Chapter 5 of The Theory of Moral Sentiments Part 1 Section 1

The Amiable and Respectable Virtues

October 27, 2015

40 Two sets of virtues are founded on these two efforts=

  1. The observer’s effort to enter into the observee’s feelings

On this effort is founded=

  • the soft, gentle, amiable virtues, and
  • the virtues of candid condescension and indulgent humanity.
  1. The observee’s effort to bring down his emotions to what the observer can go along with

From this effort originates the respectable virtues of self-denial and self-control.

  • These subject our nature to what our own dignity, honour, and proper conduct requires.

41 A man is very amiable if his sympathetic heart=

  • echoes all the feelings of the people he converses with,
  • grieves for their calamities,
  • resents their injuries, and
  • rejoices at their good fortune.

When we bring ourselves the situation of his companions, we understand their gratitude to him for his tender sympathy.

A man is disagreeable if his hard heart feels for himself only and is insensible to the happiness or misery of others!

  • We also enter into the pain of the people he talks to and sympathize with them

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.

43 In the same way, the insolence and brutality of unrestrained anger is most detestable.

But we admire that noble resentment that seeks justice for injuries.

  • It naturally calls forth the indignation and anger in the impartial spectator’s breast.
  • But this anger never=
  • attempts any greater vengeance,
  • wants to inflict more punishment, than what every indifferent person wants to see.

The Perfection of Human Nature is in feeling for others while restraining ourselves.

44 Hence, the perfection of human nature is=

  • 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 feelings.

  • The great law of Christianity is to love our neighbour as we love ourselves
  • The great law of nature is to love ourselves only=
    • as we love our neighbour,
    • as our neighbour is capable of loving us.

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 crude people.

Magnanimity is a great and exalted virtue.

  • It demands much more than self-command.

Common morality is not a virtue just as common intellectual quality is not a unique ability.

Virtue is excellence.

  • It is uncommon, great, and beautiful, and rises far above the ordinary.

The amiable virtues have a sensibility which has exquisite delicacy and tenderness.

The respectable virtues have a self-command which governs human passions.

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, ordinary sensibility or self-command is enough for us to act properly. For example, to eat when we are hungry is perfectly proper, but not virtuous.

47 On the contrary, there might be much virtue in actions which are not perfectly proper, because the situation itself might render perfection impossible. This often happens in situations which require the greatest self-command. In those cases, the sufferer’s behaviour is not perfectly proper, 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 might be as close to perfect for such trying occasions.

48 In such cases, we frequently use two different standards to determine the judgment on any action=

  1. The idea of complete propriety and perfection, which no human can attain in those difficult situations
  1. The idea of the distance from this complete perfection
  • Whatever goes beyond this common degree of propriety deserves applause.
  • Whatever falls short of it seems to deserve blame.

Moral Relativity

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 and 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 of its genre. When he judges relative to other artworks, it may often deserve the highest applause because it is more perfect than the others.