The Making of The Theory of Moral Sentiments

Ian Simpson Ross

in The Life of Adam Smith

Published in print October 1995 | ISBN: 9780198288213
Published online November 2003 | e-ISBN: 9780191596827 | DOI:
 The Making of The Theory of Moral Sentiments

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The capstone of Smith's years as a professor was the publication of TMS as a direct challenge to the egoistic theories of Hobbes and Mandeville, and Rousseau. In defining what virtue is and why we ought to act virtuously, Smith offers a sophisticated extension of the arguments of his teacher Hutcheson and a good friend, Hume, to the effect that our moral judgements are based on our sentiments, principally those of justice, benevolence, prudence, and propriety. The chief component of the system is the role of sympathy in human transactions, through which we naturally judge the motives and conduct of others, and then ourselves. Another main component in the system is the impartial spectator, a higher self as it were, identified as the source of our normative judgements. A further important part of the book is rejection of utility as an explanation of the origin of moral rules, but acceptance of it embodied in contemplative utilitarianism, which reveals that the selfish rich, gratifying their desires, are led by an invisible hand to divide with the poor the necessaries of life, almost in the measure that equal distribution would have ensured.

Keywords: egoistic; impartial spectator; invisible hand; sympathy; utility

Chapter.  9907 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: History of Economic Thought

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