Adam Smith's Sentimentalist Conception of Self-Control

The Adam Smith Review 12:7-27 (2020)
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A recent wave of scholarship has challenged the traditional way of understanding of self-command in Adam Smith’s Theory of Moral Sentiments as ‘Stoic’ self-command. But the two most thorough alternative interpretations maintain a strong connection between self-command and rationalism, and thus apparently stand opposed to Smith’s overt allegiance to sentimentalism. In this paper I argue that we can and should interpret self-command in the context of Smith’s larger sentimentalist framework, and that when we do, we can see that self-command is ‘sentimentalized’. I offer an interpretation of Smithian self-command, arguing that self-command has its motivational basis in the natural desire for the pleasure of mutual sympathy; that self-command is guided by the sentimental standard of propriety; and that self-command works through the psychological mechanism of the ‘supposed’ impartial spectator. And I show that Smithian self-command is a home-grown, sentimentalist virtue and not an awkward rationalistic transplant.

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Lauren Kopajtic
Fordham University


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