Econlib

The Library

Other Sites

Front Page arrow Quotations arrow Other Quotes arrow Week of 21 June, 2004

Quotations about Liberty and Power

About this Quotation:

This passage builds upon the ideas contained in The Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759) where Smith shows that his interest goes far beyond just matters of justice or economic efficiency but extends equally to the issue of having sympathy towards the suffering of others.

Other quotes about War & Peace:

21 June, 2004

Smith200

Adam Smith on the Sympathy one feels for those Vanquished in a battle rather than for the Victors (1762)

Read the full quote in context here.

This passage comes from Lecture 16 of Smith’s Lectures on Rhetoric which he gave at the University of Glasgow in 1762:

.. it is with the misfortunes of others that we most commonly as well as most deeply sympathise.—A Historian who related a battle and the effects attending, if he was no way interested would naturally dwell more on the misery and lamentations of the vanquished than on the triumph and exultations of the Victors.

The full passage from which this quotation was taken can be be viewed below (front page quote in bold):

Whence this superior influence of uneasy sensations proceeds. Whether from their being less common and so more distinguishd from the ordinary pitch of human happiness by being greatly below it, than our most agreable perceptions are by rising above it; or whether it is thus ordered by the constitution of our nature to the end that the uneasiness of such sensations as accompany what tends to our prejudice might rouse us to be active in warding it off, can not be easily determind: For tho pleasant Sensations from what is of advantage might perhaps[s] be dispensed with, and no great prejudice thereby acrue to our happiness, Yet it seems absolutely necessary that some considerable degree of uneasiness should attend what is hurtfull; for without this we should soon in all probability be altogether destroyed. But whatever be the cause of this Phenomenon it is an undoubted fact that those actions affect us in the most sensible manner, and make the deepest impression, which give us a considerable degree of Pain and uneasiness. This is the case not only with regard to our own private actions, but with those of others. Not only in our own case, missfortunate affairs chiefly affect us; but it is with the misfortunes of others that we most commonly as well as most deeply sympathise.—A Historian who related a battle and the effects attending, if he was no way interested would naturally dwell more on the misery and lamentations of the vanquished than on the triumph and exultations of the Victors.

[More works by Adam Smith (1723 – 1790)]