image for Amit Mishra.
234 reviews671 followers
June 12, 2020
Though Adam Smith is regarded as the father of modern economics from the core of his heart he was a sound philosopher. He was a professor of moral philoshy and logic in Scotland. His most of the economic ideas are derived from the method of introspection.
The theory of moral sentiment brought him into the limelight in the 1760s. This one is the finest treatise on moral philosophy and sentiments.
Profile Image for Bradley.
Author 5 books4,107 followers
July 23, 2021
So, there's a lot of good and very little bad with this book. Adam Smith, the same Adam Smith that practically every Capitalist apologist uses as his go-to man to prop up Capitalism also wrote a bonafide philosophy book that runs the entire gamut of morality, ethics, and how people mistake their perceptions of the good for what actually IS good.

This is ironic, considering how many ways the fundamental idea of Capitalism (and not the bastardized and totally gamed version we have now) is considered the Prime Ideal, ignoring the slippery slope of all the bad actors that have turned it into something that only vaguely resembles the observations Adam Smith once talked about. But this is also outside of the scope of this book.

THIS book is a heartfelt attempt to break down popular morality (now hundreds of years out of date) and analyze it against what is actually good.

The takeaway?

His prose is fantastically clear and coherent and his assumptions are remarkably common sense. I found myself simply nodding along to every point and thinking about all the coming-of-age movies I saw as a kid and folding every connection together as if they had always belonged together.

This is a longish book and he makes a lot of points, mind you, but they can all be broken down pretty simply as be good to others, don't get caught up in SEEMING virtuous, but BE virtuous, and your collective society will be better off for it.

Again, NICELY ironic, modern capitalism. And don't forget to not put your thumb on the scales, weaponize debt, or obfuscate the living *uc* out of your business practices, especially when the ones who always pay the price are the ones least able to absorb the cost.

You know, the OPPOSITE of Adam Smith's Theory of Moral Sentiments.
Profile Image for Brett Ellingson.
13 reviews10 followers
June 30, 2012
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 way to conceptualize human relations, and greater skepticism for claims that morality is "just a cultural construct" that can be discounted or arbitrarily molded.
302 reviews
August 28, 2009
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 is the prototypical defender of man as primarily selfish, materialistic, and concerned only with the utilitarian and practical aspects of economics. Nothing could be further from the truth. Even in the Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith shows that man is much more than homo economicus, the economic man.

All morality is based on sympathy and how we interpret the perceptions of others, including the impartial spectator that Adam Smith claims is part of us. That is the essence of Smith’s morality and it doesn’t conflict with the Wealth of Nations as he expands and extends these ideas in the Theory of Moral Sentiments. There is a lot of information and a lot of insight throughout the book. As I was reading the Theory of Moral Sentiments I also was reading, Born to be Good. It was striking how Adam Smith, sitting in his armchair, had a better understanding of human nature than the PhD author of this popular psychology book. It brought to mind Richard Feynman’s view of social science which you can see on YouTube (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_EZcpT...). It doesn’t appear social science has advanced much since the times of Smith, but maybe I’ll change my opinion about that since I’m now reading a much better book, The Happiness Hypothesis.

I also watched some of Crimes and Misdemeanors while reading the Theory of Moral Sentiments. People think of Adam Smith as being cynical about morality based they remember him from of his defense of classical liberalism and capitalism in Wealth of Nations. Like the author who wrote Born to be Good, they assume Ayn Rand and Adam Smith share the same philosophy. I have not yet read The Wealth of Nations from beginning to end, and it has been a while since I have read major portions of it, but I’m pretty sure anyone who understands Adam Smith would not hold this opinion. Woody Allen is the real cynic. Although Adam Smith recognizes that men are not perfect and society cannot be perfected, he believes there is a moral sense inherent in man and that guilt, regret, and remorse are indicators. I think Smith would say Dostoevsky’s Raskolnikov is a more accurate depiction of man than Woody Allen’s Judah. However, this doesn't mean there are no Judah’s.

I really enjoyed the insights in the passages about the Chinese earthquake and how similar they are to current psychological research regarding active versus passive acts in moral decision making (the railroad switch). I also loved reading about the man of system and how relevant it is to today’s current political economy. Even though it is hard, it is worth reading at least some of Adam Smith, so I will provide these short two passages to give you a taste of his genius:

The Chinese Earthquake - Part III chapter 3
“If he [this man:] was to lose his little finger tomorrow, he would not sleep tonight; but, provided he never saw them [i.e, the people of China:], he would snore with the most profound security over the ruin of a hundred million of his brethren, and the destruction of that immense multitude seems plainly an object less interesting to him than this paltry misfortune of his own

To prevent, therefore, this paltry misfortune to himself, would a man of humanity be willing to sacrifice the lives of a hundred millions of his brethren, provided he had never seen them? Human nature startles with horror at the thought, and the world, in its greatest depravity and corruption, never produced such a villain as could be capable of entertaining it.”

Human nature startles with horror at the thought, and the world, in its greatest depravity and corruption, never produced such a villain as could be capable of entertaining it.

The Man of System – Part VI chapter 2
"The man of system, on the contrary, is apt to be very wise in his own conceit; and is often so enamoured with the supposed beauty of his own ideal plan of government, that he cannot suffer the smallest deviation from any part of it... He seems to imagine that he can arrange the different members of a great society with as much ease as the hand arranges the different pieces upon a chess-board. He does not consider that the pieces upon the chess-board have no other principle of motion besides that which the hand impresses upon them; but that, in the great chess-board of human society, every single piece has a principle of motion of its own, altogether different from that which the legislature might chuse to impress upon it...."
see http://www.scottmooreart.com/gallery/... for an artist’s rendition of this idea).
Profile Image for Xander.
429 reviews146 followers
September 28, 2021
Adam Smith is usually remembered for his works on political economy as layed out in his An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations (1776). And even then, most experts and laymen approach this one-sided version of Smith in a myopic view. In general, this picture of Smith is summed up as: “human beings are driven primarily by selflove and rationally pursue their self-interest. Happiness consists in the fulfilment of this pursuit, and is best accommodated by an absolute free exchange of material means.”

This is not meant as a straw men, but as a simplification of the common understanding of Adam Smith’s theories. What most people forget is that 17 years prior to his Wealth of Nations, Smith had already published a very fundamental first work, The Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759), which, ironically, actually served as the framework for the book he is most remembered for.

In the Theory of Moral Sentiments, Smith treats of two different questions: In what consists virtue? And how does the mind produce moral judgements? In other words: what is virtue and how do we know what actions, of ourselves or of other people, are virtuous and what actions are vicious?

The book itself spans more than 400 pages, and is as broad as it is deep in its treatment of all the issues and intricacies involved in the building up of a moral theory. Fortunately, Smith’s main ideas and the general framework can be summed up rather easily.

Sentiments are the building blocks of our morality. Whenever we act or see someone else act we feel all sorts of emotions. These emotions determine, largely, whether we approve or disapprove of the said action. Contrary to the earlier mentioned (simplistic) interpretations of Smith, we feel emotions when we observe actions of ourselves or others due to sympathy. Of course the degree to which we can sympathize with others and the degree to which our own emotions are stirred in our breasts when observing the actions of someone else differs according to the involved action, the person involved, its consequences and motives, etc.

This view seemingly sets the door wide open to moral relativism: every action has its own unique character, consequences and motives – and hence every action becomes a unique object for our moral judgements. But Smith’s conception of sympathy actually blocks this road: human nature is such that we seek self-approvement as well as the approvement of others. This view is deeply rooted in a universal conception of human beings: we are all similar in our constitution, notwithstanding race, gender, class, and what not. We want to love ourselves and to be loved by others, and this immediately puts restraint on certain (types of) actions and an incentive on certain (types of) other actions.

Actually, what Smith does is synthesize three different conceptions of virtue into a bigger, more general framework which offers broad outlines for our moral actions yet is not bogged down by the particularism and casuistry of most moral philosophy. Smiths synthesis allows for systematic theorizing yet fully accords with the vagueness and ambiguity of practical morality.

For Smith, actions are valued on three accounts: propriety, prudence and beneficence. An action is proper when it suits the situation and social expectations, meaning that virtue (on this account) consists in self-command – we have to control our appetites and desires in order to make our actions fit the social context. An action is prudent when it serves the pursuit of self-interests, meaning that virtue consists in adapting our actions to our own goal (self-happiness). An action is beneficent when it serves the interests of others, meaning that virtue consists in adapting our actions to the goal of others (happiness).

This moral triad – propriety, prudence, beneficence – is in reality a dynamic process in which an equilibrium is constantly sought. When we act too proper this will hamper our own happiness as well that of others. Similarly when we emphasize our own happiness (or that of others) over all the rest, this will hamper the happiness of others (or that of ourselves). In other words, whenever we tend to stray too far in one direction, we suffer the social consequences of our actions and we are dragged back to a viable moral equilibrium.

Most of the time this being dragged back to a viable moral equilibrium is only an imagination. That is, we intuitively feel or consciously reflect the undesirability of said action and its effects on the world. So here we see Smiths dualism between self-love and love of others dragging us in two different directions: even if we would literally only act out of self-love, others will start to hate us, refuse to cooperate with us, and disapprove of our character, making us suffer in isolation and feeling the pain of rejection.

Now, the final question is: How do we evaluate actions? How do our moral judgements come to pass? Based on all of the above, the answer to this question is easy to see. Partisanship blinds us and pulls us from the moral equilibrium: whether we view our actions solely from our perspective or from the perspective of others, and whether we view the actions of others solely from our perspective or from the perspective of others – all of these positions of judgments are highly partisan. So what do we do? We imagine an impartial spectator, who views the actor, his or her actions, and the person who is the intended object of the said action.

This spectator is neutral regarding to actor, action and object and views the emotions of all involved from an impartial perspective. This allows for the evaluation of the propriety of the emotions, but also for judgements about the intensity of these emotions, the effects of the action on all involved, etc. In effect, this means we unconsciously adapt our emotions to the situation and we integrate the effects of our actions upon others in our own motivations and feelings.

Now, having said all this – and remembering the fact that Smith viewed this theory of moral sentiments as the framework of ordering society – it is easy to see how the current and common view of Smith as the promotor of free market capitalism is rather one-sided and myopic.

In The Theory of Moral Sentiment Smith actually says that any society which promotes the safety and welfare of all its citizens has to draw up institutions which regulate social interactions -be they political, economic, cultural, or whatnot – in such a way that they deeply resonate with our own nature and are perfectly in line with the moral equilibrium as sketched above. That is, regulations should seek to strike a balance between different moral values: self-interest, interest of others, and the general interest.

Smith explicitly states (in his Wealth of Nations): if regulations benefit the workmen they are just and equitably, if regulations benefit the masters [i.e. the wealthy, the powerful] they are not necessarily just and equitable. What Smith means is that within political economics plural institutional structure and social values triumph the profit motive. A society in which the many suffer from poverty and danger for the benefit of the view is not a just and equitable society. The key role of government is to order society in such a way that the general welfare is promoted – and in so far as free market enterprise accords with this general interest it should be promoted, but in so far as it threatens individual freedom and the welfare of the powerless and poor, it should be regulated.

Basically, Smith means that justice should be the foundation of society; laws regulate and order society in such a way that the safety and the welfare of all is promoted; subjecting politics, economics, and morality to natural justice – that is, the conception of a universal human nature and the intrinsic value of every person due to this common constitution.

This, by the way, is a highly outdated religious conception of the world and of society, yet also a very modern one at that: the recognition of the fundamental equality of all human beings according to their similar nature, and thus similar desires, flaws, weaknesses, perfections, etc. And it goes fully against the current transcendental idealist conceptions of justice, like e.g. Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, Kant and Rawls – which seek a perfection which is non-existent and thus are doomed to fail as moral theories.

Smith on the other hand, and the whole realism tradition at that, base their moral theories on actual human beings in the actual world where actual actions actually make a difference. This is more of a comparative approach than the earlier mentioned social contractivist thinking. We can theorize about how unjust slavery is and speculate on all sorts of things related, yet what matters is the actual effects of the institution of slavery on actual people and how a society in which slavery exist actually differs from societies in which slavery is forbidden. This latter approach is not only much more in touch with reality, it also spurs us to action in cases of injustice much more than any idealist approach is able to do. For Smith what matters is the actual promotion of actual justice and equity in this world, instead of theorizing about it. This is deeply rooted in the empiricist tradition of the Enlightenment and it is easy to see how this view inspired later thinkers as diverse as Mary Wollstonecraft, Karl Marx and John Stuart Mill. I can’t help by ending this review of an amazing book by one of the founding fathers of liberalism with quoting Karl Marx, emphasizing both the importance of Smith for all sorts of later thinkers notwithstanding their political views as well as the need to understand Smith in a complete sense instead of the common one-sided, myopic view:

“Philosophers have thus far only tried to interpret the world; the point is to actually change it.”
Profile Image for E. G..
1,112 reviews684 followers
October 6, 2015
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
Profile Image for Trey Malone.
171 reviews7 followers
November 15, 2016
It really is a shame this book wasn't the cornerstone of economics instead of its more famous counterpart. While I truly appreciate the insights delivered in "Wealth of Nations" and have read sections of it countless times during my PhD studies, I find this book to be more informative of the type of economics I want to study. I strongly recommend this book for anyone who is interested in how individuals make decisions, as many of the insights "discovered" in behavioral economics actually came from this text.
Profile Image for Sidharth Vardhan.
Author 23 books699 followers
December 9, 2021
I once used to read philosphical works a lot. Back then, I came across someone saying it is a young man's game and thought that it was a snobbish comment. However my own love for philosophy dried out very quickly, I still maintain that to call it a young man's game is snobbish.

Russell defends the supposed uselessness of philosophy on grounds that when a part of it becomes useful, it takes form of some other science. Aristotle has been called father of sciences. While Adam Smith and Sigmeund Freud who are considered fathers of their respective fields - economics and psychology; had as much as the element of Philospher in them as forerunners of their sciences. Studies of economics, mind, physics, law, governments, composition of earth, geometry etc were all philosphy before they grew as seperated and sometimes 'useful' sciences.

Even today and in worlds of exact sciences too, the most valued scientists such as Stephan Hawking, Richard Dawkins etc continue to have an element of philospher in them, clearly visible in thier works.

I think what differentiates them most when compared to other classic philosphers is that their studies, their ideas are more observational rather than their pure fancies. They are forever talking about things that actually are rather than as they 'should be'. No philosphers who make assumptions that have nothing to do with real world interest me much.

Adam Smith falls in this category. His wealth of nations doesn't need much praies and actually turned economics into a separate science. In here though he is talking about morality, a subject that continues to part of philosphy despite all the Kants and Nietzsches it has seen.

Smith's approach to it is not trying to define rights or wrongs - or how they should be defined. Instead he is focused on how morality is nothing but our sentiments. His theory of an inner being with a higher moral compass is interesting. I think I read somewhere Dawkins agree to someone else whom he quoted as saying morality is the feeling that you are being watched.

Equally is interesting is his ideas about how little we are affected by tragedies that happen at a physical distance. He also points out how out sentiments, reflected in our laws, are affected by both intentions of a person as well as consequences of his actions. He distinguishes vanity from pride.

Except for a few starking observations; I don't think there is a lot of uselessness in it except for those who have curious mind (like me). He is very clear and in the observations he make and often looking at same thing from different aspects without ever giving his own opinion.
Profile Image for AC.
74 reviews2 followers
April 13, 2008
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.
Profile Image for David Gross.
Author 10 books111 followers
July 16, 2011
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 implicit in their arguments is the theory that morality either arises from a system or that it ought to be systematized. In these arguments, showing that some ethical assertion or other is unsystematic or is systematically inconsistent seems equivalent to showing it to be disproven or wrong.

Therefore much ethical philosophy has involved systematizing morality in various ways and then trying to test the soundness of the resulting systems.

“Experimental” ethical philosophy takes a different tack: taking human moral judgement as a pre-systematization given and trying to describe its contours rather than force it into a rationally-invented mold.

The Theory of Moral Sentiments is in this camp, though Smith’s “experimentation” isn’t very rigorous — mostly amounting to introspection and examination of the opinions of well-considered men of his time, place, and class.

Anyone writing a book of experimental ethics today would spend a little time writing a prelude like this one that explains the difference in outlook and goals that motivates such a project and distinguishes it from most other ethical philosophy. Smith, though — curiously — just jumps in and starts describing human moral judgement without any such throat-clearing.

It is not until part two of the book, in a footnote that looks as though it were added to respond to critics who misunderstood this very nature of his project, that he makes things explicit:
…[T]he present inquiry is not concerning a matter of right, if I may say so, but concerning a matter of fact. We are not at present examining upon what principles a perfect being would approve of the punishment of bad actions; but upon what principles so weak and imperfect a creature as man actually and in fact approves of it.…

To Smith, the instinct to make moral judgements, like the instincts that make us hungry or horny, is built-in. And like those, the acts it prompts us to do tell us something about human nature and about how our creator (or Creator) intends to guide us.

We feel hunger to prompt us to sustain our bodies; we feel lust to prompt us to reproduce. Our feelings of resentment, gratitude, and other such moral emotions, Smith feels, must also have been implanted in us for the purpose of guiding our behavior toward certain ends. Rather than assuming the ends ahead of time and then trying to systematize an ethics that conforms to them, wouldn’t it be wiser (Smith feels) to carefully examine these emotions and try to derive these ends from what we find?
In every part of the universe we observe means adjusted with the nicest artifice to the ends which they are intended to produce; and in the mechanism of a plant, or animal body, admire how every thing is contrived for advancing the two great purposes of nature, the support of the individual, and the propagation of the species. But in these, and in all such objects, we still distinguish the efficient from the final cause of their several motions and organizations. The digestion of the food, the circulation of the blood, and the secretion of the several juices which are drawn from it, are operations all of them necessary for the great purposes of animal life. Yet we never endeavour to account for them from those purposes as from their efficient causes, nor imagine that the blood circulates, or that the food digests of its own accord, and with a view or intention to the purposes of circulation or digestion. … But though, in accounting for the operations of bodies, we never fail to distinguish in this manner the efficient from the final cause, in accounting for those of the mind we are very apt to confound these two different things with one another. When by natural principles we are led to advance those ends, which a refined and enlightened reason would recommend to us, we are very apt to impute to that reason, as to their efficient cause, the sentiments and actions by which we advance those ends, and to imagine that to be the wisdom of man, which in reality is the wisdom of God.

Our moral emotions serve us. They sustain us and help us to propagate by prompting us to actions that strengthen useful friendships and discourage human enemies, predators & parasites. For example, our acts and declarations of gratitude, prompted by our moral emotions, further encourage those who have shown themselves to be able & inclined to do us useful service.

Smith, — remarkably, in 1759 — had written a book of evolutionary psychology. He didn’t know that was what he was doing, of course (Darwin’s On the Origin of Species was still a century away), but his book is agnostic enough about the nature of this creator who “implanted the seeds of [moral emotion] in the human breast” — sometimes it is “Nature,” other times “the author of nature,” other times “God” or “the Deity” — that it is not particularly awkward to fill in the blank today, now that we know the answer. Smith at times comes awfully close to this himself, as for instance when he describes the different emotional bonds that connect parents and children:
Nature, for the wisest purposes, has rendered in most men, perhaps in all men, parental tenderness a much stronger affection than filial piety. The continuance and propagation of the species depend altogether upon the former, and not upon the latter.

The edition I got from the library was published by Regnery Publishing for the “Conservative Leadership Series” of the “Conservative Book Club.” It’s not a very good advertisement for that brand, being riddled with typographical errors, misspellings (applause ringing in our “cars,” for instance), missing words, and other awkwardnesses that demonstrate that optical character recognition software is no substitute for a dutiful editor. I suspect that a book club selection like this is meant more for ostentatious display than for reading, however, so perhaps such niceties are superfluous.

In some ways, Adam Smith is a sensible choice for the conservative pantheon. His free-trade / free-market viewpoints, once considered de rigueur for good liberals, are now mostly honored (and mostly in the breach) by American conservatives. But this book doesn’t seem to harmonize well with contemporary American conservativism: Moral descriptivism is far too godless. I expect most Conservative Book Club members would be horrified if their children were being taught by some liberal professor about how morality was implanted in us by nature to promote the survival of the individual and the propagation of the species, and that you could derive morality from human ethical emotions without any reference to preexisting moral absolutes.

But back to Smith: When I first read Smith’s description of conscience, I was lulled by how sensible it seemed and at first I didn’t notice what an unusual explanation (for its time, anyway) it was. To Smith, “conscience” isn’t the insight by which we discern good & evil or the nagging voice prompting us to resist temptation, but is instead the faculty by which we simulate the perspective of an impartial observer who observes our own headspace and behavior, using the same criteria we naturally use when judging others. It is an application of the same, innate judgements we already have access to by virtue of being human, but using a difficult and specialized variety of imagination in which we cast that judgement through a point of view that is not our own and not (as) prejudiced by self-interest.

Because this process is so difficult, especially when our minds are distracted by particularly strong temptations or crisis circumstances of quick change and the need for rapid action, we tend to supplement our consciences by inventing and memorizing heuristics that we can apply to situations so that we can quickly flag those that require conscientious scrutiny. This process of inventing heuristics, Smith believes, is the source of the ethical philosopher’s suspicion that ethics is or ought to be systematized:
It is thus that the general rules of morality are formed. They are ultimately founded upon experience of what, in particular instances, our moral faculties, our natural sense of merit and propriety, approve, or disapprove of. We do not originally approve or condemn particular actions because, upon examination, they appear to be agreeable or inconsistent with a certain general rule. The general rule, on the contrary, is formed by finding from experience that all actions of a certain kind, or circumstanced in a certain manner, are approved or disapproved of.

When these general rules, indeed, have been formed, when they are universally acknowledged and established by the concurring sentiments of mankind, we frequently appeal to them as to the standards of judgement, in debating concerning the degree of praise or blame that is due to certain actions of a complicated and dubious nature. They are upon these occasions commonly cited as the ultimate foundations of what is just and unjust in human conduct; and this circumstance seems to have misled several very eminent authors to draw up their systems in such a manner as if they had supposed that the original judgments of mankind with regard to right and wrong were formed like the decisions of a court of judicatory, by considering first the general rule, and then, secondly, whether the particular action under consideration fell properly within its comprehension.

The book has some flaws. For one thing, Smith is wordy and repetitive. He seems to think if a point is worth making, it’s worth making three times just to make sure. I’ve never read a book that cried out more for a Readers’ Digest abridged edition. But aside from points of style, the major flaw is Smith’s insistence that an examination of human morality is equivalent to an examination of the opinions of well-bred, enlightenment-minded, well-to-do English men of the 18th century. His curiosity isn’t sufficient to consider other points of view as also being manifestations of human nature, or as anything but inferior versions of the mature morality of his fellows. Some of his conclusions follow comfortably and obviously from his biased choice of exemplars, and are unconvincing to the modern, more cosmopolitan reader.

But it’s ahead of its time and thought-provoking, and a well-needed perspective on ethical philosophy that ought to be more influential today than it appears to be.
Profile Image for Tyler.
69 reviews21 followers
September 9, 2019
I thought this book was exceedingly great. I enjoyed everything within it very well indeed. It is only a matter of sitting down and concretely analyzing ethics scientifically and then you will be able to see the perspective from Adam Smith's point of view. My edition (the penguin classics) also included a writing by Adam Smith on the formation of languages that I much enjoyed as well.

I would recommend this to anyone just trying to get into Adam Smith or moral philosophy in general. Five stars.
Profile Image for Bob Nichols.
914 reviews302 followers
March 31, 2014
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 than the other's. Self-command therefore generates admiration ("approbation") and its lack generates disapproval. Smith writes at considerable length about the "the manhood of self-command," admiring in particular the Stoics (and the North American "savage") who, in Taoist fashion, control what is in their own power and accept what is not. The central thrust of self-command is the negative form of justice, which is to do no harm (i.e., to respect the freedom of others). Given the length Smith spends on this virtue, he may regard it as the most important of the three. The second virtue is prudence. Here, Smith acknowledges with the Epicureans that we seek pleasure and avoid pain, and that prudence involves accepting pain now for greater pleasure later or foregoing pleasure now to avoid pain later, which is in essence the same thing. We also avoid, for example, ostentatious displays so that we don't incite envy. The third virtue is benefice which is - and this is not so clear in Smith - promoting the generic happiness of humankind because god is said to command it (not because we are especially inclined to do so). This involves the positive form of justice which is to actively promote the happiness of others. Our task (and that of our leaders) is "to produce the greatest quantity of happiness." These three virtues work together as too much of one detracts from the other. Too much self-command neglects our softer side; too much self-love ignores the "amiable" side'; too much benefice lacks the discipline to protect one's self-interest.

Although tedious and difficult to read, Smith is better than other classical writers about identifying who we are and how we operate. At times, writing 100 years before Darwin's Origin, he sounds as though he is a modern NeoDarwinan as our most basic life impulse is not just survival but replication ("...self-preservation, and the propagation of the species, are the great ends which nature seems to have proposed in the formation of all animals.") Freedom to pursue self-interest serves as the means to these life ends. When we each pursue our self-interest, we conflict with others who do the same, thereby necessitating the three Smithian virtues to preserve order. Overseeing our application of these virtues is the fictitious impartial spectator who in conscience-like fashion reminds us that our freedom is, in the grand cosmic scheme, not more important than another's. That self-control is a challenge, Smith is well aware. Unlike most other writers, but like Veblen later, Smith identifies the prevalence of rank and reputation as driving forces because these have a direct bearing on our ability to command resources to survive, including garnering the assistance of others. Also, unlike most other theorists, Smith discusses throughout this long book the importance of looking good to one's community. This conformist tendency, which foreshadows Darwin's assertion about our tribal nature, has survival value as we receive benefits and avoid harm when we maintain ourselves as group members in good standing.

Also better than most theorists, Smith identifies the role of imagination in magnifying pleasure and pain. The body, he says, experiences both in an immediate way. With mind and imagination, we can hold vast amounts of past pain and we can entertain vast hopes for future pleasure. Interestingly, Smith gives us a beginning theory of boredom when he writes that "Our imagination, which in pain and sorrow seems to be confined and cooped up within our own persons, in times of ease and prosperity expands itself to every thing around us." This hope for "the pleasures of wealth and greatness" is a "deception which rouses and keeps in continual motion the industry of mankind."

Smith, like most other theorists, lodges "motive" in the external world so that we react to stimuli. He refers seamlessly to "objects of fear" and to "objects of self-interest" but this somewhat misrepresents the dialectical exchange between the self and the world. Why do objects create fear if we do not first have the capacity for fear inside? Is the motive - that which moves us - inside or outside? It is the same question with the more general notion of self-interest. Why do we seek food, sexual mates, conformity to the group, and rank and reputation unless we have an internal need for such things because they serve our self-interest? After all, Smith does say that the passions of pride and resentment and "ambition, animosity, the love of honour and the dread of shame, the desire of victory, superiority, and revenge" all "defend us against injuries," and that the passions "founded in love of pleasure" all "provide for the support and necessities of the body."

Smith takes human nature as it is in all its flaws (e.g., we live for the opinions of others, to be loved and admired; we admire the rich and indulge them in their excesses and sins because they are industrious as compared to those good-natured people who are slothful or to "the effeminate man") and Smith builds on that weak foundation by specifying what we ought to be (follow the three virtues). Where Smith's theory breaks down is in his assumption that we are all the same. That is at odds with the variability of human nature that lies at the heart of Darwinian evolution. We are not all the same. Self-regard and other-regard both serve self-interest, but we all have more of one than the other. That's particularly true of self-interest, which is relatively void of other-regardedness, particularly for those who are not of our group. If the rich and powerful, or Joe Blow, can screw others and get away with it, what do they care about benefice or what the impartial spectator thinks? And that's the problem with free markets and unfettered capitalism.

Profile Image for James Henderson.
2,045 reviews166 followers
April 11, 2021
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 rights (called Economics); and State and Individual rights (called Politics). In contrast to Hutcheson, Smith, in The Theory of Moral Sentiments, divided moral systems into: 1) Categories of the nature of morality: These included Propriety, Prudence, and Benevolence; and 2) Categories of the motive of morality: These included Self-love, Reason, and Sentiment. Hutcheson had abandoned the psychological view of moral philosophy, claiming that motives were too fickle to be used as a basis for a philosophical system. Instead, he hypothesised a dedicated "sixth sense" to explain morality. This idea, to be taken up by David Hume (see Hume's A Treatise of Human Nature), claimed that man is pleased by utility.

Smith rejected his teacher's reliance on this special sense. Starting in about 1741, Smith set on the task of using Hume's experimental method (appealing to human experience) to replace the specific moral sense with a pluralistic approach to morality based on a multitude of psychological motives. Throughout the work the Smith demonstrates a superior ability to observe in detail the human experience. The Theory of Moral Sentiments begins with the following assertion:
"How selfish soever man may be supposed, there are evidently some principles in his nature, which interest him in the fortunes of others, and render their happiness necessary to him, though he derives nothing from it, except the pleasure of seeing it. Of this kind is pity or compassion, the emotion we feel for the misery of others, when we either see it, or are made to conceive it in a very lively manner. That we often derive sorrow from the sorrows of others, is a matter of fact too obvious to require any instances to prove it; for this sentiment, like all the other original passions of human nature, is by no means confined to the virtuous or the humane, though they perhaps may feel it with the most exquisite sensibility. The greatest ruffian, the most hardened violator of the laws of society, is not altogether without it."
Smith departed from the "moral sense" tradition of Shaftesbury, Hutcheson, and Hume, as the principle of sympathy takes the place of that organ. "Sympathy" was the term Smith used for the feeling of these moral sentiments. It was the feeling with the passions of others. It operated through a logic of self projection, in which a spectator imaginatively reconstructed the experience of the person he watches. This process allows a person to build and maintain a sense of propriety which sense is of utmost importance for Smith's theory. Also important is the relevance of this book for Smith's more famous tome, The Wealth of Nations, published in 1776. P. J. O'Rourke has this to say about this connection:
"The Wealth of Nations was part of a larger enterprise in moral philosophy. The first installment of Adam Smith's great undertaking was The Theory of Moral Sentiments, published 17 years before Wealth. Smith finished an extensive revision of Moral Sentiments the year before he died. He considered it his most important work. The book is not much read or referred to nowadays, but his theories in The Wealth of Nations cannot be understood without The Theory of Moral Sentiments.
"Smith devoted most of his career to the project of bettering human existence. A modern person_or a modern person who doesn't wear Birkenstocks_is tempted to laugh. It is a hilariously big job. But most of us have undertaken hilariously big jobs such as raising children. We were lured into the enterprise by the, so to speak, pleasures of conception. New beginnings are always fun. And the prospect of making wholesale improvements in ordinary life was as novel and fascinating in the 18th century as the prospect of making life simpler and less stressful and blocking e-mail spam are today." (P.J. O'Rourke, "Smith's Law,'" The Weekly Standard July 17, 2006).
Adam Smith's book was well-received and sold well. More importantly it influenced thinkers from political philosophers to literary stylists. Just read Jane Austen (Sense and Sensibility) to get a flavor of Smith's influence. This is an important and original book to read for all who are interested in the development of the philosophy of the enlightenment.
163 reviews15 followers
November 15, 2010
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 to the level at which others can tolerate. People are inherently selfish (as Smith says, the foreknowledge of losing a single finger is more disruptive to our peace of mind than a horrible calamity in a far-away place), and it is other people and their unwillingness to indulge our self-love that gives us our moral characters. I see this with my 2 year old son, who is relatively even temperered, and self-controlled when interacting with his peers and teachers in pre-school, and impatient, wild, and tantrum-prone when with me and my wife.
Profile Image for Alexander.
7 reviews
September 14, 2008
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 readable (the edition I read was the Glasgow edition published by Liberty Fund) and well-annotated. As an attempt to reconcile a theory based on virtue with living in a capitalist society, the TMS is fairly unique in ethical philosophy and well worth reading.
1,166 reviews10 followers
January 6, 2022

Jag håller inte med om utgångspunkten - Smith verkar argumentera för att moral är en funktion av strävan efter sympati; att vi är goda mot varandra, eftersom vi vill bli uppskattade av varandra. Han avslutar till och med hela boken med att argumentera för att skammen att inte bli betrodd är den huvudsakliga orsaken till trovärdighet i mellanmänskliga relationer. För allt detta argumenterar han logiskt, med goda psykologiska observationer bakom varje påstående. Boken är onekligen insiktsrik - den får en att tänka igenom flera moraliska frågor som oftast lämnas därhän. Samtidigt förklarar boken inte godhet mot individer utanför den egna gruppen - om jag vill få respekt av de jag respekterar, kommer jag att vidmakthålla hedervärt beteende mot dem. Detta förklarar både ridderlighet och inbördes respekt och sanningsenlighet i ekonomiska system. Däremot kommer jag inte utifrån det argumentet att vara god mot de jag skulle se som undermänniskor eller ickemänniskor - de som saknar de sociala markörer som signalerar att de är personer och inte mänsklig boskap. Tänk skillnaden mellan tvåfödda och kastlösa i Indien, eller mellan fria och trälar i det förkristna norden. Eller för den delen mellan de som tillhör din ideologi och de som tillhör fiendesidan i ett politiserat samhälle nära inbördeskrig. Av vad vi vet om mänsklighetens tendens att agera med hjärtat och döda det som hotar de våra, borde just hanteringen av klassificatoriska fiender vara ett av nyckelfenomen som en moralisk teori måste hantera. Det begär efter ömsesidig respekt som Smith lägger till grund för moral, bör rimligen inte utsträckas till dessa, eftersom de i egenskap av fiender, är bortom varje förakt, och därmed individer vars uppskattning inte sökes. Jag kan inte påminna mig att Smith hanterar den invändningen - nu har jag läst denna bok under 6 månader och kan därmed ha glömt det, men jag ser inget svar i mina anteckningar från boken, och vanligen är jag rätt noggrann med sådana saker.

Under renässansen var detta en stor diskussion - var katoliker och protestanter tvungna av religiösa skäl att vidmakthålla god tro med varandra? Mer generaliserat: är jag tvungen att se dig som ett moraliskt subjekt även om jag hatar hur du agerar i världen, och därmed dig, eftersom ditt agerande straffar ut dig från människosläktet? Med moralisk psykologism som grund, så ser jag inte hur man kommer fram till ett positivt ställningstagande. Hur kan medmänsklighet utsträckas till den som inte längre kan ses som mänsklig? Men eftersom alla klassifikationer av grupper (möjligen bortom ättetillhörigheten, dvs den utsträckta familjen) är konstruerade, vilket förutsätter möjligheten att agera med respekt mot varandra under konstruktionsfasen, är det uppenbarligen möjligt att utöva moraliskt beteende även mot den som vi föraktar. Vilket omvänt naturligtvis gäller för smittan av hat också - min fiendes vän är min fiende enligt de flesta, även det är irrationellt, om än väldigt lätt för människor att falla in i. Med risk för att överpoängtera detta argument: Med Smiths grund, borde vi inte ha någon moral kvar, för vi borde bara utsträcka den till de som vi inte föraktar, och eftersom människor har lätt att känna sig moraliskt överlägsna, har vi lätt att förakta. Ändå finns ett samhälle och en presumtion av att den andra är respektabel, och att vi "borde" utsträcka respekt trots väldigt mycket motstånd.

Det gör att jag personligen hellre skulle argumentera för en moralisk instinkt, som jag menar är oberoende av psykologiska behov. Även om mänskligheten runt dig är för djävlig, strävar de allra flesta efter att vara bättre än sin omvärld - trots att deras förutsättningar inte motiverar det, rent sociologiskt. Här kan vi lägga in hur mycket kommentarer som helst om hur sociologiska förklaringar skapar inlärd hjälplöshet, men just nu är det faktiskt inte relevant. Det relevanta är att människor i allmänhet, för allt vad vi konstant misslyckas med att vara den vi vill vara, är bättre än vad våra omständigheter och fiendskaper och vår psykologi borde tillåta oss.

Lyckligtvis är Smiths hela argumentation metodologisk. Den förklaring han inledningsvis ställer upp är inte bärande för varför processen moral initieras, utan bara för hur processen moral fungerar. Det gör också att jag oreserverat rekommenderar denna bok. Den är inte bara moralfilosofiskt excellent, utan dessutom en utmärkt genomgång av praktiskt installerande av samhällsbevarande institutioner. Den förklarar väl det där som Napoleon lär ha sagt - att han värderade en Luthersk predikant till 2-3 kompanier soldater, vad gällde förmågan att pacificera och bygga motståndskraft i territorier.

Som sagt: utmärkt bok, skogstokiga postulat. Läs den.
Profile Image for Erik Rostad.
343 reviews124 followers
December 13, 2021
This is a book of observations of how humans actually behave and what they aspire to be. I kept being surprised at how intuitive it was but how I had never thought about a lot of these ideas. Adam Smith digs into virtue, the four cardinal virtues, happiness, vice, and sentiments. One key idea was that we do and should align our behavior to an impartial spectator. What would this impartial spectator think of what I am about to do? I really enjoyed reading this book.
Profile Image for João Vaz.
205 reviews24 followers
November 6, 2019
Remarkable. Smith's theory of an impartial spectator formulating our demand for fairness predates the categorical imperative and yet, Adam, the first, is under Kant's imposing shadow. Not fair. Perhaps because of the way economists (mistakenly) reduced his ideas in Wealth of Nations about human motivations as being attributable to self-interest alone. We're so much more.
80 reviews7 followers
March 20, 2007
Probably what the economists should have read before reading the "Wealth of Nations."
Profile Image for Jeffrey Romine.
Author 3 books38 followers
October 7, 2018
I'm glad to be finished! Yeah! The reason, however, I must confess, is that I didn't find Smith's work all that engaging. He discusses virtues in the greater context of social order, nobly promoting self-command, admiring the Stoics, and prudence. I liked a few things very much, for example, when he speaks of the Stoic's outlook on danger (pg 329). I also liked what he said (pg 209) when thinking of Hume, "an ingenious and agreeable philosopher, who joins the greater depth of thought to the greatest elegance of expression, and possesses the singular and happy talent of treating the abstruesest subjects not only with the most perfect perspicuity, but with the most lively eloquence."

We need to read both current and older works because that's where we'll find depth and elegance, perspicuity and eloquence. They are worth reading for, even if the gems among the rough are a little harder to find at times, yet nonetheless, they sparkle.
Profile Image for Gayle Turner.
230 reviews10 followers
February 6, 2021
It took me 13 and 1/2 months to read this book. Published in 1754, it is turgid. It's like wading through mud. And every time I was about ready to put it down I stumbled across something insightful.

This is the book Adam Smith wrote before he wrote The Wealth of Nations. From my point of view this is a prerequisite for understanding that tome.

It has not been an enjoyable experience. And yet I am glad that I finally waded through it. My copy is underlined with copious notes in the margins. And as I cast off on the voyage of rereading The Wealth of Nations I am sure I will return to this book.

In some ways I feel like this has been a masochistic experience and that I would be a sadist recommending it to anyone. However, if you really want to understand The Wealth of Nations this is the right of passage for that Journey.
Profile Image for Rishabh Thakur.
58 reviews1 follower
March 28, 2021
I am not going to rate this because
a) My reading progress on this was spread too thin and was very stop start.
And b) I can finally start The Wealth of Nations in full earnest and reading the two together may be more beneficial.
Profile Image for Marcel Santos.
92 reviews9 followers
March 8, 2022

In Theory of Moral Sentiments, a book that precedes the great The Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith proposes to explain and systematize the dynamics of sentiments that enthuse people in the most diverse situations in their daily lives. He works with very broad concepts such as virtue, merit and demerit, sense of justice and approval, etc.

It is a peculiar work, in which Smith uses a lot of sensitivity and shrewdness to describe with reasonable precision the feelings that are behind the most varied human behavior.

Smith constantly makes use of the abstract figures of the “impartial spectator” and the “inhabitant of the chest”. In modern experimental science jargon, this is a kind of “control group” of the human behavior — a kind of ideal reference to which people should use as a guide in their daily actions. In sum, common sense, thoughtfulness.

As the subject deals with general human sentiments analyzed focused on small matters, the abundant use of platitudes seems inevitable (i.e., the excerpt in which he affirms that brothers raised apart obviously tend to develop less affection for each other than those raised together, etc…).

Furthermore, it is very difficult to read this subject and not think that it is an archaic stage of the human sciences, especially those of a psychological and behavioral nature. Currently, Psychology and Neuroscience explain in a very objective way, either through a sophisticated theoretical approach, or through an experimental approach, many of the assertions of moral philosophers. It is for this same reason that works like this should be praised. The authors, without scientific resources for experimentation and relying exclusively on their own perceptions, philosophical conceptions and abstract extrapolations, reached very accurate conclusions, many of which later proved right by science.

This is the case, for example, of a bias called “loss aversion”, which Behavioral Economics borrowing insights from Psychology proved to exist centuries later. Smith says in this 1759 work that human beings feel the pain of loss much more than the pleasure of gain, something that in the 1970s Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky proved through behavioral experiments.

Another interesting point is the relationship of this work with Smith’s later The Wealth of Nations, considered the milestone of Economics. Apparently, due to the complete disparity of themes, there is no relationship between both works. However, as I described in my review of The Wealth of Nations (https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...), it is possible to identify a logical continuity between both works.

In Theory of Moral Sentiments, Adam Smith deals with the feelings of individuals. In The Wealth of Nations he does not really deal with that. Perhaps the only passages with some relation to this theme refer to fairness in economic competition and the image of the “invisible hand”, the latter present in both works.

In Theory of Moral Sentiments, Smith preaches fair behavior in business, stating that a competitor who behaves unfairly against competitors tends to be frowned upon by the public and loses credibility as a result.

In regard to the invisible hand, Smith also refers in the Theory of Moral Sentiments to the situation in which individuals, acting freely according to their own interests, end up generating social benefits. In The Wealth of Nations, Smith does not dissect or differentiate the feelings that enthuse individuals in this process. This makes sense, as in such work Smith explains the functioning of the Economy as a system, and does not focus on the subjectivities of the parts that compose it (the human beings). It can be said that this had somehow been reserved for the Theory of Moral Sentiments.

An example of an analysis on this point is the passage in which he refutes Mandeville's point of view in The Fable of the Bees. In this well-known work, Mandeville maintains that any feeling that goes beyond the mere intention of subsistence of the individual would be classified as vanity; whence he extrapolates that a private vice — the exercise of vanity — would generate a public benefit, insofar as activity beyond mere survival tends to move the Economy. Smith, however, rebuts Mandeville by stating that human beings do have benevolent motivations that cannot be classified as mere vanity. The fact is that, in The Wealth of Nations, he does not deal with these distinctions, probably because he had addressed them in the previous work.

The edition I read ends with a Dissertation on the Formation of Languages, in which Smith uses his well-known intelligence and acumen to analyze the complexity of some modern languages ​​and their likely relationship to ancient languages.

I can't tire to point out how clear though also wordy Adam Smith's writing style is. I confess that The Wealth of Nations interested me more in the subject — and this review clearly pulls a little to the side of Economics, although the Theory of Moral Sentiments does not deal with it, except for the indirect aspects pointed out above.

In any case, this economic-biased approach is relevant, as scholars of economics began to dispute whether the abandonment of the realist study of the individual as the starting point of economics should be attributed to Adam Smith or not. In my opinion, no, because in fact he sought to capture the human being and his sentiments on the one hand, and the functioning of the economy as a system on the other. But his work is so broad and so overflowing with the discipline of Economics that it is understandable why later scholars have sliced ​​up the topics he tackled in such a way as to simplify something he did not approach so simplistically.


Em Teoria dos Sentimentos Morais, livro que antecede o grande A Riqueza das Nações, Adam Smith se propõe a explicar e sistematizar a dinâmica dos sentimentos que animam as pessoas nas mais diversas situações de seu cotidiano. Trabalha com conceitos muito amplos como virtude, mérito e demérito, senso de justiça e aprovação, etc.

É uma obra peculiar, na qual Smith usa muita sensibilidade e astúcia para descrever com razoável precisão os sentimentos que estão por trás dos mais variados comportamentos humanos.

Smith faz uso constante das figuras abstratas do “espectador imparcial” e do “habitante do peito”. No jargão da ciência experimental moderna, é uma espécie de “grupo controle” do comportamento humano – uma espécie de referência ideal que as pessoas devem usar como guia em suas ações diárias. Em suma: bom senso, ponderação.

Como o assunto trata de sentimentos humanos gerais analisados ​​em questões comezinhas, o uso abundante de platitudes parece inevitável (p. ex., o trecho em que ele afirma que irmãos criados separados obviamente tendem a desenvolver menos afeto um pelo outro do que aqueles criados juntos, etc.).

Além disso, é muito difícil ler esse assunto e não pensar que é um estágio arcaico das ciências humanas, principalmente as de natureza psicológica e comportamental. Atualmente, a Psicologia e a Neurociência explicam de forma bastante objetiva, seja por meio de uma abordagem teórica sofisticada, seja por meio de uma abordagem experimental, muitas das afirmações dos filósofos morais. É por isso mesmo que merecem elogios trabalhos como este, em que os autores, sem recursos científicos para experimentação e confiando exclusivamente em suas próprias percepções, concepções filosóficas e extrapolações abstratas, chegaram a conclusões muito precisas, muitas delas posteriormente comprovadas pela ciência.

É o caso, por exemplo, de um viés chamado “aversão à perda”, que a Economia Comportamental, que toma emprestado insights da Psicologia, provou existir séculos depois. Smith diz neste trabalho de 1759 que os seres humanos sentem a dor da perda muito mais do que o prazer do ganho, algo que Daniel Kahneman e Amos Tversky provaram nos anos 1970 por meio de experimentos comportamentais.

Outro ponto interessante é a relação desta obra com a posterior obra de Smith A Riqueza das Nações, considerada o marco da Economia. Aparentemente, devido à completa disparidade de temas, não há relação entre as duas obras. No entanto, como descrevi na minha resenha de A Riqueza das Nações (https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...), é possível identificar uma continuidade lógica entre os dois trabalhos.

Na Teoria dos Sentimentos Morais, Adam Smith lida com os sentimentos dos indivíduos. Em A Riqueza das Nações, ele realmente não lida com isso. Talvez as únicas passagens com alguma relação com esse tema se refiram à lealdade na competição econômica e à imagem da “mão invisível”, esta última presente em ambas as obras.

Na Teoria dos Sentimentos Morais, Smith prega o comportamento leal nos negócios, afirmando que um concorrente que se comporta de forma injusta na competição tende a ser mal visto pelo público e, consequentemente, perde credibilidade.

No que diz respeito à mão invisível, Smith também se refere, na Teoria dos Sentimentos Morais, à situação em que os indivíduos, agindo livremente de acordo com seus próprios interesses, acabam gerando benefícios sociais. Em A Riqueza das Nações, Smith não disseca nem diferencia os sentimentos que animam os indivíduos nesse processo. Isso faz sentido, pois em tal trabalho Smith explica o funcionamento da Economia como um sistema, e não enfoca as subjetividades das peças que o compõem (os seres humanos). Pode-se dizer que isso de alguma forma foi reservado para a Teoria dos Sentimentos Morais.

Um exemplo de análise sobre esse ponto é a passagem em que ele refuta o ponto de vista de Mandeville em A Fábulas das Abelhas. Nessa conhecida obra, Mandeville sustenta que qualquer sentimento que vá além da mera intenção de subsistência do ser humano seria classificado como vaidade; daí extrapola que um vício privado — o exercício da vaidade — geraria um benefício público, na medida em que a atividade para além da mera sobrevivência tende a movimentar a Economia. Smith, no entanto, refuta Mandeville afirmando que os seres humanos têm motivações benevolentes que não podem ser classificadas como mera vaidade. O fato é que, em A Riqueza das Nações, ele não trata dessas distinções, provavelmente porque as havia abordado no trabalho anterior.

A edição que li termina com a Dissertação sobre a Formação das Línguas, na qual Smith usa sua conhecida inteligência e perspicácia para analisar a complexidade de algumas línguas modernas e sua provável relação com as línguas antigas.

Não me canso de apontar o quão claro, embora também prolixo, é o estilo de escrita de Adam Smith. Confesso que A Riqueza das Nações me interessou mais pelo assunto – e esta resenha claramente puxa um pouco para o lado da Economia, embora a Teoria dos Sentimentos Morais não trate dela, exceto pelos pontuais aspectos indiretos mencionados acima.

De qualquer forma, essa abordagem de viés econômico é relevante, pois os estudiosos da Economia começaram a disputar se o abandono do estudo realista do indivíduo como ponto de partida da economia deveria ser atribuído a Adam Smith ou não. Na minha opinião, não, pois de fato ele procurou captar o ser humano e seus sentimentos por um lado, e o funcionamento da Economia como um sistema por outro. Mas seu trabalho é tão amplo e tão transbordante da disciplina da Economia que é compreensível que estudiosos posteriores tenham fatiado os temas abordados por ele de forma a simplificar algo que ele não abordou de forma tão simplista.
Profile Image for Vadim.
129 reviews15 followers
July 11, 2015
Если кому-то стоит напомнить, что "человек может существовать только в обществе", пусть это сделает Адам Смит, которого, кажется, меньше всего подозревают в этом мнении. Между тем, слова в кавычках -- это точная цитата, продолжающаяся сообщением, что природа предназначила человека к такому положению и одарила всем необходимым для этого.

Хотя общество может существовать и "среди купцов, сознающих пользу его и без взаимной любви", природа дала большее: "нравственное чувство", в чем-то подобное обычным внешним. Мы желаем чужой симпатии и при этом желаем быть заслуживающими симпатии ("нам хочется, чтобы мы были одновременно достойны уважения и чтобы нас уважали"). Поэтому мы смотрим на себя глазами живых, реальных наблюдателей, а также глазами идеального "беспристрастного и просвещенного наблюдателя", которого современный человек возможно предпочел бы назвать "совестью". Именно это внушает людям законы справедливости и другие правила нравственности, без хотя бы относительного торжества которых "человек боялся бы приблизиться к сборищу людей, как он боится вступить в пещеру, населенную львами". В "Теории нравственных чувств" Смит делает подробный разбор того, что делает поступки симпатичными или неприятными.

Беспристрастный наблюдатель Смита смотрит на положение человека и его поступки как на часть большой картины вещей, на которую попадают все разумные существа. От добродетельного человека Смит ожидает, что тот пожертвует своими личными интересами в пользу своего сословия, интересами сословия в пользу государства, а их принесет "в жертву еще более широким интересам всего мира". "Патриотизм", таким образом, не конечная цель нравственности, но все же остановка на пути к настоящей цели -- совершению поступков под влиянием не эгоистической, а космополитической перспективы.

Таким образом, быть патриотом -- неплохая реалистическая задача: "высочайшая мудрость рассудила, по-видимому, что сохранение всего человеческого рода будет более обеспечено, если основное внимание каждого человека будет устремлено на отдельное общество, соответствующее, так сказать, его способностям и разумению".

Одновременно "патриотизм" несет черты и неприятной Смиту в любых делах "партийности". В конфликте между двумя нациями "народ нейтральных стран суть единственные и беспристрастные судьи", однако в такие моменты в каждой из стран "не обращают большого внимания на мнение иностранцев": все "желают заслужить одобрение только своих сограждан, а так ка�� в каждой нации все настроены на один и тот же лад, то ненависть в врагам есть единственный способ понравиться толпе с себя на родине". Это выливается в то, что "присутствует пристрастный наблюдатель и присутствует всюду, между тем как беспристрастный наблюдатель находится весьма далеко".

Взвешенный эгалитаризм беспристрастного наблюдателя заставляет по необходимости умерять свое себялюбие и простого человека (так, солдат иногда должен осознать, что "для любого другого, кроме него, жизнь его ничтожна сравнительно с жизнью каждого из его начальников"), так и короля. Для Смита "
самодержавные государи суть опаснейшие из всех политических мыслителей", чьи преобразования обычно направлены "к уничтожению всего, что оказывает сопротивление их деспотизму" и "к приведению отдельных лиц и главных сословий в такое положение, чтобы они могли оказать не большее сопротивление, чем самые слабые и незначительные сословия". На людей, напоминает Смит, нельзя смотреть как на "фигуры на шахматной доске". Такой взгляд легко делает развитие общества "беспорядочным и гибельным и весь общественный механизм приходит вскоре в совершенное расстройство". Такие стремления "нередко оказываются безумной самонадеянностью".

Моралист Адам Смит из "Теории нравственных чувств" не менее интересен, чем экономист Адам Смит из "Богатства народов". Только сложив вместе мысли Смита про жизнь среди по большей части близких людей из одной книги и про жизнь с незнакомцами "в обществе купц��в" из другой книги, а мы все живем в обоих мирах, мы можем получить цельную картину общественной жизни.
Profile Image for Teresa.
20 reviews
April 14, 2011
"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."
Profile Image for Victoria Hawco.
562 reviews1 follower
May 22, 2018
Say approbation one more time... also that last chapter wasn't even relevant.
Profile Image for thethousanderclub.
298 reviews20 followers
March 6, 2018
Adam Smith's magnum opus and perhaps the first work of modern economics is The Wealth of Nations. For those who know of Smith it is The Wealth of Nations and not his earlier The Theory of Moral Sentiments that receives all of the attention and commentary. After having read both books I think this is a mistake. The Theory of Moral Sentiments is an incredible work of observation and commentary which I believe will more directly impact my thinking than Smith's more well known work.

What I found so impressive about The Theory of Moral of Sentiments is Smith's unparalleled ability to observe and comment on the human condition without the assistance of modern science, statistical significance, regressions, data dredging, and the multitude of other tools—some more useful and honest than others—with exceptional precision. His writing is clear but challenging (especially for a modern reader), and his insights are deeply provocative. As an example of his expert insights long before the advent of modern science, see the several selections below:

"We suffer more ... when we fall from a better to a worse situation, than we ever enjoy when we rise from a worse to a better." (See Nudge and Influence)

"Of all the corrupters of moral sentiments, therefore, faction and fanaticism have always been by far the greatest." (See our current political and national condition)

"We are all naturally disposed to overrate the excellencies of our own characters." (See Thinking, Fast and Slow)

"The man who feels the most for the joys and sorrows of others, is best fitted for acquiring the most complete control of his own joys and sorrows." (See Emotional Intelligence)

These are but a few examples of what Adam Smith has accomplished in this incredible book. Much more than many books, The Theory of Moral Sentiments requires and compels deep reflection. Is Smith overly influenced by his particular culture to write broadly about the human condition? Are his insights universally applicable, regardless of culture, nation, race, or language? If they are, then there is more than enough to pay attention to in this book. Furthermore, The Theory of Moral Sentiments shows unequivocally that Smith's critics who focus solely on The Wealth of Nations and Smith's role as "the father of capitalism" to be missing a great deal of nuance in his viewpoints and arguments. (Most have not read The Wealth of Nations anyway, so their critiques are generally lacking).

Perhaps more than any other observation made by Smith in his book I was most impressed by the following: "Man naturally desires, not only to be loved, but to be lovely; or to be that thing which is the natural and proper object of love." This alone can and should initiate a host of conversations and debates regarding the nature and definition of love and what it means to be lovely. As a proponent and believer in a universal truth I think it's possible to answer those questions, but others of a more relative bent may find it much more challenging or believe it impossible. So let the debate begin! It is no accident that though The Theory of Moral Sentiments was published in 1756 it continues to be read and its influence has extended through many generations.

A small but significant complaint against the book is its latter portion, which is Smith's response and critique of other philosophical perspectives. It's tiresome, and I lacked the needed background to truly understand and appreciate the critique. In addition, the last 30 or so pages is Smith's treatise on language and its origins. Again, I lacked the necessary educational background to appreciate what I was reading.

The Theory of Moral Sentiments is a brilliant and challenging book. Smith's observations are captivating, provocative, and I think for the most part true. Smith is among some of the greatest thinkers and writers of all time; The Theory of Moral of Sentiments is the most compelling case for him to be so honored.

Profile Image for bartosz.
157 reviews12 followers
July 8, 2017
Before diving into Adam Smith's The Wealth of Nations I decided to take a detour through Smith's other great work The Theory of Moral Sentiments.

A book on ethics, it explores Smith's theory of sympathy. Sympathy, or co-feeling, is the basis of all authors's further considerations.

Sympathy is the sharing of feelings, and Smith argues, is built into human beings: we imagine the pain and suffering of someone who's injured, we feel happiness for our friends, we are glad when someone likes the book that we love. Inadequate sympathy is repulsive to us: we consider callus one who doesn't mourn his loved one, and we consider it odd when person who laughs too much at a joke.

We feel less sympathy for feelings that come from the body such as pain, or hunger and we admire people who can control them e.g people who will not flinch when they are in pain. We feel more sympathy for the feelings that come from imagination but only if we ourselves can imagine having that feeling.

But we sympathize most for feelings that Smith calls social passions: love, gratitude, kindness. Those passions cannot be repulsive even when taken to the extremes: a too caring mother, a too kind uncle or a too grateful man won't be though badly. The social passions are contrasted with unsocial ones such as anger, those passions make us usually more sympathetic to the victim of the feeling and not the feeler. A third category of passions - selfish passions such as grief and joy - are neither social nor unsocial.

Smith understood that we feel more sympathy for our family members, neighbors and acquaintance than to people we do not know. We feel more sympathy for the famous and the rich than to the poor - even as he explains that we shouldn't consider riches as a proxy for morality.

Propriety of conduct depends on whether or not we can sympathize with the motives of person performing the deed. To analyze morality and ethics, Smith introduces an impartial observer (The Man Within the Breast). As the author puts it - as with vision sometimes to see clearly we need to consider something from a distance. Although self-love is a natural feeling, from the perspective of an impartial observer, we shouldn't sacrifice our neighbor for our gain because we are indistinguishable.

We judge ourselves as we judge others - by assuming the role of an impartial observer. Therefore, we are only really happy for the praise that is merited (only the weak and vain people are satisfied by unearned praise). As humans we don't strive for praise but praiseworthiness, to embody some virtue even if it doesn't benefit us directly. A soldier tries to embody sacrifice or bravery when he dies valiantly in battle. People deduce rules of conduct by analyzing the cases which were agreeable (or which were not).

Smith believes we were given those mechanisms (sympathy, the feeling of justice and other feelings) to be able to live in society, but whether or not the causality is reversed isn't central to his argument.

Reading philosophy is always a chore for me, but The Theory of Moral sentiments wasn't half bad. Despite the dated language Smith writes cleanly and presents his arguments well. My only complaint is that different parts of the books aren't cohesive and there' no natural flow to the reading. All in all, I'm happy for the experience, it tickled my brain and it's always fun to reconsider and rethink things taken for granted.
Profile Image for Todd.
381 reviews
February 6, 2022
Although I only rated it three stars, it is an important book to read. In this work, Smith lays out the feelings people have about themselves, one another, actions taken, etc., and how these feelings correspond to the morality of the things triggering the reactions. Smith starts all-of-a-sudden with no introduction, no explanation as to his intention or what he is trying to do, which seems rather abrupt. The book is mainly written based on his informed observations and speculations drawn therefrom. He seems to make the error of mirror-imaging in many cases, though he does allow for variations, he usually seems to think the more extreme variations are rather uncommon. Common crime, the human history of torture and oppression, the sociopaths and psychopaths who seek power over others, etc., indicate to me that perhaps the exceptions to Smith's expectations are unfortunately more common than he seems to allow. Smith was a man of his times and makes certain generalizations about the sexes that might seem quaint to today's readers, though these are fairly few.
Despite these flaws, it is interesting to see Free Market Capitalism's first articulator spell out morality in the terms that he does. I say "articulator," because surely Smith did not invent that system per se, but merely became the first well-known person to make careful observations about how markets worked, what hindered them, etc. It should be noted that he published Moral Sentiments some years prior to An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations.
When we think of Smith in some such foundational role for a system that is commonly associated with wealth and privilege and all that is wrong in our world today (though try trading it for what came before Capitalism, namely absolutist monarchy, feudalism, and/or theocracy...), readers today might be surprised in what view Smith held the rich and famous:

This disposition to admire, and almost to worship, the rich and the powerful, and to despise, or, at least, to neglect persons of poor and mean condition, though necessary both to establish and to maintain the distinction of ranks and the order of society, is, at the same time, the great and most universal cause of the corruption of our moral sentiments...We frequently see the respectful attentions of the world more strongly directed towards the rich and the great, than towards the wise and the virtuous. We see frequently the vices and follies of the powerful much less despised than the poverty and weakness of the innocent. (p 62)

And if we really want to explore what's wrong in our world today, perhaps rather than blaming markets, one might examine Smith's observation more deeply:

In the courts of princes, in the drawing-rooms of the great, where success and preferment depend, not upon the esteem of intelligent and well-informed equals, but upon the fanciful and foolish favour of ignorant, presumptuous, and proud superiors; flattery and falsehood too often prevail over merit and abilities. In such societies the abilities to please, are more regarded than the abilities to serve. (p 64)

Although those of the Liberal persuasion (and by "Liberal" I mean in favor of a system of Liberty, not to be confused with anti-Liberal "liberals" who are actually Progressives) are often today seen as hostile toward or at least skeptical of religion, Smith was a Christian and quite confident that God had things well in hand. Indeed, he noted that our natural inclinations pushed us toward actions that tended toward the good, even when we ourselves might not be aware of the larger benefits, seeking only to satiate our natural appetites or otherwise seek what seems to be our self-interest. Smith does express sufficient hostility to the Roman Catholic Church for an 18th-century Englishman of good standing. He does, however, advocate for religious tolerance as an open-ended maxim.

One of Smith's indulgences to mirror-imaging comes as he expresses disapproval for the entire basis of today's "social justice":

To disturb his happiness merely because it stands in the way of our own, to take from him what is of real use merely because it may be of equal or more use to us, or to indulge, in this manner, at the expense of other people, the natural preference which every man has for his own happiness above that of other people, is what no impartial spectator can go along with. (p 86)

Perhaps Liberalism's greatest practical benefit is that while it works best if people are angelic, it functions reasonably well enough even if people in society are only coldly proper with one another and refraining from gross aggression and injustice:

All the members of human society stand in need of each others [sic] assistance, and are likewise exposed to mutual injuries. Where the necessary assistance is reciprocally afforded from love, from gratitude, from friendship, and esteem, the society flourishes and is happy...Society may subsist among different men, as among different merchants, from a sense of its utility, without any mutual love or affection; and though no man in it should owe any obligation, or be bound in gratitude to any other, it may still be upheld by a mercenary exchange of good offices according to an agreed valuation. (p 90)

Other systems, like Communism, frequently call for the incarnation of "Communist Man" as necessary to their proper function, which these systems may claim to also engender, though historical experience shows otherwise.

Smith's emphasis on the religious, spiritual, and intangible priorities in life will probably surprise readers that associate Capitalism with materialism. In Smith's mind, the moral system he advocates and the system of freedom associated with Capitalism are intrinsically linked, though, as noted, a mere abstinence from aggression is sufficient for a system of liberty to function.

So what then does Smith advocate in favor of, in terms of his morality? He sees a mixture of concern, each person for him or herself, together with concern with the well-ordering of society and the welfare of his or her fellows. In short: prudence, justice, beneficence are the virtues to be sought; and self-love, reason, and sentiment the methods by which we perceive and understand the moral worth of any particular act. Smith focuses on Ethics and Jurisprudence as the two "useful" (p 348) parts of moral philosophy.

In short, The Theory of Moral Sentiments does not quite reach the level of a "must-read," but is an important work to consider picking up. Much like Wealth of Nations, Smith lays out an important framework that was useful as a foundation to those who came after and built still more useful understandings on it. The ideas Smith had about morality and the ideal society were implicit assumptions in his understanding of the operation of markets; attempting to understand a system of liberty or the operation of markets independent of a moral framework of one kind or another is futile. But as important as this work is, Smith's style makes for somewhat difficult reading. It is not that it is so very technical or over an average reader's ability to comprehend, but it lacks in organization, focus, it can be rambling and repetitive, not to mention dry. Still, there are some very good nuggets found throughout that a diligent reader will feel well-rewarded for persevering and discovering.
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