Sunday, November 15, 2020

Review of The Theory of Moral Sentiments by Adam Smith

This review was written by Eugene Kernes

Book can be found in:
Genre = Philosophy
Intriguing Connections: 1) To Cooperate Or To Defect?, 2) How To Have A Conversation?

Short Review


“Every faculty in one man is the measure by which he judges of the like faculty in another.  I judge of your sight by my sight, of your ear by my ear, of your reason by my reason, of your resentment by my resentment, of your love by my love.  I neither have, nor can have, any other way of judging about them” – Adam Smith, Page 16

“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.  He naturally dreads, not only to be hated, but to be hateful; or to be that think which is natural and proper object of hatred.” – Adam Smith, Page 81

“Emulation, the anxious desire that we ourselves should excel, is originally founded in our admiration of the excellence of others.  Neither can we be satisfied with being merely admired for what other people are admired.  We must at least believe ourselves to be admirable for what they are admirable.” – Adam Smith, Page 82

Elaborate Description
This book was written before the more famous writing of The Wealth of Nations, and was meant to play a prerequisite role for the latter book.  Smith expresses the complexity of sentiments, of personalities.  Observations of how people behave are at the heart of the explanations of the complicated nature of sentiments.  As this is a book about how individuals behave, it is also a book about how individuals judge others.  People judge others relative to their own understanding of the situation.  Our experiences shape the way in which we consider the impact of action.  

Situations arise that give everyone occasion for sympathy, to consider what it would be like from another persons’ perspective.  The closer the situation is to the individual the more effect it has on sentiments.  The gravity of situations far away hold attention less than minor issues near.  This and many other double standards apply to our sentiments, with another being that of joy and injury. In conversations, each can agree and disagree with issues and even find entertainment in the conversations, but what bothers everyone is if the injuries suffered go unanswered in claims of indignation.  Joy provides sympathies of joy, but grief does not provide sympathies of grief.  

An impartial spectator stalks our every word and gesture to make sure they are proper for the occasion.  Always considering what others will say or do in response to every word and gesture.  Sometimes people inspire emulation in us not only because they are admirable, but because they are admirable.  Emulation requires the impartial spectator to judge our character and conduct.  To view our character and conduct as others would view them.  To be praiseworthy so that praise provides pleasure. Rewards and punishment require their proportioned responses.  Appropriate proportioned responses are needed for justice to everyone in the situation. Unproportioned responses creates indignation.

The way everyone presents themselves creates a demand for other to see them as such.  To not only be respectable but to be respected.  The reverse applies the same as the avoidance of appearing contemptible and being contemned.  To become not only the thing that is desirable, but to be desirable.  In this gratification of vanity does the invisible hand influence the individual to advance the interest of society.  

The book is difficult to read.  Some parts are crisp and clear while others are very convoluted.  Given the time when the book was written, many words have changed their meanings making it difficult to fully grasp what the author is saying.  The power of this book lies in its observations of human actions, and although they are provided in their complexity, they do miss many critical different ways of acting.  A consistent assumption is that societies feedback will reach each individual which constrains some actions while facilitates other actions.  This assumption is often broken, and only briefly written about in the book under a different category.  

Questions to Consider while Reading the Book
•What is the raison d’etre of the book?  For what purpose did the author write the book?
•What is the impartial spectator?  How does the impartial spectator influence our lives?
•Where does sympathy come from?
•How do individuals judge others?
•Why emulate others?
•Is praise enough?
•How are rules of morality formed? 

Book Details
Edition ISBN:  9781420938425
Pages to read:   230
Publication:     2010
1st Edition:      1759
Format:            Paperback

Ratings out of 5:
Readability    2
Content          4
Overall           3