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The Theory of Moral Sentiments

Series editors
Professor of Philosophy at the University of Notre Dame
Professor of Philosophy at University College Cork

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The Theory of
Moral Sentiments

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© in the introduction and editorial matter, Cambridge University Press 2004

First published in printed format 2002

ISBN 0-511-03902-6 eBook (Adobe Reader)
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Introduction page vii
Chronology xxv
Further reading xxvii
Note on the text xxix
Abbreviations xxxi

The Theory of Moral Sentiments

Part I Of the propriety of action
Part II Of merit and demerit; or, of the objects of reward
and punishment
Part III Of the foundation of our judgments concerning our own
sentiments and conduct, and of the sense of duty
Part IV Of the effect of utility upon the sentiment of approbation
Part V Of the in¬‚uence of custom and fashion upon the sentiments
of moral approbation and disapprobation
Part VI Of the character of virtue
Part VII Of systems of moral philosophy



The nature of Smith™s moral theory
Adam Smith™s Theory of Moral Sentiments is apt to confuse, perhaps
startle, the modern reader who approaches it with expectations formed by
recent moral philosophy. Though profoundly different in many respects,
the moral philosophies which have dominated the debate for the last
¬fty years, utilitarianism and Kantianism, have a common concern with
an ultimate criterion for right action. Even the doctrine which in recent
years has mounted the most serious challenge to these two, so-called virtue
ethics, is devoted to establishing criteria for what constitutes the morally
good character. In other words, modern moral philosophy is primarily
the hunt for a universally normative doctrine, a theory of what is right or
good for humanity as such. Furthermore, it is commonly backed up by
meta-ethical ideas of moral judgment which presuppose such a view of
philosophical ethics. Smith™s idea of moral philosophy was very different,
and that is one good reason for studying him; he is a challenge to our
common ways of thinking.
For Smith the most basic task of moral philosophy is one of explanation;
it is to provide an understanding of those practices which traditionally
are called moral. Like his close friend and mentor, David Hume, Smith
saw moral philosophy as central to a new science of human nature. To
this purpose Smith analysed those features of the human mind and those
modes of interaction between several minds which gave rise to moral
practices in the human species. Furthermore, he traced the different
patterns which these practices assumed in response to different social,
economic and political circumstances. He thought that this procedure


enabled him to say something about which features of morality appeared to
be universal to humanity and which ones appeared more or less historically
variable. The universality in question was entirely a matter of empirically
observable generality; Smith was simply suggesting that without certain
elementary and quite general features we would not be able to recognize
an existence as a human life. Smith was, in other words, not interested in
any metaphysics of morals.
Generally Smith analysed our moral practices in terms of the qualities
of human agency, or character, but he found ways of accounting also for
our tendency to follow rules and for our inclination to give moral weight
to the consequences of actions. It is this comprehensiveness that has made
Smith™s theory an appealing reference point for all three of the dominating
schools in modern ethics, as mentioned above, despite the fact that he did
not raise the question of a validating foundation for morality.
Morality was, in Smith™s eyes, to be approached as a matter of fact
about the human species™ history, but this does not mean that there is no
normative signi¬cance to his theory. It is just a very indirect normativity.
For one thing, as a naturalist Smith sees it as his task to detail how facts
guide our actions by setting limits to what we can do, and among the facts
about humanity which it would be futile to ignore are such things as the
constant presence of both egoistic and altruistic attitudes or the claim
to some degree of individual integrity. For another thing, as a humanist
Smith obviously believed that his students and readers would gain insight
into their moral potential through his portraits of the complexity, even
contradictions, of moral lives and moral judgments. Somewhat like a
novelist, he presents a wide variety of moral characters who often judge
each other but who rarely are judged directly by the author, except in his
capacity as a representative of ˜common opinion™. For the rest, judgment
is up to the reader.
Smith came to the conclusion that there was a great dividing line
running through human morality in just about any of its forms that were
recorded in history. This division was between the ˜negative™ virtue of
justice, which concerned abstinence from injury, and the ˜positive™ virtues
such as benevolence or prudence, which concerned the promotion of good
for others or for oneself. The indirect normativity of Smith™s theory is very
different for these two categories of moral virtue. No recognizably human
life can be without either type of virtue but what we can say about each in
general terms and, hence, what kind of guidance such accounts can yield,


differ signi¬cantly between the two. Because of the individuality and, not
least, the uncertainty of man™s life, it is impossible to formulate a universal
idea of the highest good or, more generally, the good life. As a consequence,
the virtues that promote the goods of life can be characterized only in very
general terms and, across cultural and historical divides, this may amount
to little more than family resemblance.
By contrast, injury is considered an evil in any type of life and this lends
a certain universality to the virtue of abstaining from injurious behaviour,
that is, the virtue of justice, because we have the ability to recognize what is
harmful to another even when we know little or nothing about that person.
In other words, the action-guiding power of the positive virtues “ outside
of our intimate life “ is much more uncertain than that of the negative
virtue of justice and only the latter is so rule-bound that it can be the
subject of systematic treatment, namely the ˜science of jurisprudence™.
Attempts to extend such system to the positive virtues are harshly rejected
by Smith as ˜mere casuistry™, a broad category which no doubt was meant
to include a great deal of traditional moralizing literature and not just
theological casuistry.
The precision of justice that enables it to be the basis for law does,
however, come at a cost, as it were. The feature of justice which makes
it so important in human life is its ability to regulate behaviour between
entire strangers who do not know anything else about each other than
that they are capable, as we all are, of injury and of being injured. How-
ever, what counts as injury is not a universal matter; it varies dramatically
from one type of society to another. True, Smith acknowledges that every
known society recognizes violence to the body, denials of personhood, and
prevention of access to the surrounding world as injuries and he is ready
to recognize claims against such behaviour as ˜natural rights™. However,
his many tales of different cultures indicate that not even bodily integrity
or standing as a moral agent were universal concepts and, most impor-
tantly, the nexus between the individual and the environment was subject
to variations. There were moral facts, such as private property in land,
which guided people in their social intercourse in one type of society
but which were simply unknown and hence irrelevant to behaviour in
other societies. Smith™s ˜natural jurisprudence™ was, therefore, very much
an historical jurisprudence; you would have to know what society you
were talking about if your detailing of rights and duties were to be of
any use.


While jurisprudence has its foundations in ethics, it is, in other words,
a separate discipline. Smith planned to deal with this in a sequel to The
Theory of Moral Sentiments, as he explains in the Preface below, but he
never published what he wrote; he destroyed his manuscript shortly before
his death. Even so, we have a reasonable idea of what he had in mind
thanks to two sets of students™ notes from his lectures on jurisprudence at
the University of Glasgow in the ±·°s. Smith™s basic course consisted of
four parts, natural theology, moral philosophy, natural jurisprudence, and
political theory, including political economy. Next to nothing is known
about the ¬rst part which was a traditional element in the curriculum and
seems to have been very brief in Smith™s hands. The moral philosophy
was published as the present work in ±·µ, while the lectures on political
economy were the basis for Smith™s magnum opus, The Wealth of Nations
Just as the virtue of justice is the foundation for natural jurispru-
dence, so the virtue of prudence is the basis for political economy. But
while the former discipline is concerned with those characteristics or
qualities which individuals acquire as rights in different societies, the
latter study singles out just one quality, self-interest, without specifying
its content and then works out how people based upon this one quality
deal with each other. Political economy is, in other words, an attempt to
work out the relations between ˜abstract™ individuals, individuals about
whom nothing more is assumed than that they are self-interested, or
˜prudent™. Prices, pro¬ts, interest rates, divisions of labour and so on,
are, in the famous phrase, the unintended outcome of individual actions,
that is, of actions whose speci¬c intentions are irrelevant to the expla-
nation of these phenomena. In this connection it should be pointed out
that Smith did not mistake self-interest for sel¬shness; the content or
object of self-interest did not seem to be of much interest for explanatory
Just as Smith never pretended that there was nothing more to human
life than the assertion of rights, so he never suggested that the serving
of self-interest was exhaustive of man™s endeavour. In both cases he was
explaining facets of the natural history of the human species which he
thought instructive about the range of our possibilities. And in both
cases he was utilizing the theory of moral personality which he had
formulated in The Theory of Moral Sentiments.


In tracing law, politics and economy to their basis in the operations
of the human mind, Smith was in effect suggesting that these moral
institutions are natural to humanity. The question is, in which sense
natural? One of the most fundamental disputes in ancient philosophy had
been between the Stoics and the Epicureans over this issue. The former
taught that morality is natural to humankind in the sense that man has
the capacity to govern his life in accordance with the orderliness, or logos,
that underlies the whole of the world. The Epicureans, by contrast, saw
people as naturally self-interested and suggested that morality is a device
invented to regulate self-interest so that it does not become self-defeating,
especially through con¬‚ict with others or through opposition between
immediate and long-term interests.
The con¬‚ict between these two schools of thought was revived with
great vigour in early modern philosophy. A wide variety of thinkers
worked on the idea of morality as ˜natural™ to humanity, not only on
Stoic but also on Platonic (or combined Platonic“Stoic) or Aristotelian
grounds, but always Christianized so that the basic idea was that natural
morality was a divine gift. In Smith™s immediate background one can
mention the Cambridge Platonists (Benjamin Whichcote, John Smith,
Ralph Cudworth), Lord Shaftesbury and Francis Hutcheson with their
idea of a special moral sense as a feature of the mind, and the so-called
ethical rationalists (Samuel Clarke, William Wollaston) with their view of
morality as a form of rational inference. The arguments of these thinkers
and their predecessors were forcefully met by a less numerous succes-
sion of neo-Epicureans who, across their many differences, agreed on the
basic point that morality was a human contrivance, or arti¬ce, to con-
trol or regulate self-interest and they often formulated this arti¬ce as
the outcome of agreements or contracts to set up political institutions to
reinforce the rules of morality. Representative and particularly in¬‚uen-
tial were Thomas Hobbes, Pierre Gassendi, Samuel Pufendorf, Bernard
Mandeville and David Hume.
In the hands of the last mentioned philosopher, the Epicurean argument
received a development that was of particular importance to Smith. Hume
conceded that there was a certain natural morality in humanity, namely
what we above called the positive virtues, but argued that this would at
best sustain small social groups, such as families, while the big society,
civil society, required justice to regulate people™s pursuit of self-interest.


What is more, Hume indicated that justice, although arti¬cial, developed
spontaneously as a practice among people.
Smith took hold of this idea of Hume™s “ which also had interest-
ing antecedents in Mandeville with which both Hume and Smith were
familiar “ and with one bold move he set aside the ancient divide over the
issue of nature versus arti¬ce in morality. This is perhaps his most original
contribution to moral philosophy. Smith suggested that arti¬ce is natural
to humankind, that is to say, there is no condition in which people do not
generate moral, aesthetic and other conventions. Smith therefore com-
pletely rejected the traditional idea of a state of nature that is antecedent,
whether historically or conceptually, to a civil condition and accordingly
he had no room for a social contract as a bridge between the natural and
the arti¬cial (civil) life of man. At the same time, he saw morality as some-
thing conventional in the sense that it is part of humanity™s adaptation to
the circumstances in which it happens to ¬nd itself. While a scientist of
human nature, such as Smith, may divide these circumstances into types
of society and may be able to discern the basic features of the human mind
and personal interaction which are involved in social adaptation, he does
not have access to a universal morality nor is an underlying logos any part
of his concern.

The theory of the mind
David Hume had put forward a theory of the imagination which Smith
developed as the core of his own theory of the mind. Elements of it are
scattered through The Theory of Moral Sentiments but one must also turn
to some of his Essays on Philosophical Subjects, especially the ˜Principles
which lead and direct philosophical enquiries; illustrated by the history
of astronomy™, and to the notes taken by a student from his Lectures on
Rhetoric and Belles Lettres. For both Hume and Smith the imagination is
a mental faculty by means of which people create a distinctively human
sphere within the natural world. It is the imagination that enables us to
make connections between the perceived elements of both the physical
and the moral world, ranging from binary relations between particular
events and things to complex systems such as the national or interna-
tional economy, the idea of the cosmos or of humanity as a whole. The
activity of the imagination is a spontaneous search for order, coherence


and agreement in the world; satisfaction of it carries its own pleasure,
while frustration brings ˜wonder and surprise™ and, if prolonged, anxiety
and unease.
Smith talks of this imaginative striving both in moral terms as a wish for
agreement and in aesthetic terms as a concern with beauty and harmony.
This re¬‚ects a distinction between two fundamentally different kinds of
imagination; one is concerned with persons “ both oneself and others “
as agents, while the other has as its object things and events. We may call
them “ though Smith does not “ practical and theoretical imagination,
respectively. It is through the practical imagination that we ascribe actions
to persons and see persons, including ourselves, as coherent or identical
over time. In other words, the practical imagination creates the moral
world. This form of imagination Smith calls sympathy, using the word in
a somewhat special sense that has led to much confusion both in his own
time and subsequently.
The theoretical imagination is, in Smith™s view, the foundation for all
the arts and sciences. It accounts for our ability to bring order and system
into things and events around us so that we can orient ourselves in life.
Smith is particularly good at explaining aesthetic elements of daily life,
such as the craving for order and the passion for arranging things for no
other purpose than that the order and the arrangement please by bring-
ing a quietness of mind, and he uses the same principle to explain why
people have a desire for machinery, gadgets and other organized systems.
Works of art, as well as of technology, are, and are appraised as, works of
imaginative order. Not least, philosophy and science are products of the
imagination™s attempt to create order in the ¬‚ux of experience. In fact,
experience can only function as evidence, or be ˜understood™, if it ¬ts into
an orderly system of beliefs. Smith underscores this view of knowledge
by his frequent and self-conscious use of machine analogies as the most
useful representations of the natural world and of society. Furthermore,
he suggests that the human mind has a tendency to extend and secure the
perceived orderliness of the world by assuming that there is a supreme or-
dering agent with a purpose. In short, Smith sees art, technology, science,
deistic religion, including natural providence, as parts of the explanatory
web that the imagination creates to satisfy its desire for order.
Such desire for order is in many ways more urgent in our dealings with
people, in contrast to the rest of nature, and the imagination with which


the desire for order is pursued in this case has a special quality. When we
observe the behaviour of people, we do not simply experience events, we
ascribe actions to agents; we pin some change in the environment on a
person as an action and we do so because we think we see the person™s
point in making the change. We spontaneously see people as purposeful
and this is the central act of the practical imagination. Smith calls this
sympathy and, as mentioned above, this was a troublesome terminology.
Smith does not mean that we, when we think that we see another person™s
point in doing something, accept or approve of that point. We cannot
get to the stage of either approving or disapproving of a standpoint until
we see that it is a standpoint. Sympathy in the most important Smithian
usage is this latter process which is preparatory to any assessment of
people; it is not the assessment itself. Smith expresses this by saying that
while there is a pleasure in the mere act of understanding another™s point
of view, as there is in any understanding, this pleasure is distinct from
whatever sentiments we may have about the object of our sympathetic
understanding, sentiments which may be either pleasing or displeasing.
It seems that Smith himself only came to complete clarity about this matter
in the light of David Hume™s criticism of his handling of it in the ¬rst
edition of The Theory of Moral Sentiments, as we see from Smith™s response
in a note to ±.iii.±.. What is more, Smith himself is far from consistent
in his terminology; often he uses ˜sympathy™ in both the traditional sense
of ˜approval™ and in the more original sense explained here.
Sympathy is characterized as an act of the imagination because we do
not have access to another person™s mind. What we have access to is the
other person™s observable circumstances, including his or her behaviour.
The act of sympathetic understanding is a creation of order in the ob-
server™s perceptions by means of an imagined rationale for the observed
behaviour. As agents or moral beings, other people are, therefore, the
creation of our imagination. But the most remarkable feature of Smith™s
theory of sympathy is that the same can be said of ourselves; as moral
agents we are acts of creative imagination. The central point is that we
only become aware of ourselves “ gain self-consciousness “ through our
relationship to others. When we observe others, we notice that they ob-
serve us, and one of the most urgently felt needs for sympathetic under-
standing is to appreciate how they see us. This need is heightened by the
inevitability that we and our fellows have different views of our relations
to each other, to third persons, and to the environment. Our imagination


craves order in these actual or potential con¬‚icts and that means a workable
degree of agreement about personal relations and things, as in questions
of who is boss and who owns or has the use of what. Our understanding
of how others see us in these circumstances shapes our view of who we
are and how we stand in such relationships in life.
Through sympathy we so to speak try to anticipate the assessment
by others of ourselves, thus enabling us to adjust our behaviour before
con¬‚ict arises. We internalize the external spectator and respond to this
¬gure of the sympathetic imagination. The internal spectator has the force
to prompt such adjustment of behaviour as would otherwise be demanded
by external spectators in order to satisfy the inclination to or the need for
agreement or conformity. In other words, one only learns to see oneself as
a person and as a member of a moral universe of agents through sympathy
with others™ view of one™s identity and situation in the world. Society is,
as Smith says, the mirror in which one catches sight of oneself, morally
While it is natural for people to use their sympathetic imagination as
spectators of others, to form ideas of the identity of others and themselves,
and to adjust their behaviour in the light of such insight, there is obvi-
ously no guarantee that they will always succeed. The process of mutual
adjustment through sympathetic search for a common standpoint often
fails and this leads to moral and social disorder. When this happens, we
are led to seek order in a different way, namely in our own mind. We tend
to imagine how a spectator would judge us and our behaviour if he or she
was not limited by prejudice, partiality, ignorance, poor imagination and
lack of ordinary good will in the way in which the actual spectators of us,
including we ourselves, are limited. We imagine an ideal judgment and
an ideal judge. But of course this imagination is itself an act of mutual
sympathy; we try to ˜enter into™ the way in which an ideal impartial spec-
tator would sympathize with us and thus be able to appraise us. With this
imagined ideal of an impartial spectator Smith gives a social explanation
for the traditional core of man™s moral and religious being, namely his
conscience. What is more, he suggests that our imagination commonly
tends to transpose the authority of conscience to a higher plane by sup-
posing that it is the voice of God in us. The divinity itself is a function
of our imagination, the pinnacle of the dialectic of mutual sympathy that
starts when we ¬rst become aware that our neighbour watches us as we
watch him or her.


As Smith explained in the last Part of The Theory of Moral Sentiments,
these explanations of our moral personality in terms of empirical features
of the mind were meant to set aside theories such as those of his teacher,
Francis Hutcheson, that we are issued with a special moral sense. In this
he agreed with David Hume, just as he did in rejecting the suggestion
of Samuel Clarke, William Wollaston, and others, that moral judgment
and moral motivation are forms of rational inference. Finally, whatever
his personal religious sentiments may have been “ of which we have
no evidence “ he dramatically ignored all traditional religious ideas of
conscience as either an infusion, an inspiration, by God or a response to
the might of the deity, namely fear.

By means of this account of the human mind, its extension into its envi-
ronment and, especially, its interaction with other minds, Smith provides
an analysis of the structure of moral life. The central concept is that of
propriety. We ¬rst of all judge an agent, whether oneself or another, in
terms of whether a motive or an action is proper to the given situation of
that agent; if it is, we say that the motive or action has moral merit, oth-
erwise demerit. We do this irrespective of whether the situation is past,
present or future. One judges in the ¬rst instance as a direct spectator
and, in case of disagreement about what is proper, one then appeals to
other spectators, real or imagined, and in the end to one™s ideal of an im-
partial spectator. People do likewise with the persons who are the ˜object™
of the motive or action in question, those towards whom the agent directs
an action. Those people, the ˜patients™, will have ideas of the merit or
demerit of the agent™s action towards them and as a moral observer one
judges of the propriety of their response. The moral assessment of a total
moral situation of action and reaction is a compound, as it were, of these
spectator judgments of the propriety of both action and reaction, of both
agent and ˜patient™.
Smith is at pains to make clear the relationship between moral assess-
ments in terms of propriety and in terms of merit. People judge in the
former way when they consider whether a motive is suitable or propor-
tionate to the situation which occasions it; they judge in the latter way
when they consider the good or bad effects which the motive aims at.
In general we look both forward and backward in our moral judgments.


However, judgment in terms of merit or demerit is, according to Smith,
derivative from judgment in terms of propriety. When we say that some
behaviour has merit or demerit, we are saying that it deserves gratitude or
resentment, which are the basis for reward or punishment. However, these
reactions “ gratitude and resentment “ are themselves matters of propri-
ety in their respective situations and the crucial factor in their situations
is the moral quality of the original behaviour considered in abstraction
from its merit or demerit (otherwise we would be reasoning in a circle)
and that is a question of its propriety.
Smith is trying to show that the moral standing we give to gratitude
and resentment is dependent upon their propriety and that this in turn
is dependent upon the propriety of the behaviour upon which they are
bestowed. This structure of our moral assessments is shown by the fact
that we generally take it as valid criticism of reward and punishment
(gratitude, resentment) that the behaviour for which they are given does
not spring from a proper motive. The most extreme cases are those where
there simply cannot be any motive, for instance, when we ˜punish™ a
stone for being in our way. A more common situation would be one in
which we ¬nd gratitude for, say, acts of charity unwarranted because the
motive for the acts was in fact self-aggrandisement rather than perception
of need.
This discussion also shows that, as Smith sees it, when we scrutinize
our moral judgments, we consider the motivation for behaviour to be
the ultimate object of our assessment. But as a matter of fact, we com-
monly ¬nd it dif¬cult to reach such purity of judgment; the actual actions
with their perceived merit and demerit, what Smith more generally calls
˜fortune™, always intervene. Indeed, it is only through actions that we
have any empirical material by means of which the imagination can create
ideas of motivation. The fabric of moral life is thus by no means seamless,
according to Smith, for it has to be stitched together continuously from,
on the one hand, the empirical evidence of a world of fortune, that is, a
world of change in which all application of standards must be uncertain;
and, on the other hand, a world of minds which can only be a common
world when the creative imagination sets up common standards for how
to assess motives for action, that is for what counts as a proper motive for
action. The ultimate act of imaginative creativity “ or the highest step in
our moral development “ is the ideally impartial spectator of humanity,
including of ourselves.


Smith does not mean to say that he can specify a ¬gure known as the
Ideal Impartial Spectator who has the last word on what is truly proper
to be done in a given situation. He is, as already mentioned, not putting
forward that type of directly normative theory. Rather, his concern is to
explain how people make moral assessments of the merit of their own and
other people™s motives and behaviour and he suggests that this happens
by an implicit invocation of their notion of ideal propriety. If he had
meant this to be a criterion of right action, as opposed to an analysis of
the structure of people™s judgment of right action, then it would clearly
have been circular and quite vacuous. The theory would in that case have
said that the right action is the proper one and the proper one is the
one judged to be so by the Ideal Impartial Spectator “ who, however, is
identi¬ed as the character who judges in the aforesaid manner. This type
of criticism is often directed at modern virtue ethics, and since Smith
sometimes is invoked as a virtue theorist, he is being tarred with the same
brush. However, leaving virtue ethics to fend for itself, we can safely say
that Smith was not a virtue theorist of the sort who could have such a
While situational propriety is the basis for people™s moral judgment,
it is far from enough to account for the full variety of such judgment.
In the very dynamics of judging in terms of propriety lies the source of
a complicating factor. When we search for an ideally impartial view of
propriety, we inevitably begin to see the particular situation which we
are trying to assess as one of a type: we tend to categorize, generalize,
and, ultimately, universalize. This is the source of rules in our moral life;
they are the unintended outcome of our actual behaviour. At the same
time moral rules tend to carry a sense of obligation because they are,
so to speak, a summary of our moral experience in trying to get to the
standpoint of the fully impartial spectator, with whom we sympathize in
so far as we are moral beings at all. Our sense of duty is, therefore, a fear
of the displeasure of the ideal impartial spectator for breach of the rules
of morality “ except when there are overriding rules or moral reasons.
This theory of the sense of duty was crucial for Smith™s idea of contract
in his jurisprudence.
Smith™s interesting analysis of the psychology and sociology of rule
following shows how such behaviour is found to be valuable because
of its capacity for creating order and predictability in the formation of
motivation and choice of action. But while action in accordance with


a rule commonly is found morally praiseworthy, Smith is, again, not
suggesting that this is a criterion of moral rightness; it is a feature of how
people judge of moral rightness. What is more, the feeling of obligation
to rules is only one factor among several; apart from the basic sense of
situational propriety, custom and the consequences of actions play a role.
These factors will often be in tension when we try to achieve clarity about
our moral standpoint. Sympathetic propriety ties us to the particularity of
the situation, while the impartial spectator calls for the generality of rules.
This becomes even more complicated when we recognize our tendency
to take into account what the actual consequences, or ˜utility™, of actions
may be.
Smith™s idea of the role of utility in moral judgment is an extension of
his analysis of merit and demerit of action which we looked at above. His
central point is that while utility certainly is a factor, it is not so much
utility in the sense of the end or outcome of action as in the sense of the
means to some end, often an end that is unspeci¬c or entirely outside of
one™s consideration “ in other words, utility in the sense of functionality.
In this connection Smith draws ingenious comparisons between aesthetic
and moral judgment in terms of utility. We appreciate the utility of a
gadget such as a minutely precise watch, not because we need it to be so
precise but because such precision functions in an orderly system. In the
same way we appreciate acts of benevolence or justice not so much because
they promote the greatest happiness as because they are of ˜local™ utility
in their speci¬c context. But Smith™s main use of this analysis of the role
of utility in our practical judgments is political. He suggests that while
people commonly judge in terms of situational propriety, in the manner
indicated above, and let such judgments be in¬‚uenced by their liking
for how things “ policies, institutions, individual politicians “ function,
or ˜¬t™, in a given situation, there are two types of people in particular
who either misunderstand or try to go beyond this feature of ordinary
moral judgment. One is the speculative philosopher who thinks that his
own ingenuity in analysing and categorizing actions in terms of their
utility is also the justifying ground for agents to bring about these actions.
This is the central point in Smith™s criticism of David Hume™s moral
theory. Much less benign, let alone subtle, are the political entrepreneurs
who fancy that they can think in terms of some overall goal for society,
some idea of public utility or happiness. Since the latter requires a sort of
knowledge that rarely, if ever, is available, it often has unfortunate political


consequences, many of which receive acute analysis in Smith™s Wealth of
Smith himself practises a subtle balancing act between philosophical
theory and common-life practice in morality. He often adopts the elevated
standpoint of the philosophical sage who assesses the moral and social
ideas that make the world go round. In this role Smith bases himself
upon an ideal of tranquillity as the end of moral life which he found
equally in the Stoic and the Epicurean traditions. At the same time, his
account of moral psychology showed that everything distinctive about the
life of the human species was due to man™s inability to live in tranquillity.
The exercise of our productive powers which is portrayed in the Wealth of
Nations and the social striving through emulative vanity which we ¬nd in
The Theory of Moral Sentiments were only the most dramatic illustrations
of an inescapable restlessness pervading our lives. A dialectic tension
between tranquillity and activity is thus bound to be a permanent feature
of human life, and the implication is clearly that it would be entirely futile
for the philosopher to defend the one over the other. Accordingly, Smith™s
authorial voice assumes a tone of role-playing in these contexts; on the
one hand there is the world-weary, nearly cynical, philosophical spectator
to the world™s folly, on the other there is the practical man of action with
his disdain for the futility of theoretical speculation.
In addition to the analysis of moral judgment, Smith structures moral-
ity through a complex account of moral virtue. This became especially
clear in the ¬nal edition of the work where he added a whole new part,
Part VI, devoted to the topic of virtue. He revised the traditional schema
of the cardinal virtues which in his hands become prudence, benevolence,
justice and self-command. Of these, benevolence is, as we have already
seen, too individual or idiosyncratic “ too ˜personal™, as it were “ in its
exercise to be constitutive of any regular social forms (which, of course,
does not detract from its moral value). Self-command is a sort of meta-
virtue that is presupposed in all the other virtues. Prudence and justice
are different in that they both are the basis for social structures which
can be accounted for in empirical terms. Prudence is concerned with the
pursuit of our interests and this is the subject of political economy. Jus-
tice is concerned with the avoidance of injury to our interests and this is
the subject of jurisprudence. In both cases history plays a crucial role, as
we have indicated, because interest is an historically determined concept;
the hunter-gatherer cannot have any interest in the stock-market and,


consequently, can neither pursue nor be injured in that interest. This
analysis of the four basic virtues tallies with the division between positive
and negative virtues which we discussed in the ¬rst section above. In this
way Smith provided a conceptual niche both for prudence, which he took
seriously as a virtue and whose main social effects he worked out in the
Wealth of Nations, and for the strong theory of justice and the spectator
theory of rights which provided the basis for his natural jurisprudence,
as we indicated above.

The life of a moral philosopher
As we have seen, Smith™s overall project in moral philosophy may be seen
as an attempt to go beyond the traditional opposition between Stoicism
and Epicureanism. This is not surprising when we look at the matter from
the point of view of Smith™s life. After schooling in his native Kirkcaldy,
Smith went to the University of Glasgow (±··“°) where the main
in¬‚uence upon him was Francis Hutcheson who was one of the leading
representatives in the English-speaking world of a Christianized Stoicism.
However, in his twenties when he was a free-lance public lecturer in
Edinburgh (±·“µ°), Smith formed the most important friendship of his
life with David Hume, the most sophisticated heir to a mixed Epicurean
and sceptical tradition. What is more, while he was a student at Balliol
College, Oxford, from ±·° to ±·, Smith seems to have prepared himself
very well for this intellectual confrontation by extensive studies in recent
French literature and criticism where such disputes were prominent. In
view of such a mixed background, which presumably has found expression
in his Edinburgh lectures, it is hardly surprising that Hutcheson™s former
students received Smith less than enthusiastically when the latter took up
his former teacher™s professorship at Glasgow. Smith taught at Glasgow
from ±·µ± to ±· and was succeeded by the Common Sense philosopher
Thomas Reid who was an important critic of Smith as well as of Hume.
The most distinguished student of Smith™s, from an intellectual point of
view, was John Millar who, as professor of law in the same university,
developed Smith™s analysis of social authority and law.
Smith resigned his professorship in order to accept a lucrative posi-
tion as travelling tutor for a nobleman™s son, a common career move by
intellectuals at the time. This entailed a couple of years™ travel, mainly
in France where he made valuable connections with many of the leading


philosophers and social thinkers, including Voltaire and physiocrats such
as Quesnay and Turgot. The latter acquaintances obviously stimulated
Smith in the major work he was already engaged in, namely a development
of the political economy section of his Glasgow lectures to a comprehen-
sive study of the modern economic system seen in the light of his history
of civil society. The tutorship carried with it a life-pension and after his
return to Britain, in ±·, Smith could work undisturbed as a private
scholar ¬rst at his home in Kirkcaldy and then in London while ¬nishing
his huge project. The Wealth of Nations appeared in ±·· and it soon
overshadowed Smith™s name as a moral philosopher; from now on he was
the great political economist. He advised governments on such matters
as trade and taxation and on relations with America and Ireland. He also
took public of¬ce, namely as commissioner for customs in Edinburgh, a
well paid position which he diligently occupied for the rest of his life.
At the same time, Smith had become a famous man of letters. He was
a leading ¬gure in the ¬‚ourishing of intellectual culture which we now
call the Scottish Enlightenment, he was well connected in literary circles
in London and, although he never went abroad again, he retained good
contacts in Paris.
The basis for this fame was The Theory of Moral Sentiments and the
Wealth of Nations, for apart from a few minor pieces Smith published
nothing else in his lifetime. He did, however, write a good deal. First of
all, he revised his books for new editions. The moral philosophy had six
editions in Smith™s life. Of these the second (±·±) was signi¬cant, con-
taining, among other things, replies to criticism from David Hume, and
the last was a major recasting of the work. The interpretation of Smith™s
revisions, all the most important of which are included in the present
edition, is a complex and open question. Here we may mention just three
points of interest. It is clear that Smith gets to greater clarity, especially
in the last edition, about our tendency to transpose the impartial social
spectator to become an idealized judge, but whether this is a sign of grow-
ing in¬‚uence from Stoicism or whether it has a more complex motivation
remains doubtful. Another notable change which we noted above is the
inclusion in edition six of a whole part, Part VI, devoted to an analysis of
virtue. Finally, it is clear that the tone of Smith™s treatment of the role
of religion in morality becomes distinctly cooler and more sceptical in
the late edition. He was widely taken to be of dubious religiosity, partly
because of his association with Hume, but especially because of the warm


endorsement of Hume™s moral character which Smith published soon
after his great friend™s death.
Smith devoted similar care to his Wealth of Nations, revising it re-
peatedly for the ¬ve lifetime editions, of which the third was particularly
signi¬cant. But he also undertook new projects. One was a ˜sort of theory
and history of law and government™, which he kept announcing in the
preface to all editions of The Theory of Moral Sentiments. Another was ˜a
sort of Philosophical History of all the different branches of Literature,
of Philosophy, Poetry and Eloquence™ (Corr. p. ·). It was presumably
drafts of these works which took up most of the sixteen manuscript vol-
umes which Smith asked his close friends, the chemist Joseph Black and
the geologist James Hutton, to burn a few days before his death. The
former project was undoubtedly a development of the lectures on ju-
risprudence, part of which Smith had realized in the Wealth of Nations;
the latter was obviously related to the early Essays on Philosophical Sub-
jects, published posthumously in ±·µ by Black and Hutton, and to the
Glasgow lectures on rhetoric and belles lettres. Both these and the ju-
risprudence lectures are known to us from students™ reports on them, but
in the absence of Smith™s own words, the overall coherence of his work
remains a controversial matter of reconstruction.
Such reconstruction of a fuller image of Smith has been a task for
scholarship, especially in the last generation, whereas the popular view of
Smith has been that of the father of political economy. The Theory of Moral
Sentiments did, however, have an independent legacy, though one that is ill
charted. Together with the work of Hume, it had established sympathy as
a central moral concept for any attempt at a naturalistic ethics, and we ¬nd
this re¬‚ected “ though with few explicit acknowledgments “ in the many
discussions of sympathy by the utilitarians of the nineteenth century.
What is more, Smith™s use of sympathy to account for the emergence
of morality in the human species was taken up by Charles Darwin in
his evolutionary theory in The Descent of Man. Smith™s ideas were also
given continued attention, both in Britain and in France, through their
discussion in the widely popular work of the Common Sense philosopher
Dugald Stewart.
In Germany Smith™s moral philosophy was received with interest, if
limited understanding, by Immanuel Kant. In the nineteenth century
German scholars conjured up one of the most enduring points of debate
about Smith when they saw a rank contradiction between his two major


works, the moral work being based upon sympathy, the economic one
on self-interest. These two ideas, of course, only contradict each other
if Smithian sympathy is misinterpreted as benevolence and self-interest
wrongly is narrowed to sel¬shness and then taken to be the reductive basis
for all human motivation, but it has taken an immense amount of debate
to set ˜das Adam Smith Problem™ aside and it is still good for another round.
In contemporary ethics, Smith has often been seen as little more than a
disciple of Hume though his spectator analysis of moral judgment, his
theory of justice, and his supposed virtue theory have attracted attention.
But perhaps the real interest of Smith is that he challenges the whole idea
of modern moral philosophy, namely that it has to justify a criterion for
right action.


±· Born at a date unknown (baptized µ June) in Kirkcaldy, Fife,
Scotland, the son of a customs of¬cer who died before Smith
was born. Went to the burgh school in Kirkcaldy.
±··“° Student at Glasgow University. Among his teachers was Francis
Hutcheson in moral philosophy.
±·°“ Student at Balliol College, Oxford, on a valuable fellowship, the
Snell Exhibition.
±·“µ± With the patronage of Henry Home, Lord Kames, gave courses
of public lectures in Edinburgh, ¬rst on rhetoric and belles lettres,
then also on jurisprudence and the history of philosophy.
Became a member of the leading Enlightenment circles in
Edinburgh and formed his most important friendship, with
David Hume.
±·µ±“ Professor of Logic at Glasgow University, substituting also in moral
±·µ“ Professor of Moral Philosophy at Glasgow University.
±·µµ Published two articles in the ¬rst Edinburgh Review, on Samuel
Johnson™s Dictionary, on the French Encyclop´die, and on
Rousseau™s Second Discourse (in EPS).
±·µ Published The Theory of Moral Sentiments; nd edition,
signi¬cantly revised, ±·±; rd edition ±··; th edition ±··; µth
edition ±·±; th edition with major revisions ±·°.
±·± Published ˜Considerations concerning the ¬rst formation of
languages™ (in Rhetoric).
±·“ Travelling tutor to the Duke of Buccleuch, staying mainly in France
and making the acquaintance of major ¬gures in the Enlightenment,
such as Voltaire and the leading physiocrats, including Quesnay
and Turgot. Received a life-pension for the tutorship.


±··“· Working on the Wealth of Nations in his old home in Kirkcaldy.
±··“ In London ¬nishing the economic work and seeing it through the
press. Became a member of leading literary and intellectual circles,
such as the Johnsonian ˜The Club™; admitted to fellowship of
the Royal Society ±··.
±·· Published An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth
of Nations; nd revised edition ±··; rd edition with signi¬cant
revisions ±·; th edition ±·; µth edition ±·.
±·· Appointed Commissioner of Customs in Edinburgh, a lucrative
position, occupied until his death. Wrote a memorandum for the
Solicitor-General on the con¬‚ict with America, recommending
separation for the colonies (in Corr.).
±·· Advised the government in favour of a union with Ireland.
±·· Founding fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh.
±·° Died at his home on ±· July; buried at Canongate churchyard
in Edinburgh.
±·µ Essays on Philosophical Subjects published on Smith™s instructions
by Joseph Black and James Hutton.

Further reading

The standard edition of Smith™s works and correspondence, including the
students™ notes from his lectures, is The Glasgow Edition of the Works and Corre-
spondence of Adam Smith,  volumes, Oxford: Clarendon Press ±·“; paper-
back edition Indianapolis, IN: The Liberty Press ±; with an Index to the Works
of Adam Smith, Oxford: Clarendon Press °°±; paperback edition Indianapolis,
IN: The Liberty Press °°.
The most detailed biography is Ian Simpson Ross, The Life of Adam Smith,
Oxford: Clarendon Press ±µ. See also John Rae, Life of Adam Smith [±µ],
with an Introduction . . . by Jacob Viner, New York, NY: Augustus M. Kelley,
For the immediate reception of TMS, see On Moral Sentiments: Contemporary
Responses to Adam Smith, edited by John Reeder, Bristol: Thoemmes Press
±·. Adam Smith: Critical Responses, edited by Hiroshi Mizuta,  volumes,
London: Routledge °°°, is a comprehensive collection that covers a much longer
time-span. The international reception of Smith is discussed in Adam Smith:
International Perspectives, edited by Hiroshi Mizuta and Chuhei Sugiyama,
New York: St Martin™s Press ±.
An attempt to reconstruct Smith™s overall system is Knud Haakonssen, The
Science of a Legislator: The Natural Jurisprudence of David Hume and Adam
Smith, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press ±±. Most aspects of Smith™s
thought are discussed in The Cambridge Companion to Adam Smith, edited by
Knud Haakonssen, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, forthcoming.
The best discussions of the connections between morals, politics and
economics in Smith are Donald Winch, Adam Smith™s Politics: An Essay in
Historiographic Revision, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, ±·, and
his Riches and Poverty: An Intellectual History of Political Economy in Britain,
±·µ°“±, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, ±.

Further reading

Smith as systematic social, or ˜moral™, scientist is discussed in T. D. Campbell,
Adam Smith™s Science of Morals, ±·±, and A. S. Skinner, A System of Social
Science: Papers Relating to Adam Smith, Oxford: Clarendon Press, nd edn ±.
Modern studies of Smith as moral philosopher include C. L. Griswold, Jr,
Adam Smith and the Virtues of Enlightenment, Cambridge: Cambridge Univer-
sity Press ±, Vincent Hope, Virtue by Consensus: The Moral Philosophy of
Hutcheson, Hume and Adam Smith, Oxford University Press ±, and Samuel
Fleischacker, A Third Concept of Liberty: Judgment and Freedom in Kant and Adam
Smith, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press ±.
Basic introductions are Jerry Z. Muller, Adam Smith in His Time and Ours:
Designing the Decent Society, New York: The Free Press ±, and David D.
Raphael, Adam Smith (˜Past Masters™), Oxford: Oxford University Press ±µ.
The following provide background and context: Christopher J. Berry, Social
Theory of the Scottish Enlightenment, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press
±·; The Origins and Nature of the Scottish Enlightenment, edited by Roy H.
Campbell and Andrew S. Skinner, Edinburgh: John Donald ±; Knud
Haakonssen, Natural Law and Moral Philosophy: From Grotius to the Scottish
Enlightenment, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press ±; Wealth and Virtue:
The Shaping of Political Economy in the Scottish Enlightenment, edited by
Istvan Hont and Michael Ignatieff, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
±; Adam Smith Reviewed, edited by Peter Jones and Andrew S. Skinner,
Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press ±; The Cambridge Companion to the
Scottish Enlightenment, edited by Alexander Broadie, Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press, forthcoming.
Other works of interest are Essays on Adam Smith, edited by Andrew S. Skinner
and Thomas Wilson, Oxford: Clarendon Press ±·µ; Richard F. Teichgraeber,
˜Free Trade™ and Moral Philosophy. Rethinking the Sources of Adam Smith™s Wealth
of Nations, Durham, NC: Duke University Press ±; Vivienne Brown, Adam
Smith™s Discourse: Canonicity, Commerce and Conscience, London: Routledge
±; Athol Fitzgibbons, Adam Smith™s System of Liberty, Wealth and Virtue:
The Moral and Political Foundations of the Wealth of Nations, Oxford: Clarendon
Press ±µ; Adam Smith (˜International Library of Critical Essays in the History
of Philosophy™), edited by Knud Haakonssen, Aldershot, Hants, Brook¬eld, Vt:
Dartmouth Publishing Co. ±; E. Rothschild, Economic Sentiments: Adam
Smith, Condorcet, and the Enlightenment, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University
Press °°±; G. Vivenza, Adam Smith and the Classics: The Classical Heritage in
Adam Smith™s Thought, Oxford: Oxford University Press °°±.

Note on the text

The text presented here is that of the sixth and last edition to appear in Smith™s
lifetime. Smith made very considerable revisions for this edition which has be-
come the standard text. However a great deal can be learnt from the earlier
editions and I have made a generous selection of the most important variant
readings from these editions. These variants are included in the editorial notes
and clearly marked. A full and detailed collation of all six editions is to be found
in the de¬nitive scholarly edition by D. D. Raphael and A. L. Mac¬e who have
also made a number of minor emendations of the text of the sixth edition, mainly
in the light of the errata list to the second edition and through comparisons of the
various editions; most of these emendations concern punctuation and spelling.
In by far most cases I have silently accepted these excellent suggestions in the
present text. Smith™s English is so close to modern usage that I have not modern-
ized his spelling or punctuation, but some readers may occasionally ¬nd some
forms archaic. I have followed the now universal practice of numbering each
paragraph of the text consecutively within each chapter. I have also modi¬ed the
references in Smith™s own footnotes to conform with the style of the series. Thus
Latin abbreviations such as ˜lib.™ have been changed to English; if titles are not
readily identi¬able from accompanying editorial notes, they have been spelled
out in English; and titles have been set in italics.
As far as annotation is concerned, I owe a considerable debt to previous edi-
tors. The pioneering effort was Walther Eckstein™s German edition, Theorie der
ethischen Gef¨ hle,  vols., Leipzig ±, followed by Raphael and Mac¬e™s thor-
ough work for the Glasgow Edition. To these must now be added a ¬ne French
edition, Th´orie des sentiments moraux, by Micha¨ l Biziou, Claude Gautier and
e e
Jean-Francois Pradeau, Paris: Presses universitaire de France, ±. It is a plea-
sure to acknowledge the lessons I have learnt from these works. Editorial notes
are marked by numbers, while Smith™s own notes are marked by letters. Cross

Note on the text

references to the text of TMS are given by part, section, chapter and paragraph,
for example: VII.iii.±..
I have bene¬ted greatly from comments by Desmond Clarke, Asa S¨ derman
and Donald Winch. I am grateful to Elizabeth Short for preparing the index.


All the following works form part of The Glasgow Edition of the Works
and Correspondence of Adam Smith,  volumes, Oxford: Clarendon Press
±·“; paperback edition Indianapolis, IN: The Liberty Press ±.

Corr. The Correspondence of Adam Smith, edited by E. C. Mossner
and I. S. Ross, Oxford ±··
EPS Essays on Philosophical Subjects, edited by W. P. D. Wightman
and J. C. Bryce, Oxford ±°
LJ(A)/LJ (B) Lectures on Jurisprudence, edited by R. L. Meek,
D. D. Raphael and P. G. Stein, Oxford ±·
Rhetoric Lectures on Rhetoric and Belles-Lettres, edited by J. C. Bryce
and A. S. Skinner, Oxford ±
WN An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations,
edited by R. H. Campbell and A. S. Skinner, Oxford ±·

The Theory of Moral Sentiments
An Essay towards an Analysis of the Principles by
which Men naturally judge concerning the Conduct
and Character, ¬rst of their Neighbours, and
afterwards of themselves

± Since the ¬rst publication of The Theory of Moral Sentiments, which was
so long ago as the beginning of the year ±·µ, several corrections, and a
good many illustrations of the doctrines contained in it, have occurred
to me. But the various occupations in which the different accidents
of my life necessarily involved me, have till now prevented me from
revising this work with the care and attention which I always intended.
The reader will ¬nd the principal alterations which I have made in this
New Edition, in the last Chapter of the third Section of Part First;
and in the four ¬rst Chapters of Part Third. Part Sixth, as it stands in
this New Edition, is altogether new. In Part Seventh, I have brought
together the greater part of the different passages concerning the Stoical
Philosophy, which, in the former Editions, had been scattered about
in different parts of the work. I have likewise endeavoured to explain
more fully, and examine more distinctly, some of the doctrines of that
famous sect. In the fourth and last Section of the same Part, I have
thrown together a few additional observations concerning the duty and
principle of veracity. There are, besides, in other parts of the work, a
few other alterations and corrections of no great moment.

 In the last paragraph of the ¬rst Edition of the present work, I said,
that I should in another discourse endeavour to give an account of the
general principles of law and government, and of the different revo-
lutions which they had undergone in the different ages and periods of
society; not only in what concerns justice, but in what concerns police,

± The Advertisement was added in edition .


revenue, and arms, and whatever else is the object of law. In the Enquiry
concerning the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, I have partly
executed this promise; at least so far as concerns police, revenue,
and arms. What remains, the theory of jurisprudence, which I have
long projected, I have hitherto been hindered from executing, by
the same occupations which had till now prevented me from revising
the present work. Though my very advanced age leaves me, I acknowl-
edge, very little expectation of ever being able to execute this great
work to my own satisfaction; yet, as I have not altogether abandoned
the design, and as I wish still to continue under the obligation of doing
what I can, I have allowed the paragraph to remain as it was published
more than thirty years ago, when I entertained no doubt of being able
to execute every thing which it announced.

 Smith never ¬nished this work but some idea of it may be gained through the students™ notes from
his much earlier lectures at Glasgow University, now edited and published in LJ.


Part I Of the propriety of action
Section I Of the sense of propriety
Chapter I Of sympathy
Chapter II Of the pleasure of mutual sympathy
Chapter III Of the manner in which we judge
of the propriety or impropriety of the affections of other
men, by their concord or dissonance with our own
Chapter IV The same subject continued
Chapter V Of the amiable and respectable virtues
Section II Of the degrees of the different passions which
are consistent with propriety
Chapter I Of the passions which take their origin from
the body
Chapter II Of those passions which take their origin
from a particular turn or habit of the imagination
Chapter III Of the unsocial passions
Chapter IV Of the social passions
Chapter V Of the sel¬sh passions
Section III Of the effects of prosperity and adversity upon
the judgment of mankind with regard to the propriety of
action; and why it is more easy to obtain their approbation
in the one state than in the other


Chapter I That though our sympathy with sorrow
is generally a more lively sensation than our sympathy
with joy, it commonly falls much more short of the
violence of what is naturally felt by the person principally
Chapter II Of the origin of ambition, and of the
distinction of ranks
Chapter III Of the corruption of our moral sentiments,
which is occasioned by this disposition to admire the rich
and the great, and to despise or neglect persons of poor
and mean condition

Part II Of merit and demerit; or, of the objects
of reward and punishment
Section I Of the sense of merit and demerit
Chapter I That whatever appears to be the proper
object of gratitude, appears to deserve reward; and that,
in the same manner, whatever appears to be the proper
object of resentment, appears to deserve punishment
Chapter II Of the proper objects of gratitude
and resentment
Chapter III That where there is no approbation
of the conduct of the person who confers the bene¬t,
there is little sympathy with the gratitude of him who
receives it: and that, on the contrary, where there is no
disapprobation of the motives of the person who does
the mischief, there is no sort of sympathy with the
resentment of him who suffers it
Chapter IV Recapitulation of the foregoing chapters
Chapter V The analysis of the sense of merit and
Section II Of justice and bene¬cence
Chapter I Comparison of those two virtues
Chapter II Of the sense of justice, of remorse,
and of the consciousness of merit
Chapter III Of the utility of this constitution of nature


Section III Of the in¬‚uence of fortune upon the
sentiments of mankind, with regard to the merit
or demerit of actions
Chapter I Of the causes of this in¬‚uence of fortune
Chapter II Of the extent of this in¬‚uence of fortune
Chapter III Of the ¬nal cause of this irregularity
of sentiments

Part III Of the foundation of our judgments
concerning our own sentiments and conduct,
and of the sense of duty
Chapter I Of the principle of self-approbation
and of self-disapprobation
Chapter II Of the love of praise, and of that
of praise-worthiness; and of the dread of blame,
and of that of blame-worthiness
Chapter III Of the in¬‚uence and authority of
Chapter IV Of the nature of self-deceit, and of the
origin and use of general rules
Chapter V Of the in¬‚uence and authority of the general
rules of morality, and that they are justly regarded as the
laws of the Deity
Chapter VI In what cases the sense of duty ought
to be the sole principle of our conduct, and in what cases
it ought to concur with other motives

Part IV Of the effect of utility upon the sentiment
of approbation
Chapter I Of the beauty which the appearance of utility
bestows upon all the productions of art, and of the
extensive in¬‚uence of this species of beauty
Chapter II Of the beauty which the appearance
of utility bestows upon the characters and actions
of men; and how far the perception of this beauty
may be regarded as one of the original principles
of approbation


Part V Of the in¬‚uence of custom and fashion upon the
sentiments of moral approbation and disapprobation
Chapter I Of the in¬‚uence of custom and fashion
upon our notions of beauty and deformity
Chapter II Of the in¬‚uence of custom and fashion
upon moral sentiments

Part VI Of the character of virtue
Section I Of the character of the individual, so far as
it affects his own happiness; or of prudence
Section II Of the character of the individual, so far as
it can affect the happiness of other people
Chapter I Of the order in which individuals
are recommended by nature to our care and attention
Chapter II Of the order in which societies are by nature
recommended to our bene¬cence
Chapter III Of universal benevolence
Section III Of self-command
Conclusion of the Sixth Part

Part VII Of systems of moral philosophy
Section I Of the questions which ought to be examined
in a theory of moral sentiments
Section II Of the different accounts which have been given
of the nature of virtue
Chapter I Of those systems which make virtue consist
in propriety
Chapter II Of those systems which make virtue consist
in prudence
Chapter III Of those systems which make virtue
consist in benevolence
Chapter IV Of licentious systems


Section III Of the different systems which have been
formed concerning the principle of approbation
Chapter I Of those systems which deduce the principle
of approbation from self-love
Chapter II Of those systems which make reason
the principle of approbation
Chapter III Of those systems which make sentiment
the principle of approbation
Section IV Of the manner in which different authors
have treated of the practical rules of morality

Part I
Of the propriety of action
Consisting of three sections

Section I Of the sense of propriety
Chapter I Of sympathy
± How sel¬sh soever man may be supposed, there are evidently some
principles in his nature, which interest him in the fortune of others,
and render their happiness necessary to him, though he derives noth-
ing from it except the pleasure of seeing it. Of this kind is pity or
compassion, the emotion which 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 sorrow 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
con¬ned to the virtuous and humane, though they perhaps may feel
it with the most exquisite sensibility. The greatest ruf¬an, the most
hardened violator of the laws of society, is not altogether without it.

 As we have no immediate experience of what other men feel, we can
form no idea of the manner in which they are affected, but by conceiv-
ing what we ourselves should feel in the like situation. Though our
brother is upon the rack, as long as we ourselves are at our ease, our
senses will never inform us of what he suffers. They never did, and
never can, carry us beyond our own person, and it is by the imagina-
tion only that we can form any conception of what are his sensations.
Neither can that faculty help us to this any other way, than by rep-
resenting to us what would be our own, if we were in his case. It is
the impressions of our own senses only, not those of his, which our

The Theory of Moral Sentiments

imaginations copy. By the imagination we place ourselves in his situa-
tion, we conceive ourselves enduring all the same torments, we enter
as it were into his body, and become in some measure the same person
with him, and thence form some idea of his sensations, and even feel
something which, though weaker in degree, is not altogether unlike
them.± His agonies, when they are thus brought home to ourselves,
when we have thus adopted and made them our own, begin at last to
affect us, and we then tremble and shudder at the thought of what
he feels. For as to be in pain or distress of any kind excites the most
excessive sorrow, so to conceive or to imagine that we are in it, excites
some degree of the same emotion, in proportion to the vivacity or
dulness of the conception.

 That this is the source of our fellow-feeling for the misery of others,
that it is by changing places in fancy with the sufferer, that we come
either to conceive or to be affected by what he feels, may be demon-
strated by many obvious observations, if it should not be thought suf-
¬ciently evident of itself. When we see a stroke aimed and just ready
to fall upon the leg or arm of another person, we naturally shrink
and draw back our own leg or our own arm; and when it does fall,
we feel it in some measure, and are hurt by it as well as the sufferer.
The mob, when they are gazing at a dancer on the slack rope, natu-
rally writhe and twist and balance their own bodies, as they see him
do, and as they feel that they themselves must do if in his situation.
Persons of delicate ¬bres and a weak constitution of body complain,
that in looking on the sores and ulcers which are exposed by beggars
in the streets, they are apt to feel an itching or uneasy sensation in
the correspondent part of their own bodies. The horror which they
conceive at the misery of those wretches affects that particular part
in themselves more than any other; because that horror arises from
conceiving what they themselves would suffer, if they really were the
wretches whom they are looking upon, and if that particular part in
themselves was actually affected in the same miserable manner. The
very force of this conception is suf¬cient, in their feeble frames, to
produce that itching or uneasy sensation complained of. Men of the
most robust make, observe that in looking upon sore eyes they often

± Cf. VII.iii.±.

Of the propriety of action

feel a very sensible soreness in their own, which proceeds from the
same reason; that organ being in the strongest man more delicate, than
any other part of the body is in the weakest.

 Neither is it those circumstances only, which create pain or sorrow,
that call forth our fellow-feeling. Whatever is the passion which arises
from any object in the person principally concerned, an analogous
emotion springs up, at the thought of his situation, in the breast of
every attentive spectator. Our joy for the deliverance of those heroes
of tragedy or romance who interest us, is as sincere as our grief for
their distress, and our fellow-feeling with their misery is not more real
than that with their happiness. We enter into their gratitude towards
those faithful friends who did not desert them in their dif¬culties; and
we heartily go along with their resentment against those per¬dious
traitors who injured, abandoned, or deceived them. In every passion
of which the mind of man is susceptible, the emotions of the by-stander
always correspond to what, by bringing the case home to himself, he
imagines should be the sentiments of the sufferer.

µ Pity and compassion are words appropriated to signify our fellow-
feeling with the sorrow of others. Sympathy, though its meaning was,
perhaps, originally the same, may now, however, without much impro-
priety, be made use of to denote our fellow-feeling with any passion

 Upon some occasions sympathy may seem to arise merely from the
view of a certain emotion in another person. The passions, upon some
occasions, may seem to be transfused from one man to another, instan-
taneously, and antecedent to any knowledge of what excited them in
the person principally concerned. Grief and joy, for example, strongly
expressed in the look and gestures of any one, at once affect the specta-
tor with some degree of a like painful or agreeable emotion. A smiling
face is, to every body that sees it, a cheerful object; as a sorrowful
countenance, on the other hand, is a melancholy one.

· This, however, does not hold universally, or with regard to every pas-
sion. There are some passions of which the expressions excite no sort
 Cf. I.iii.±.

The Theory of Moral Sentiments

of sympathy, but before we are acquainted with what gave occasion to
them, serve rather to disgust and provoke us against them. The furi-
ous behaviour of an angry man is more likely to exasperate us against
himself than against his enemies. As we are unacquainted with his
provocation, we cannot bring his case home to ourselves, nor conceive
any thing like the passions which it excites. But we plainly see what
is the situation of those with whom he is angry, and to what violence
they may be exposed from so enraged an adversary. We readily, there-
fore, sympathize with their fear or resentment, and are immediately
disposed to take part against the man from whom they appear to be
in so much danger.

 If the very appearances of grief and joy inspire us with some degree
of the like emotions, it is because they suggest to us the general idea
of some good or bad fortune that has befallen the person in whom
we observe them: and in these passions this is suf¬cient to have some
little in¬‚uence upon us. The effects of grief and joy terminate in the
person who feels those emotions, of which the expressions do not, like
those of resentment, suggest to us the idea of any other person for
whom we are concerned, and whose interests are opposite to his. The
general idea of good or bad fortune, therefore, creates some concern for
the person who has met with it, but the general idea of provocation
excites no sympathy with the anger of the man who has received
it. Nature, it seems, teaches us to be more averse to enter into this
passion, and, till informed of its cause, to be disposed rather to take part
against it.

 Even our sympathy with the grief or joy of another, before we are
informed of the cause of either, is always extremely imperfect. General
lamentations, which express nothing but the anguish of the sufferer,
create rather a curiosity to inquire into his situation, along with some
disposition to sympathize with him, than any actual sympathy that is
very sensible. The ¬rst question which we ask is, What has befallen
you? Till this be answered, though we are uneasy both from the vague
idea of his misfortune, and still more from torturing ourselves with

 Cf. I.ii..

Of the propriety of action

conjectures about what it may be, yet our fellow-feeling is not very

±° Sympathy, therefore, does not arise so much from the view of the
passion, as from that of the situation which excites it. We sometimes
feel for another, a passion of which he himself seems to be altogether
incapable; because, when we put ourselves in his case, that passion
arises in our breast from the imagination, though it does not in his
from the reality. We blush for the impudence and rudeness of another,
though he himself appears to have no sense of the impropriety of
his own behaviour; because we cannot help feeling with what confu-
sion we ourselves should be covered, had we behaved in so absurd a

±± Of all the calamities to which the condition of mortality exposes
mankind, the loss of reason appears, to those who have the least spark
of humanity, by far the most dreadful, and they behold that last stage
of human wretchedness with deeper commiseration than any other.

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