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public good. There is no reason (on Adam Smith's general philosophical principles) why human Society should have been deliberately contrived by its members any more than the planetary system consciously framed by its own parts; and the pursuit of separate interests is conceived to have had a social result without any intention on the part of the separate individuals, and without any help from governments. The majority of men have common sense, and do not either miscalculate or mis-spend ; the principle of frugality, the "desire of bettering our condition,” “though generally calm and dispassionate," is born with us and lasts with our whole life, while the “passion for present enjoyment,” the principle that prompts to expense, is on the whole momentary and occasional. This desire to better one's condition has shaped Society, even when Society was putting obstacles in its way. It has never had its perfect work, and the simple system of natural liberty has never been fully realized. But it has been the ruling principle of the majority of men, and its influence has been on the whole a civilizing and beneficent one.
The teaching of Adam Smith is quite plain thus far. But in his Moral Sentiments he recognises the limitations of these principles more clearly than he is called upon to do in the Wealth of Nations. In the first place, he recognises that the desire of advancement has more forms than one, and the desire of wealth is only one out of many alternative objects of ambition (6th ed., vol. i., 148 ; cf. ist ed., 304). "The great admiration felt for the rich and powerful may become a source of corruption in a State (6th ed., i. 146). Moreover, selfishness of some kind is not the only motive of men. Epicureanism, in so conceiving men, was taking nature for something more simple than she really is, and trying to explain her complexity by a few inadequate simple principles. By Adam Smith's leaning to Aristotle's doctrine of the mean (ist ed., 452) he is led to remark that, like other desires, the desire for personal advancement may become excessive and therefore vicious. He objects to piece-work because “reason and humanity” are against excessive
1 This locus classicus is W. of N., II. III. 151; cf. 128.
labour, and should overbear “emulation and gain” (W. of N., 37). But even in moderation the desire of gain, though commendable enough, is not a positive duty, and may be absent without shocking (even if not without surprising) us.
Moreover, though its effects are social, it is not itself the root from which society springs. There is a regard for others which is (in Adam Smith's opinion) a reflected regard for ourselves, but which leads to conduct that is essentially different from desire for mere personal advantage. It is due to Sympathy in the wide sense of the word, that power we have of placing ourselves by imagination in the place of other persons and looking at matters as we suppose they would look at them. We do this most readily in the case of those brought most closely into contact with us, and especially those dependent on us; and hence the regard for others is strongest towards children, then towards friends, and then in a less degree towards fellow-citizens and towards men as such.? Nature formed men for society, for “mutual kindness which is necessary to their happiness, but “that wisdom which contrived the system of human affections, as well as that of every other part of nature, seems to have judged that the interest of the great society of mankind would be best promoted by directing the principal attention of each individual tó that particular portion of it which was most within the sphere both of his abilities and of his understanding. And the standard by which we judge of others is our own imagined similarity to them : “I judge of your sight by my sight, of your ear by my ear, of your reason by my reason, of your resentnient by my resentment, of your love by my love; I neither have nor can have any other way of judging about them." 5 That is to say that in ethics as well as economics Adam Smith postulates the generic identity of human beings as the foundation of his reasoning. But, just as we know men as individuals before we know them as a genus, so we form moral ideas about individuals before we do so in regard to groups of men. Strictly speaking, sympathy exists only between indidividuals. Nature made the individuals ; the groups are artificial and secondary.
1 Moral Sent., ist, 465; 6th, II. 62, 295-6.
ist ed., p. 29. Compare the passage of Hume quoted above, p. 156. 1 ist ed., 198.
There is such a thing as a general fellow feeling, a regard for a man simply because he is a fellow creature (M. S., 1st ed., 199). The concern we take in the fortune of individuals is never due to the fact that they are members of a society of men, any more than our distress at the loss of a guinea is due to the fact that it was a certain aliquot part of a total in the purse. Our regard for the multitude is “compounded and made up of the particular regards which we feel for the different individuals of which it is composed.” 1 In the same way, a regard for the advantage of society and for our own advantage simply as bound up therewith, comes later than a regard for the advantage of individuals. The immediate sympathy is indeed antecedent to any consideration of utility, personal or social.
By sympathy Adam Smith understands not pity or compassion but “ fellow feeling with any passion what
It arises when we put ourselves in the place of another and have the feelings that his situation would have excited had it been ours. Our author does not try to deduce it from anything else, but goes on to say that the pleasure of mutual sympathy, when I find my neighbour entering into my situation as I into his, cannot at least be resolved into self-interest. He adds that to obtain the pleasure of mutual sympathy a man must moderate his passions. I cannot give sympathy (and therewith approval) to a man whose passion, for example, is
greater than the particular cause of it would be conceived by me to produce in my own case, in short, where “the affection” is disproportionate to the cause that excites it. From this point of view I am judging of the Propriety or Impropriety" of men's actions.
I expect men, as it were, to tone down their outbursts of feeling till they reach my pitch ; and in like manner I tone down my own to reach theirs.
But I also sit in judgment on the “Merit or De
2 Moral Sent., ist ed., p. 6. 6th ed., I. p. 7.
merit” of actions, and then I am considering not the cause but the end, the beneficial or hurtful nature of the effects which the affection aims at or tends to produce.” 1 In either case our "rule or canon" is "the correspondent affection in ourselves.” The “man within the breast,” “the impartial spectator" there, is our guide.
The “impartial spectator" in judgments of propriety is clearly a reminiscence of Aristotle's prudent man who knows where to place the mean ;2 and a critic would point out that the decisions of such a “prudent one" or “spectator" would be very different according to his race, his place, and his time. The individual's judgment would be one formed unconsciously to himself by the Society in which he was born. “Others " have influenced him before he knew that he had a “self."
This criticism seems sound in relation to “ Propriety” where the question is one of degree. It seems relevant also in regard to questions of “Merit.” There is “Merit,” Adam Smith says, in actions which, if another did them to us, would excite our gratitude and prompt us to reward it, and Demerit where resentment would follow, and, prompted by resentment, punishment. Merit means deserving of reward, demerit deserving of punishment. We attribute merit where in addition to propriety (as above described) we find a beneficent motive and beneficent tendency in the action, the whole thus earning our sympathetic gratitude, and, “if I may say so, calling aloud for a proportionable recompense.” 5
Here the difficulty seems to be that it will depend on the particular society whether an act would produce resentment or gratitude, The sympathy of the individual has been trained by his society, and, if Adam Smith is trying to show us how the “moral sentiments” grow up when individuals are for the first time brought into con
1 ist ed., p. 27 seq. ; 6th, I. 29.
3 Adam Smith says so himself in his chapters on the Influence of Custom, but he thinks the effect is of degree only, ist ed., p. 371 seq., and esp. 412, 6th ed., II. i seq. and 48.
4 ist ed., p. 141 seq.; 6th ed., I. 161 seq. 5 ist ed., p. 158 ; 6th ed., I. p. 179. 6 See e.g. ist ed., p. 254. The chapter is altered in later editions.
tact with each other, he is assuming as his starting point an impossible isolation of individuals.
Apart from this assumption the theory of Moral Sentiments is essentially social. The majority of men regulate their conduct by “ general rules" formed in accordance with the principles described. The regard for these general rules and maxims of conduct is " what is properly called a sense of duty, a principle of the greatest consequence in human life, and the only principle by which the bulk of mankind are capable of directing their actions.” 1
Upon the tolerable observance of these duties depends the very existence of human society," and they “ are to be regarded as the commands and laws of the Deity, promulgated by those vicegerents which he has thus set up within us." Most men content themselves with a mechanical and general conformity; even the offenders are not able to shake off all allegiance; but only a minority exhibit that high degree of morality which we call virtue and which aims at perfection. Exact conformity is easily practicable in the case of justice, the rules of which are as exact as the rules of grammar; but not so with the other virtues, where the rules are as indeterminate as the rules of style.3
It would be beyond the scope of the present inquiry to discuss in detail Adam Smith's derivation of moral ideas, whether of Propriety or of Merit, from the notion of sympathy. It must be observed however that sympathy is perpetually spoken of as that of the “impartial spectator," the “man within the breast,” whose judgment is not in the ordinary sense that of a particular man, but that of one who looks beyond his particular feelings, guides himself by general maxims (cf. ist ed., 276), and takes up an attitude which places him in touch with his fellows.“ The essentially social character of this
ist ed., p. 273; 6th ed., p. 402. 2 ist ed., p. 283. Altered in later editions.
ist ed , pp. 45, 308, 310; 6th ed., pp. 48, 439, 442. 4 See the title page of 6th edition : "The Theory of Moral Sentiments, or an Essay towards an analysis of the principles by which men naturally judge concerning the conduct and character first of their neighbours and afterwards of themselves.” The title of the first edition is simply : The Theory of Moral Sentiments,