ECON 408

Spring 2007

Reading Notes

Adam Smith

The Theory of Moral Sentiments 1759


Part I, Chapters I and III


This excerpt concerns sympathy and self-interest


1. When was The Theory of Moral Sentiments written?


Chapter I


2. Paragraph 1 . . . Are people concerned only with themselves? Is this true of all people?



3. Paragraphs 2 and 3 . . . How can we know what other people feel?



4. Paragraph 4 . . . What does Smith call this feeling for others?



5. Paragraphs 5-9 . . . Is sympathy equally strong on all occasions?




Chapter III


6. Can we really know what other people are feeling? Can we know other people as well as we know ourselves? What, then, are our actions based on?




Connection with the Present: From the tsunami disaster in Southern Asia to Hurricane Katrina on the U.S. Gulf Coast to the hikers stranded on Mount Hood over Christmas, people all over the world seem to be concerned about the misfortunes of others? Is this concern consistent with Smith’s ideas in The Theory of Moral Sentiments? Would the response have been the same in Smith’s own time, or 50 years ago, or 20 years ago?





Part III, Chapters I and II


You get the definition of “Approbation” for free: it means “approval.” For other words whose meaning are not clear to you: look them up in a dictionary.

Chapter 1


1. Paragraphs 2 and 5: Upon what basis do we approve or disapprove of our own behavior?



2. Paragraph 7: What are the great characters of Virtue? What are the great characters of Vice?



Chapter II


3. Paragraphs 1, 13, and 14: What do humans want?



4. Paragraph 38 (this is what journalists call “the money paragraph” – the key idea, the payoff for reading this far): How will people behave?




Part IV, Chapter 1


This excerpt concerns vanity and virtue.


Paragraphs 1 and 2 . . . What does the “poor man’s son” want?



Paragraph 3 . . . What does he therefore do?



Paragraphs 4-6 . . . Why are some things, such as palaces, more the object of vanity than things such as toothpicks?



Paragrpahs 7-8 . . . What does man discover in his old age?



Paragraphs 9-11 . . . What is the deception that our imagination imposes upon us?



Paragraphs 12-14 . . . Why is this deception A Good Thing?



Paragraph 15 . . . What is the “invisible hand”? What does it do? Is vanity A Good Thing?