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The Theory of Moral Sentiments

4.06  ·  Rating details ·  3,719 ratings  ·  177 reviews
The foundation for a general system of morals, this 1749 work is a landmark in the history of moral and political thought. Readers familiar with Adam Smith from The Wealth of Nations will find this earlier book a revelation. Although the author is often misrepresented as a calculating rationalist who advises the pursuit of self-interest in the marketplace, regardless of th ...more
Paperback, 368 pages
Published December 1st 2006 by Dover Publications (first published 1759)
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Amit Mishra
May 28, 2019 rated it really liked it
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.
Brett Ellingson
Jun 30, 2012 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
Aug 27, 2009 rated it it was amazing
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
E. G.
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
Trey Malone
Nov 15, 2016 rated it it was amazing
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 fr ...more
Dec 06, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
After reading The Wealth of Nations (1776), I decided to read Smith's work on ethics - The Theory of Moral Sentiments. I read that this book has to be read in order to fully understand the moral implications The Wealth of Nations.

But after making it halfway through The Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759), I couldn't bear it any longer. What a terrible book this is! It is written in prose, which is supposedly appreciated by many readers commenting on Goodreads, but in my opinion this whole book is
Sidharth Vardhan
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 Freu
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 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. ...more
James Henderson
Apr 06, 2009 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
Bob Nichols
May 09, 2013 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
Nov 15, 2010 rated it liked it
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
Sep 08, 2019 rated it it was amazing
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.
João Vaz
Nov 05, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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. ...more
Dec 15, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: philosophy
It is very difficult, if not impossible, consistently with the brevity of our design, to give the reader a proper idea of this excellent work. A dry abstract of the system would convey no juster idea of it, than the skeleton of a departed beauty would of her form when she was alive; at the same time the work is so well methodified, the parts grow so naturally and gracefully out of reach other that it would be doing it equal injustice to shew it by broken and detached pieces.

There will, in a work
Jeffrey Romine
Oct 07, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: classic, philosophy
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 grea ...more
Gayle Turner
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
Sep 14, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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
Victoria Hawco
Say approbation one more time... also that last chapter wasn't even relevant. ...more
Mar 05, 2018 rated it really liked it
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 i
Jul 08, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: owned-books
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
Edward Weiner
Jun 18, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Adam Smith is one of my intellectual heroes. This book written in the mid-eighteenth century sets forth a philosophy that remains current and valid in 2019. The day after I finished reading this book (I read The Wealth of Nations years ago), I came across this excellent podcast, which I highly recommend.
Jul 25, 2020 rated it it was amazing
One of my favorite books ever. As insightful about human behavior and motivation as any novelist. The first few chapters especially are brimming with insights. It's not an easy read--long in parts, engaged in debates we've largely forgotten--but when it is at it's best, it's deeply rewarding. ...more
Aug 02, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Adam Smith's Theory of Moral Sentiments is a magnificent description of human nature and of the virtues we try to adopt and the vices we try to avoid. His language is elegant and reading his works will make you a better write.

The education of boys at distant great schools, of young men at distant colleges, of young ladies in distant nunneries and boarding-schools, seems, in the higher ranks of life, to have hurt most essentially the domestic morals, and consequently the domestic happiness, both
May 20, 2021 rated it did not like it
God this guy sucks. A bunch of contradictory nonsense full of unnecessary digressions and verbiage, and despite all that, Smith doesn't know his way around an example so very little of this is clearly illustrated, even once! It's really just the moral framework through which he can launch the Wealth of Nations, and if that wasn't flawed enough, its basis is a bunch of bullshit. ...more
George Glasgow
Jan 14, 2019 rated it really liked it
Morality is one of the most important subjects of human cognition, as it is (or should be) a guide to all our actions and designs. The Theory of Moral Sentiments is a great work to deliver a wider and deeper understanding of this topic and, for those who do not know the "philosophical side" of Adam Smith (like me before reading the book), it is an excellent opportunity to comprehend this author beyond economics.
Contrary to my expectations, Smith does not build a structured system of moral philo
Jan 16, 2015 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
We remember Adam Smith as the founder of modern economics, but he was for many years a professor of moral philosophy, and first acquired fame in that role. This book sets out his general moral scheme. It is highly polished, and dazzles despite its age.

The book was adapted from Smith's lectures at the University of Glasgow, and has a distinctly conversational feel. His narrative feels broken into lecture-sized chunks, each with an introduction and conclusion. The overall tone is conversational, a
Nov 18, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The mind, therefore, is rarely so disturbed, but that the company of a friend will restore it to some degree of tranquility and sedateness. The breast is, in some measure, calmed and composed the moment we come into his presence. We are immediately put in mind of the light in which he will view our situation, and we begin to view it ourselves in the same light; for the effect of sympathy is instantaneous.

The Theory of Moral Sentiments is not what Smith is known for, but it should be. In it, he a
Varapanyo Bhikkhu
Jan 25, 2021 rated it did not like it
Smith's Theory of Moral Sentiments leads directly to social engineering on the one hand and cultural relativism on the other.↓

M Jones:

In a sentence that tells us more about Smith than about the moral order, he writes:

We conceive ourselves as acting in the presence of a person quite candid and equitable, of one who has no particular relation either to ourselves or to those whose interests are affected by our conduct; who is neither father, nor Brother nor friend, either to them, or to us; but is
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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

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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.” 367 likes
“Never complain of that of which it is at all times in your power to rid yourself.” 132 likes
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