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perception of the merit or demerit of the agent. To that quality of conduct which moralists, in general, express by the word Rectitude, Mr Smith gives the name of Propriety ; and he begins his theory with inquiring in what it consists, and how we are led to form the idea of it. The leading principles of his doctrine on this subject are comprehended in the following propositions.
1. It is from our own experience alone, that we can form any idea of what passes in the mind of another person on any particular occasion; and the only way in which we can form this idea, is by supposing ourselves in the same circumstances with him, and conceiving how we should be affected if we were so situated. It is impossible for us, however, to conceive ourselves placed in any situation, whether agreeable or otherwise, without feeling an effect of the same kind with what would be produced by the situation itself; and of consequence the attention we give at any time to the circumstances of our neighbour, must affect us sornewhat in the same manner, although by no means in the same degree, as if these circumstances were our own.
That this imaginary change of place with other men, is the real source of the interest we take in their fortunes, Mr
66 When we Smith attempts to prove by various instances.
see a stroke aimed, and just ready to fall upon the leg or
" arm of another person, we naturally shrink and draw back
our own leg or our own arm; and when it does fall, we “ feel it in some measure, and are hurt by it as well as the “ sufferer. The mob, when they are gazing at a dancer on “ the slack-rope, naturally writhe and twist and balance their
own bodies, as they see him do, and as they feel that they
themselves must do if in his situation.” The same thing takes place, according to Mr Smith, in every case in which our attention is turned to the condition of our neighbour. “ Whatever is the passion which arises from any object in
the person principally concerned, an analogous emotion
springs up, at the thought of his situation, in the breast of “ every attentive spectator. In every passion of which the “ mind of man is susceptible, the emotions of the bystander
always correspond to what, by bringing the case home " to himself, he imagines should be the sentiments of the “ sufferer.”
To this principle of our nature which leads us to enter into the situations of other men, and to partake with them in the passions which these situations have a tendency to excite, Mr Smith gives the name of sympathy or fellowc-feeling, which two words he employs as synonymous. Upon some occasions, he acknowledges, that sympathy arises merely from the view of a certain emotion in another person ; but in ge
neral it arises, not so much from the view of the emotion, as from that of the situation which excites it.
2. A sympathy or fellow-feeling between different persons is always agreeable to both. When I am in a situation which excites any passion, it is pleasant to me to know, that the spectators of my situation enter with me into all its various circumstances, and are affected with them in the same manner as I am myself. On the other hand, it is pleasant to the spectator to observe this correspondence of his emotions with mine.
3. When the spectator of another man's situation, upon bringing home to himself all its various circumstances, feels himself affected in the same manner with the person principally concerned, he approves of the affection or passion of this
person as just and proper, and suitable to its object. The exceptions which occur to this observation are, according to Mr Smith, only apparent.
“ A stranger, for example, passes by us in the street with all the marks of the deepest afflic“ tion: and we are immediately told, that he has just re“ ceived the news of the death of his father. It is impossible
that, in this case, we should not approve of his grief; yet " it may often happen, without any defect of humanity on “ our part, that, so far from entering into the violence of his “ concern upon his account.
sorrow, we should scarce conceive the first movements of
his account. We have learned, however, from experience, that such a misfortune naturally excites “ such a degree of sorrow; and we know, that if we took “ time to examine his situation fully, and in all its parts, we
should, without doubt, most sincerely sympathize with him. “ It is upon the consciousness of this conditional sympathy “ that our approbation of his sorrow is founded, even in “ those cases in which that sympathy does not actually take
place; and the general rules derived from our preceding experience of what our sentiments would commonly correspond with, correct upon this, as upon many other occasions, the impropriety of our present emotions.”
By the propriety therefore of any affection or passion exhibited by another person, is to be understood its suitableness to the object which excites it. Of this suitableness I can judge only from the coincidence of the affection with that which I feel, when I conceive myself in the same circumstances; and the perception of this coincidence is the foundation of the sentiment of moral approbation.
4. Although, when we attend to the situation of another person, and conceive ourselves to be placed in his circumstances, an emotion of the same kind with that which he feels naturally arises in our own mind, yet this sympathetic emotion bears but a very small proportion, in point of degree, to what is felt by the person principally concerned. In order, therefore, to obtain the pleasure of mutual sympathy, nature teaches the spectator to strive, as much as he can, to raise his emotion to a level with that which the object would really produce: and, on the other hand, she teaches the person whose passion this object has excited, to bring it down, as much as he can, to a level with that of the spectator.
5. Upon these two different efforts are founded two different sets of virtues. Upon the effort of the spectator to enter into the situation of the person principally concerned, and to raise his sympathetic emotions to a level with the emotions of the actor, are founded the gentle, the amiable virtues; the virtues of candid condescension and indulgent humanity. Upon the effort of the person principally concerned to lower his own emotions, so as to correspond as nearly as possible with those of the spectator, are founded the great, the awful, and respectable virtues; the virtues of self-denial, of selfgovernment, of that command of the passions, which subjects all the movements of our nature to what our own dignity and honour, and the propriety of our own conduct, require.
As a farther illustration of the foregoing doctrine, Mr Smith considers particularly the degrees of the different passions which are consistent with propriety, and endeavours to shew, that, in every case, it is decent or indecent to express a pas