Criticism 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:
 Criticism of The Theory of Moral Sentiments

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Here, we follow criticism of TMS by contemporaries, for example, Hume, who discerned that sympathy was the ‘Hinge’ of the book's system, but argued that Smith had not proved that all kinds of sympathies are necessarily agreeable, and that it was necessary to bring in a way of accounting for ‘disagreeable sympathy.’ This pushed Smith to make changes for the second edition of 1761, explaining more fully the moral psychology of sympathy and the role of imagination in the emplacement of the impartial spectator. A negative view of TMS came from the Common Sense philosopher, Thomas Reid, who argued that Smith's system did not offer a standard of virtue for measuring the emotions of the moral actor or the sympathy of the spectator, and that it was reason that informed our moral judgements. This criticism of Smith impressed the patrons of the Glasgow Chair of Moral Philosophy, including Kames, and Reid was chosen as Smith's successor, when he left Glasgow in 1764 to become a travelling tutor to the third Duke of Buccleuch.

Keywords: common sense; imagination; psychology; Reid; virtue

Chapter.  9597 words. 

Subjects: History of Economic Thought

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