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The Theory of Moral Sentiments (Glasgow Edition of the Works and Correspondence of Adam Smith, vol.1)

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The Theory of Moral Sentiments, Smith's first and in his own mind most important work, outlines his view of proper conduct and the institutions and sentiments that make men virtuous. Here he develops his doctrine of the impartial spectator, whose hypothetical disinterested judgment we must use to distinguish right from wrong in any given situation. We by nature pursue our self-interest, according to Smith. This makes independence or self-command an instinctive good and neutral rules as difficult to craft as they are necessary. But society is not held together merely by neutral rules; it is held together by sympathy. Smith argues that we naturally share the emotions and to a certain extent the physical sensations we witness in others. Sharing the sensations of our fellows, we seek to maximize their pleasures and minimize their pains so that we may share in their joys and enjoy their expressions of affection and approval.

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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.

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"In The Theory of Moral Sentiments, Smith assigned himself a difficult and dangerous task: to establish for educated men in an increasingly revolutionary age the reasonableness of morality and the necessity of the fruits of virtue - illustrated by the wisdom of the classical authors of antiquity. This book, Adam Smith's first, is, then, proof to skeptics of the importance of morality; and an antidote to those who think that free-market economics can be divorced from a moral society."--BOOK JACKET.

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