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Of Propriety John Smith Summary Essay

If the utility of wealth inspired people then they would admire the happiness that the rich, the noble or the ‘superior in society’, as Smith calls them, derive from their wealth and not the seemingly beauty that comes with wealth. Smith asserts that sympathy drives us to act the way we do. As observers, we put ourselves in the position of a sufferer. We imagine what it is to be in their shoes and what they may be feeling. We form an imagination of how they are affected and conceive what we ourselves should feel in a similar situation.

Because we only make an imagination of what the sufferer is going through, we can never fully feel what he or she is going through. We only feel something which is ‘weaker in degree’. A case in point, say you are at the top of a tall rock. As you are walking along the top, a person slides and rolls down the rock. You will likely scream, close your eyes or look in a different direction to avoid seeing what happens to the man once he hits the ground.

In this case you are putting yourself in the shoe of the falling man and creating a mental picture of how it feels to hit the ground. By bringing the case home, you as the observer imagines the sentiments of the sufferer. Smith offers an example of strong men who upon looking into sore eyes they feel the same kind of soreness in their eyes. Our sympathy on the other hand should match with those of other observers. How do we ensure that our sympathy towards a sufferer rhymes with that of other observers?

This concordance of sympathy is achievable through observational earning; We have learned, however, from experience, that such a misfortune naturally excites such a degree of sorrow, and we know that if we took time to consider his situation, fully and in all parts, we should without doubt, most sincerely sympathize with him. It is upon the consciousness of this conditional sympathy, that our approbation of his sorrow is founded… ‘ [TMS, 1. 1. 3. p. 22] The idea of what is right or wrong is then passed along in society through observational learning. We judge what is morally right or wrong by how other spectators perceive our reactions towards a sufferer.

Thus sympathy, according to Smith, is the source of moral judgements. Smith then draws a clear relationship between utility and justice. In the first chapter of Part IV, Smith credits Hume for his argument that ‘the utility of any object… pleases the master by perpetually suggesting to him the pleasure or conveniency which it is fitted to promote’ [TMS, IV. 1. 2, p. 209]. Hume believes that utility of virtue is our principle of approbation, and he comes to this standpoint by considering virtues in an abstract view; he conceives the virtue of justice in terms of security of property.

Hume does not consider that distribution of property, based on merit or equality, might be superior to another. However, Smith disagrees with Hume. In Part I, ‘Of Propriety’, Smith discusses the relationship between passion and propriety. Of the three passions-social passions, unsocial passions and selfishness-unsocial passions consist of resentment. We find ourselves sympathizing with both the agent and subject of an action through unsocial passions such as anger and resentment.

Smith adds that the sentiment of approbation is always pleasurable and within it there are two elements: the sympathetic passion of the spectator and the emotion which arises in the spectator in seeing ‘the perfect coincidence’ between the sympathetic passion and the original passion in the agent. In the later, ‘the sentiment of approbation properly consists’ and is always pleasurable. The first will be either pleasurable or painful, depending on the original passion; when I observe the passion of resentment in another person, I sympathize with this person, and feel the same pain as he or she feels.

On its own I might not sympathize with the pain, and be repelled by it. If I am repelled, it is unlikely that sympathy with resentment could lead to the creation of a system of justice. For example, if John hits Steve, he (Steve) will resent John. As an objective spectator I feel Steve’s pain and get pleasure from sympathizing with Steve’s pain. And I demerit John’s action based on Steve’s response. We are only aware of utility of a punishment once the passion of resentment has disappeared. The result of this link creates a conception of happiness and public good or welfare.

As much as individuals are interested in their own happiness and that of the public, their concerns, judgements or interests must be moral. Yet, despite our aversion for unsocial passions such as hatred and anger, Smith claims that these passions can be useful to society and individuals.

‘But though the utility of these passions to the individual, by rendering it dangerous to insult or injure him, be acknowledged; and though their utility to the public, as the guardians of justice and of the equality of its administration, be not less considerable,.. et there is still something disagreeable in the passions themselves, which makes the appearance of them in other men the natural object of our aversion. ‘ [TMS, I. ii. 3. 4, p. 43]. In addition, utility appears here in close proximity to justice. On their own the unsocial passions of hatred, anger, and resentment may be a source of pain, we can redirect them by appreciating their utility. As spectators, we resent an agent who commits a hurtful action to subject. This appreciation is not recipient sympathizes with the recipient/subject.

Based on the observation the spectator develops resentment and towards the agent. In wanting to gain approval from those around us (spectators), we tend to act in a way that we consider appropriate. As Smith puts it: ‘To approve of another man’s opinions is to adopt those opinions, and to adopt them is to approve of them. If the same arguments which convince you convince me likewise, I necessarily approve of your conviction; and if they do not, I necessarily disapprove of it: neither can | possibly conceive that I should do one without the other [TMS, 1. iii. 2 p. 1]

As such, society eradicates or maintains the perpetuation of bad or good morals. Thus utility of unsocial passions leads to justice in society. Resentment caused by sympathy with resentment is the foundation of justice Sometimes we occupy ourselves with the means of an object rather than the end that it helps us achieve. Through the sense of pleasure, we get from harmony of sentiments that we approve of things. It is difficult to draw a line between the illusion of the usefulness a new watch gives us and the usefulness of the watch itself-say to check time in order to arrive early to appointments. But this fitness, this happy contrivance of any production of art, should often be more valued, than the very end for which it is intended; and that the exact adjustment of the means for attaining any conveniency or pleasure, should frequently be more regarded, than that very conveniency or pleasure, in the attainment of which their whole merit would seem to consist, has not, so far as I know, been yet taken notice of by any body.

That this however is very frequently the case, may be observed in a thousand instances, both in the most frivolous and the most important concerns of human life. [TMS, IV. 1. 3 p. 210] It is therefore difficult to delineate between utility as an end and utility as a means. Individuals might confuse the sense of pleasure they get from the beauty system for the usefulness of the system itself; ‘It is our admiration of the useful means rather than the ultimate end which seems to count: The perfection of police, the extension of trade and manufactures, are noble and magnificent objects. The contemplation of them pleases us, and we are interested in whatever can tend to advance them.

They make part of the great system of government, and the wheels of the political machine seem to move with more harmony and ease by means of them. ‘ [TMS, IV. 1. 11, p. 216] Smith tells us of the irregularity in our moral sentiments. He says that ‘so far as the sentiment of approbation arises from the perception of this beauty of utility, it has no reference of any kind to the sentiments of others’ ITMS,IV. 11. 2, p. 216). This suggests that only when we will use utility as a means of approbation when we have no interest at all in the sentiments of others.

This further underscores the concept of the self-interested party. Nevertheless, Smith endorses the function of utility in society. ‘And it is well that nature imposes upon us in this manner. It is this deception which rouses and keeps in continual motion the industry of mankind. ‘ [TMS, IV. 1. 10, p. 216]. Smith offers an account of how this illusion of utility leads human to improve their industry and contribute towards civilization: cultivate land, improve technology, invent or even develop agriculture or communication for trade.

The poor want to work hard keeping in mind the happiness that comes with acquiring wealth. However large a rich man’s wants and achievements might be, his capacity is not large enough compared to that of a peasant who works for him. Though he may be rich, he has to maintain the peasant who works for him. Smith offers an example of a poor man’s son. The son admired the lifestyle of the rich; the food, the workers they had and the convenience of riding on a horse back rather than walking on foot. As the son considered the convenience of all these endeavors, he devotes all his effort into being wealthy.

The social approval that he will gain sustained him. He was less focused on the utility that the wealth would bring him. However, we all have limited tastes; once we have had to our full, the surplus goes to the poor and those who work for us. If we were to act out of utility, then all reason would provoke us to act out of self-interest in order to benefit from the use of an object, but we still see people with values such as generosity and humanity. As such, the illusion of utility leads to pursuit of self-interest which results in the greater good for the society.

Therefore, according to Smith this deception leads to economic development. Smith further applies the positive role of utility to societal systems. Over time, we come to highly regard systems because it is through these systems that we obtain what we seek. We seek to improve these systems in ways which we can only understand under the deception of utility. For example, a country may spend most of its budget to fund their military abroad. This funds might have more impact if the nation had decided to spend more on local projects.

However, in pursuit of other reasons such as to be recognized globally, nations spend their money abroad. Paradoxically, this generous spending provides recognition and international travel benefits and most of all protection to the citizens of the nation under discussion. Smith argues that institutions of government and other institutions designed to advance public welfare are as much based on a regard for the beauty of order, of art, and contrivance’ as on pure sympathy or regard for those who are going to benefit from the practice.

It is not commonly from a fellow-feeling with carriers and waggoners’, he states that, ‘that a public-spirited man encourages the mending of high roads. ‘ [TMS, IV. 1. 11, p. 216] In TMS, Smith introduces his analogy of the invisible hand. Public welfare is built on the personal illusion of utility of welfare. Smith considers and rejects, the idea that the more useful a thing is, the more satisfaction it gives, the more people would be willing to pay for it. This is a clear with the poor man’s son, aforementioned, who was willing to toil and delay gratification n order to attain wealth. On the other hand, one’s search for security and good health is met with enormous wealth. Those around us, who also benefit from our excess economic welfare, enjoy a surplus in our wealth. However, this trickling down effect of wealth can only occur if the rich are human and generous.

Smith asserts that; ‘they are led by an invisible hand to make nearly the same distribution of the necessities of life, which would have been made, had the earth been divided into equal portions among all its inhabitants… ‘ [TMS, IV. 1. 10, pp. 15-216]. Furthermore, smith develops an argument linking unintended social consequences and utility. He focuses on virtues such a humanity, generosity and public spiritedness. One might expect that utility is involved in actions where these virtues are show cased. However, Smith says that we consider these virtues for other reasons such as propriety and not because of their utility. Smith believes that the qualities most useful to us are reason which lead us discern remote consequences and self-command that enable us delay happiness into the future.

Smith further distinguishes between generosity where one has to make sacrifices to better another person and humanity involves entering into the sentiment of another through matching virtues. Public spirit is the same, where you would give your life in service to your country. Smith argues that in these cases our approbation arises out of the uncommon effort these people make; that ‘the utility of their actions only occurs to us as an afterthought, through reason, not through immediate appreciation. [TMS, IV. 2. 9, p. 22] Smith makes three main points that establish utility as a secondary principle rather than one that has a principal role in moral approbation. First, Smith suggests that utility appeals to moral actions that we find pleasing a new beauty’, and this new beauty ‘further recommends them to our approbation’. Secondly, he states that this new beauty may not be perceived by everyone, and certainly will not be the first thing that recommends these actions to ‘the bulk of mankind’.

It is mainly ‘men of reflection and speculation’- whom I believe are men of reason who perceive the beauty generated by utility (TMS, IV. 2. 11, p. 25]. Thirdly, he points out that the perception of beauty of utility has no connection with the sentiments of others [TMS, IV. 2. 12, p. 225]. On the other hand, an individual raised with no contact with the outside world might develop a sense the beauty of prudence, moderation or good conduct based on his or her own environment and experience. But, these perceptions would be different and insignificant when this person comes into contact with others from whom he or she would acquire sentiments of approval and disapproval which are connected to propriety and impropriety or merit and demerit, but not necessarily to utility.

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