What is the Impartial Spectator?September 21, 2017
Aside from the division of labor, Adam Smith is famous for his concept of the impartial spectator. This spectator is the thing that guides us to do the right thing and avoid doing wrong. Many people would equate it to conscience, even if Smith mentioned that it is not so:
Moral Sentiments of Good vs Evil
Instead of conscience, Smith explains that it is a moral sense that is present in all humans which transcends the ego or self-love. In Buddhism, it is prajna-paramita, which is a feeling-sense just like ‘vision’ is a visual sense and ‘hearing’ is a auditory sense. It is inherent just like instinct is inherent. ‘Conscience’ is then derived from this moral sense.
In Buddhism, this moral sense is then part of human dharma, which Smith calls the invisible hand. However, even if this moral sense is present in all humans, it is not readily or so easily activated because it is very often clouded by ego or self love (ahamkara in Sanskrit):
The concept of impartial spectator is derived from David Hume, though the Hindus defined it first, to be later developed by Buddhists, creating guidelines and practices to develop the moral sense.
An Arab man experiences injustice. By watching nationalist propaganda, his mind connects Western imperialism to the injustice. His strong feelings increase his ego enough to cloud his moral sense to become a terrorist and successfully attacks a Western target.
The Western soldier sees this and his moral sense guides him to strike back at the terror camp. However, his ego forces him to rush the job and hit innocent people as collateral damage.
Those victims suffer injustice and sees the moral duty to strike back. In all cases and without exception, the ego is the cause of the corruption of moral sentiments as it increases the sense of our own greatness, subsequently preventing the mind from putting itself in the situation of others as fellow-feeling.
How Religions Implment the Moral Feelings
Religions have developed different strategies to quell the ego and develop the impartial spectator or encourage the moral sense:
- Hinduism prevents the ego from being fed by renouncing the world
- Buddhism stifles the ego by controlling the mind
- Christianity dilutes the ego by encouraging it to take into account other egos, as the Golden rule
- Islam crushes the ego by forcing obedience to strict moral rules which are supposed to be given by an artificial construct called Allah, which is really the impartial spectator or moral sense of the Prophet Mohammad