impartial spectator

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Adam Smith (1723—1790) moral philosopher and political economist


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Central concept in the ethical system of Adam Smith. The impartial spectator is an imagined ‘man within the breast’ whose approbation or disapproval makes up our awareness of the nature of our own conduct. Smith is concerned to give an explanation of the voice of conscience, without departing totally from the sentimentalist and naturalistic tradition of Scottish moral philosophy. Conscience is not a mysterious or inexplicable force, since ‘the jurisdiction of the man within is founded altogether on the desire of praise-worthiness and in the aversion to blame-worthiness’ which underlies our ‘dread of possessing those qualities, and performing those actions, which we hate and despise in other people’ (Theory of the Moral Sentiments, iii. 2. 33).

Subjects: Philosophy.

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