Adam Smith: The sympathetic process and the origin and function of conscience

In Christopher J. Berry, Maria Pia Paganelli & Craig Smith (eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Adam Smith. Oxford University Press. pp. 177 (2013)

Authors
Christel Johanna Fricke
University of Oslo
Abstract
According to Adam Smith, the acquisition of moral conscience is an essential part of a person’s moral education. I argue that moral conscience as conceived by Smith enables a person to intentionally take the role of an impartial spectator. I trace the process of moral education from the child in its family, to interaction with peers to learning and then to a self-evaluation, learning to become one’s own spectator and judge. This is a move from uncritical trust to external guidance to acquiring the faculty of conscience. Smith recommends most people to rely on the ‘common rules of morality’ rather than on sympathetic processes alone. But such reliance represents merely a second best procedure for reaching a properly impartial moral judgment. While the ‘wise and virtuous’ may well improve on the impartiality of the ‘common rules of morality’, even their moral judgments will never be perfectly impartial or certain beyond doubt.
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DOI 10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199605064.013.0010
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