By James R. Otteson
Adam Smith wrote books, one approximately economics and the opposite approximately morality. How do those books move jointly? How do markets and morality combine? James Otteson presents a complete exam and interpretation of Smith's ethical thought and demonstrates how his perception of morality applies to his knowing of markets, language and different social associations. contemplating Smith's notions of typical sympathy, the neutral spectator, human nature and human sense of right and wrong, the writer addresses no matter if Smith thinks that ethical judgments take pleasure in a transcendent sanction.
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Extra info for Adam Smith's Marketplace of Life
Because our knowledge is limited to what we have experienced, sympathy can only be the result of an operation of the imagination, and not, as we might say, the result of an operation of the understanding that leads to knowledge. In fact, the imaginative changing of place is often an entirely unconscious process. “The passions,” Smith writes, “upon some occasions, may seem to be transfused from one man to another, instantaneously, and antecedent to any knowledge of what excited them in the person principally concerned” (TMS, 11).
It is in this kind of sympathy that we experience a certain pleasure, and it is this sympathy that ultimately grounds Smithian moral judgments. 5 Indeed, when developing his formal account of the psychological foundations of moral judgments, he almost invariably uses sympathy in the technical sense of a correspondence between sentiments, not in the common sense of pity. He generally uses sympathy in the common sense only when relating anecdotes to support his theory. In his philosophical analysis, however, he says that the word “sympathy” may “be made use of to denote our fellowfeeling with any passion whatever” (TMS, 10).
Smith nonetheless maintains that a process, however quick and unnoticeable, takes place, and it is only by means of this process that we are able to approve or disapprove of others’ motives or actions. This process includes an awareness, however vague, of a correspondence or lack of correspondence between the respective sentiments; there is simply no other way to make a moral judgment, Smith thinks. Although Smith and Hume agree that people are naturally interested in the fortunes of others, for Hume this fact becomes the basis of our moral judgments of others, because it is what makes us concerned to discover the utility or disutility a person’s character or behavior has for him.