Moral Sentiments at 2 in the morning

It’s two am. and I can’t sleep. Probably shouldn’t blame this on Trump… couldn’t sleep even years ago when he wasn’t destroying what was best in our country but only playing golf and making deals, if not money, well out of our awareness of anything at all he might be doing.

So got up and began reading on my iPhone, from where I had left off yesterday evening, chapter two of Matt Ridley’s The Evolution of Everything. Something either I had never read or had forgotten. Here’s someone else who speaks for me, how had I not read or not remembered him. How had I never read Adam Smith on the Moral Sentiments? A big hole in my own learning!

Well here’s the passage that is keeping me up and awake: I hope you like it! I did. Yes, what he says does now seem obvious, but still needs to be said.

“Was trying to raise a child without moral teaching and expecting him to behave like raising him without Latin and expecting him to recite Virgil? No, according to Adam Smith, just a bad comparison. Smith thought that morality owed little to teaching and nothing to reason, but evolved by a sort of reciprocal exchange within each person’s mind as he or she grew from childhood, and within society. Morality therefore emerged as a consequence of certain aspects of human nature in response to social conditions.”

“Adam Smith was far ahead of its time. He starts The Theory of Moral Sentiments with a simple observation: we all enjoy making other people happy.”

“How selfish soever man may be supposed, there are evidently some principles in his nature, which interest him in the fortunes of others, and render their happiness necessary to him, though he derives nothing from it, but the pleasure of seeing it. And we all desire what he calls mutual sympathy of sentiments: ‘Nothing pleases us more than to observe in other men a fellow-feeling with all the emotions of our own breast.’”

”Yet the childless Smith observed that a child does not have a sense of morality, and has to find out the hard way that he or she is not the centre of the universe. Gradually, by trial and error, a child discovers what behaviour leads to mutual sympathy of sentiments, and therefore can make him or her happy by making others happy.”

“It is by, according to Smith, everybody accommodating their desires to those of others that a system of shared morality arises.”


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