Adam Smith's Simple Theory of Moral Sentiments, Part 1, Section 1, Chatper 5: The Respectable and Amiable Virtues
Chapter 5: Amiable and Respectable Virtues
1.1.40 Two sets of virtues are founded on these two efforts:
The effort of the observer to enter into the sentiments of the person observed
On this effort is founded:
the soft, gentle, amiable virtues, and
the virtues of candid condescension and indulgent humanity.
The effort of the person observed to bring down his emotions to what the observer can go along with
From this effort originates the great, respectable virtues of self-denial and self-control.
These subject our nature to what our own dignity, honour, and proper conduct requires.
1.1.41 A man is very amiable if his sympathetic heart:
echoes all the sentiments of the people he converses with,
grieves for their calamities,
resents their injuries, and
rejoices at their good fortune.
When we bring home to ourselves the situation of his companions, we enter into their gratitude.
We feel their consolation from his tender sympathy.
He appears disagreeable if his hard heart feels for himself only.
It is insensible to the happiness or misery of others!
We also enter into the pain his presence gives to everyone he talks to, especially with the unfortunate and the injured.
We are most apt to sympathize with them.
1.1.42 On the other hand, we feel noble propriety and grace in those who exert self-command:
for the dignity of every passion, and
for others to enter into it.
We are disgusted with that clamorous grief, which calls on our compassion with sighs, tears, and lamentations.
But we revere that reserved, silent, and majestic sorrow.
Such sorrow is only seen in the:
swelling of the eyes,
quivering of the lips and cheeks, and
distant, but affecting, coldness of the whole behaviour.
It imposes the like silence on us.
We regard it with respectful attention.
We watch our behaviour, lest we should disturb that tranquillity by any impropriety.
1.1.43 In the same way, the insolence and brutality of unrestrained anger is most detestable.
But we admire that noble and generous resentment which governs the anger's pursuit of the greatest injuries.
It naturally calls forth the indignation in the impartial spectator's breast.
That indignation only brings out actions that are required by the anger.
This anger never:
attempts any greater vengeance,
nor wants to inflict more punishment, than what every indifferent person wants to see.
1.1.44Hence, the perfection of human nature consists:
in feeling much for others and little for ourselves, and
in restraining our selfish and to indulge our benevolent affections
Only these can produce that harmony of sentiments and passions.
As to love our neighbour as we love ourselves is the great law of Christianity, so it is the great law of nature to love ourselves only as we love our neighbour, as our neighbour is capable of loving us.
1.1.45 Good taste and good judgement imply:
a delicacy of sentiment, and
an uncommon acuteness of understanding.
The virtues of sensibility and self-command are as uncommon.
Humanity is an amiable virtue.
It needs a sensibility beyond that possessed by the rude vulgar of mankind.
Magnanimity is a great and exalted virtue.
It demands much more than self-command.
As common intellectual quality is not a unique ability, so common morality is not a virtue.
Virtue is excellence.
It is something uncommonly great and beautiful, which rises far above what is ordinary.
The amiable virtues have a sensibility which has exquisite delicacy and tenderness.
The respectable virtues have a self-command which governs the passions of human nature.
1.1.46 In this respect, there is a big difference between virtue and mere propriety.
Virtues are qualities and actions which deserve admiration and celebration.
Propriety simply deserves approval.
Often, common and ordinary sensibility or self-command is enough for us to act with the most perfect propriety.
For example, to eat when we are hungry is perfectly right and proper, but not virtuous.
1.1.47On the contrary, there might be much virtue in actions which fall short of the most perfect propriety.
Because they might be closer to perfection when propriety was extremely difficult to attain.
This often happens in situations which require the greatest self-command.
Some situations which are so hard on human nature, that the greatest self-control is unable to:
stifle human weakness or
moderate the passions so that the impartial spectator can enter into them.
In those cases, the sufferer's behaviour falls short of the most perfect propriety.
Though it may still deserve some applause.
It can even be regarded as virtuous.
It may still show an effort of generosity and magnanimity which most men are incapable of.
It fails of absolute perfection.
But it might be nearer to perfection than what is commonly expected during such trying occasions.
1.1.48 In such cases, we frequently use two different standards to determine the blame or applause due to any action:
The idea of complete propriety and perfection, which no human conduct ever can come up to in those difficult situations
Everyone's actions must forever appear blameable and imperfect compared to that perfection.
The idea of the distance from this complete perfection, which the actions of most men commonly arrive at.
Whatever goes beyond this common degree of propriety seems to deserve applause.
Whatever falls short of it seems to deserve blame.
1.1.49 In the same way, we judge works of art which address themselves to the imagination.
When a critic examines a great master's poetry or painting, he may sometimes examine it by an idea of perfection in his own mind.
He compares the work with his standards.
He sees only faults and imperfections.
But when he considers it relative to other works of the same kind, he compares it with a very different standard.
The work may deserve the highest applause when compared to the new measure of the common excellence in this particular art.
When he judges relative to other artworks, it may often deserve the highest applause.
Because it is more perfect than most of the works which compete with it.