Taming Egoism: Adam Smith on Empathy, Imagination and Justice

Agnieszka Czarnecka

I argue that the construction of the social order, as shown by Adam Smith in The Theory of Moral Sentiments, depends on people’s ability to tame their inborn egoism. According to the philosopher’s anthropological assumptions a human being learns through life experiences how to control his self- interest so that it does not threaten societal existence. During socialization, a human being – still an egoist to some extent – continues role-playing by the use of the psychological mechanisms of empathy and imagination. As a result he develops sympathy, at first, as a reaction to real people’s emotions experienced in a particular context. Finally, he naturally and more and more unconsciously takes under consideration the perspective of an impartial spectator. The gradually developing process brings about consequences that improve social morality, such as control over the expression of intense emotions, which is a condition for experiencing emotional harmony, or a refrain from pursuing one’s self-interest at the expense of someone else, so as not to become a subject of social contempt. One should also bear in mind that none of these consequences was carefully planned in advance nor purposefully executed. 
Słowa kluczowe: Adam Smith, egoism, empathy, moral imagination, justice

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