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The Theory of Moral Sentiments [Paperback]

Adam Smith
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Dec 1 2006 Dover Philosophical Classics
The foundation for a general system of morals, this 1749 work is a landmark in the history of moral and political thought. Readers familiar with Adam Smith from The Wealth of Nations will find this earlier book a revelation. Although the author is often misrepresented as a calculating rationalist who advises the pursuit of self-interest in the marketplace, regardless of the human cost, he was also interested in the human capacity for benevolence — as The Theory of Moral Sentiments amply demonstrates.
The greatest prudence, Smith suggests, may lie in following economic self-interest in order to secure the basic necessities. This is only the first step, however, toward the much higher goal of achieving a morally virtuous life. Smith elaborates upon a theory of the imagination inspired by the philosophy of David Hume. His reasoning takes Hume's logic a step further by proposing a more sophisticated notion of sympathy, leading to a series of highly original theories involving conscience, moral judgment, and virtue.
Smith's legacy consists of his reconstruction of the Enlightenment idea of a moral, or social, science that embraces both political economy and the theory of law and government. His articulate expression of his philosophy continues to inspire and challenge modern readers.

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"One of the truly outstanding books in the intellectual history of the world...A global manifesto of profound significance to the interdependent world in which we live. It is indeed a book of amazing reach and contemporary relevance."
-Amartya Sen, from the Introduction

--This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

Book Description

Adam Smith's Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759) lays the foundation for a general system of morals, and is a text of central importance in the history of moral and political thought. By means of the idea of sympathy and the mental construct of an impartial spectator, Smith formulated highly original theories of conscience, moral judgment and the virtues. This volume offers a new edition of the text with helpful notes for the student reader, together with a substantial introduction that sets the work in its philosophical and historical context. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A book that shouldn't be ignored May 4 2002
Format:Paperback
Those who are looking for an answer to the age old question, 'Why should we be moral?' will be, in a sense, disappointed by this book. Smith from the get-go, shifts the question. Instead he asks, 'Why ARE we moral?' Subtle difference? It's bigger than you may think.

Smith takes our moral nature as a given. Humans are born with an innate capacity for sympathy. We identify others as like ourselves and unless otherwise provoked, do not want to hurt others. We also have an innate desire for esteem. We learn early that treating others kindly gains us admiration in the same way that we naturally admire kind people. This is the core of Smiths thesis and from here he puts examines these principles across an array of human behaviors. Why do we tell truths when we could tell undetected lies? Why would we do kindly to others even if esteem of peers is not gauranteed? Why would some die for their family members or their country?
Probably the trait Smith admires most is prudence; the art of knowing what is and is not appropriate action both in our subjective judgement and that of an imagined 'impartial spectator.' The prudent person is able and willing to put herself in the context of other people. 'Although an action seems justified to me, would others see it that way?' 'Would satisfying small desire X of mine be an obstacle to other's fulfillment of larger desires?'

It goes on from there. Smith puts these ideas well to the test going through scenario after scenario. Because of this, I would say this book should be shelved in psychology, not philosophy as it simply tries to give an account of the way we think. Thus the philosopher looking for a forcefully stated, internally consistent and completely reasoned 'moral system' will not find it in these pages.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover
To truly understand Adam Smith's economic masterpiece "The Wealth of Nations", one must understand its moral foundation. Without Smith's essential prequel, "The Theory of Moral Sentiments", the more famous "Wealth of Nations" can easily be misunderstood, twisted, or dismissed. Smith rightly lays the premise of his economics in a seedbed of moral philosophy -- the rights and wrongs, the whys and why-nots of human conduct. Smith's capitalism is far from a callous, insensitive, greed-motivated, love-of-profits-at-any-cost approach to the marketplace, when seen in the context of his "Moral Sentiments." [Note: This book is a "page for page reproduction" of a two volume edition published in 1817, which is reflected in my pagination references.]
Smith's first section deals with the "Propriety of Action". The very first chapter of the book is entitled "Of Sympathy". This is very telling of Smith's view of life, and his approach to how men should conduct their lives. "How selfish soever man may be supposed, there are evidently some principles in his nature, which interest him in the fortune of others, and render their happiness necessary to him, though he derives nothing from it, except the pleasure of seeing it." (p 1:1). Later Smith asserts that this "sympathy, however, cannot, in any sense, be regarded as a selfish principle." (p 2:178)
This propriety of conduct undergirds all social, political and economic activities, private and public. When Smith observes that "hatred and anger are the greatest poisons to the happiness of a good mind" (p 1:44) he is speaking not only of interpersonal relationships but of its moral extensions in the community and world.
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Amazon.com: 3.8 out of 5 stars  55 reviews
175 of 184 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Morality and decency are perequisites to capitalism July 24 2001
By "a_patriot_sage" - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
To truly understand Adam Smith's economic masterpiece "The Wealth of Nations", one must understand its moral foundation. Without Smith's essential prequel, "The Theory of Moral Sentiments", the more famous "Wealth of Nations" can easily be misunderstood, twisted, or dismissed. Smith rightly lays the premise of his economics in a seedbed of moral philosophy -- the rights and wrongs, the whys and why-nots of human conduct. Smith's capitalism is far from a callous, insensitive, greed-motivated, love-of-profits-at-any-cost approach to the marketplace, when seen in the context of his "Moral Sentiments." [Note: This book is a "page for page reproduction" of a two volume edition published in 1817, which is reflected in my pagination references.]
Smith's first section deals with the "Propriety of Action". The very first chapter of the book is entitled "Of Sympathy". This is very telling of Smith's view of life, and his approach to how men should conduct their lives. "How selfish soever man may be supposed, there are evidently some principles in his nature, which interest him in the fortune of others, and render their happiness necessary to him, though he derives nothing from it, except the pleasure of seeing it." (p 1:1). Later Smith asserts that this "sympathy, however, cannot, in any sense, be regarded as a selfish principle." (p 2:178)
This propriety of conduct undergirds all social, political and economic activities, private and public. When Smith observes that "hatred and anger are the greatest poisons to the happiness of a good mind" (p 1:44) he is speaking not only of interpersonal relationships but of its moral extensions in the community and world. Smith treats the passions of men with clinical precision, identifying a gamut of passions like selfishness, ambition and the distinction of ranks, vanity, intimidation, drawing examples from history and various schools of philosophy. He extols such quiet virtues as politeness, modesty and plainness, probity and prudence, generosity and frankness -- certainly not the qualities of the sterotypical cartoon of a capitalist robber-baron. Indeed Smith is contemptuous of the double standards employed by cults of celebrity: "The great mob of mankind are the admirers and worshippers...of wealth and greatness" paying lip-service to wisdom and virtue, yet Smith oserves, "there is scarce any man who does not respect more the rich and the great, than the poor and the humble. With most men the presumption and vanity of the former are much more admired, than the real and solid merit of the latter. It is scarce agreeable to good morals or even good language...that mere wealth and greatness, abstracted from merit and virtue, deserve our respect." (p 1:79) Tragically, the wealthy celebrity foists a dangerous pattern upon the public, "even their vices and follies are fashionable;and the greater part of men are proud to imitate and resemble them in the very qualities which dishonour and degrade them." (pp 1:81-82) For Smith, wealth is not the criteria of real success. He laments the political-correctness of his day: "Vain men often give themselves airs...which in their hearts they do not approve of, and of which, perhaps, they are not really guilty. They desire to be praised for what they themselves do not think praiseworthy, and are ashamed of unfashionable virtues....There are hypocrites of wealth and greatness, as well as of religion and virtue; and a vain man is as apt to pretend to be what he is not, in the one way, as a cunning man is in the other." (p 1:82) Smith, the moralist also warns that taken too far such trendy fashions of political-correctness can wreck havoc on society: "In many governments the candidates for the highest stations are above the law; and, if they can attain the object of their ambition, they have no fear of being called to account for the means by which they acquired it. They often endeavor, therefore, not only by fraud and falsehood, the ordinary and vulgar arts of intrigue and cabal; but sometimes by the perpetration of the most enormous crimes...to supplant and destroy those who oppose or stand in the way of their [supposed] greatness." (p 1:83)
With such salient observations Smith embarks in a survey of vices to avoid and passions to govern. He describes virtues to cultivate in order to master one's self as well as the power of wealth. These include courage, duty, benevolence, propriety, prudence and self-love [or as we would say, self-respect]. He develops a powerful doctrine of "moral duty" based upon "the rules of justice", "the rules of chastity", and "the rules of veracity" that decries cowardice, treachery, and falsity. The would-be-Capitalist or pretended-Capitalist who violates any of the rules of moral duty in the accumulation of wealth and power in or out of the marketplace is a misanthrope who may dangerously abuse the wealth and position he acquires. Smith describes a moral base rooted in sympathy not selfishness as the basis for an economic system which has been labeled Capitalism. The real Capitalist operates without purposely harming other men, beasts or nature; in this sense capitalism is more a stewardship than an insensitive, mechanistic mercantilism or a crass commercialism. This book is a vital component to any reading of "The Wealth of Nations". "The Theory of Moral Sentiments" is the life-blood or soul of "The Wealth of Nations". Without "Moral Sentiments" one is left with an empty, even soulless, economic theory that can be construed as greedy and grasping no matter how much wealth may be acquired.
70 of 74 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Smith's moral theory actually inspires moral conduct itself. Nov. 21 1998
By Lawrence Udell Fike, Jr. -- LUFikeJr@aol.com - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
This book, the first published by Adam Smith, was very favorably received when it was first appeared in 1759. Within a few generations, however, it was largely neglected due to various turns taken in moral philosophy. Smith's approach is to paint the moral aspect of living in vivid colors, so that it literally inspires virtuous conduct. But in doing so, Smith never preaches; instead, he illustrates the beauty of virtue even over the practical advantages of living as though one were an "Ideal Observer" or spectator. This perspective plays a large role in his work, for according to Smith the moral perspective, and indeed conscience itself, is largely a function of adopting the point of view of the "person principally concerned" in morally relevant situations, and subsequently sympathizing with the perspective of the various parties involved. Sympathy for Smith is not soft-heartednes (nor headedness), but is instead identification with the motives and feelings of the parties involved. The volume includes one part devoted to an examination of the history of ethical theory, interpreted through the lense of Smith's own sentimentalist theory. One thing that should be noted about The Theory of Moral Sentiments is that it goes a good way in correcting the impression that Smith was a laissez-faire capitalist, and indeed the sentiments expressed here make it clear that the popular conception of Smith as first and foremost an economist concerned with automatic regulation resulting from an "invisible hand" (a phrase used only twice in all of Smith's writings, as explained by the editors in the excellent introduction to this volume), do not mesh well with the historical facts. He was a professor of Moral Philosophy at Glasgow University, and is reputed to have declared himself most proud, not of his most (and justly) famous, The Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, but of this book instead. Indeed, his headstone reads, "Here Lies Adam Smith, Author of The Theory Of Moral Sentiments and of The Wealth of Nations." The book's major shortcoming is its ultimately unsatisfying appeals to human nature at junctures where people clearly have disagreements. Smith's defense of retributive justice is an example, for today we might well see ourselves as involved in a struggle to move beyond such a conception of what constitutes appropriate behavior, despite the natural propensity that we may have toward it. Despite its age, this book will inspire and challenge people now struggling with moral dilemmas, and the comparatively confusing moral climate of our own time. It is good to see it in print, and it is good to see moral philosophers and others beginning to discuss its significance once again. I recommend it highly.
81 of 89 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A book that shouldn't be ignored May 4 2002
By Kevin S. Currie - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Those who are looking for an answer to the age old question, 'Why should we be moral?' will be, in a sense, disappointed by this book. Smith from the get-go, shifts the question. Instead he asks, 'Why ARE we moral?' Subtle difference? It's bigger than you may think.

Smith takes our moral nature as a given. Humans are born with an innate capacity for sympathy. We identify others as like ourselves and unless otherwise provoked, do not want to hurt others. We also have an innate desire for esteem. We learn early that treating others kindly gains us admiration in the same way that we naturally admire kind people. This is the core of Smiths thesis and from here he puts examines these principles across an array of human behaviors. Why do we tell truths when we could tell undetected lies? Why would we do kindly to others even if esteem of peers is not gauranteed? Why would some die for their family members or their country?
Probably the trait Smith admires most is prudence; the art of knowing what is and is not appropriate action both in our subjective judgement and that of an imagined 'impartial spectator.' The prudent person is able and willing to put herself in the context of other people. 'Although an action seems justified to me, would others see it that way?' 'Would satisfying small desire X of mine be an obstacle to other's fulfillment of larger desires?'

It goes on from there. Smith puts these ideas well to the test going through scenario after scenario. Because of this, I would say this book should be shelved in psychology, not philosophy as it simply tries to give an account of the way we think. Thus the philosopher looking for a forcefully stated, internally consistent and completely reasoned 'moral system' will not find it in these pages. Smith takes us only so far but when asked 'Why do we have these inclinations to be moral and gain esteem,' he simply answers that it is in our nature. This may be the best answer we can hope for, but it will leave some philosophers unsatisfied.
Regarding the length, IT IS TOO LONG!! With a good editor, 200 pages could've easily been cut. I would even say that the last section, examining flaws in existing moral systems is not necessary and can be skipped. Aside from length, it is a joyful read, though. Smith is an excellent writer and certainly better than Hume, Locke and others of the day. As a conclusion, those looking to bridge the chasm in the 'Wealth of Nations' between Smiths simultaneous advocation of free trade and his disdain for unchecked greed in all it's forms...look no further than "Theory of Moral Sentiments."
26 of 26 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars DO NOT Purchase this General Books Edition Dec 25 2010
By Rick Flaster - Published on Amazon.com
Verified Purchase
I am reviewing General Book's publishing quality, not Adam Smith's writing. The product description notes that there are spelling errors. That is an understatement; this edition is not legible. In every instance where there should be an s, there is a t. Other gross spelling and grammatical errors permeate the text. For instance, "Can any reafon, for example, be dfagned...though irt itfelf it would appear to be extremely probable (118). At first, I thought the book was just hard to read because it was published in old English. The poor syntax is ubuiquitous though. Old English has fewer of what modern day readers would consider to be spelling errors.

General Books mentions that OCR software is reponsible for the printing errors. They then try to justify the poor printing quality by saying "We understand how annoying typos, missing text, or illustrations, foot notes in the text or an index that doesn't work, can be. That's why we provide a free digital copy of most books exactly as they were originally published." The free digital copy is a nice gesture, but inconvenient for those that do not want to read 492 pages on their computer. The other frustrating irony is that the original text is more coherent that the copy printed by General Books. It should be the other way around! General Books also argues that OCR software allows the print to be sold at a cheaper price. General Book's price is only ten dollars cheaper than another, more cogent, copy.

In conclusion, General Books is not hiding anything from the reader about the printing quality, but it is not worth the trouble to buy this copy. Spend ten dollars more and get an edition that is actually legible.
55 of 61 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars A rating and note on the Martino Publishing edition of ToMS April 16 2010
By Michail F. - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I advise all potential buyers of the ToMS to avoid purchasing the Martino Publishing edition (at least, the 2009 one) for four main reasons:
1) the book is missing the Table of Contents!!! Pretty huge omission and a critical one for the study of the work...
2) it is horribly typeset; too many words per sentence according to standard typography rules - it does make the book difficult to read
3) As the different Parts of the work were joined (from the Word doc file that the text was typeset in?) to form the complete copy of the book, the page numbering was not updated so each of the seven parts resets page numbering to 1.
4) Typos! A problem that arose from an OCR process?
Note also the true book dimensions of about 8'' by 11&3/4''.
A plea to all publishers who reprint books from the public domain... please respect the work as well as the reader.
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