Wisdom of the Moderns: Smith and the Anguish of Being Evil

In Shakespeare’s Othello and Macbeth, and in John Stuart Mill’s Autobiography, we find individuals face great anguish when they are faced with the question of the value of life. A solution to Shakespeare’s characters can be found in Adam Smith’s Theory of Moral Sentiments. Smith would say that Othello temporarily ignored his impartial spectator until he had committed an evil so great that he could not bear the accusation of his spectator once he again felt its force. Macbeth, on the other hand, continually insisted on self-deceit, though he could feel the force of his spectator weighing upon him. Smith can partially answer Mill. He would say that Mill’s spectator did not function properly because Mill could not imagine his case in someone else. However, Smith would not be able to answer the core of Mill’s problem.

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Diary of a Bride

This is an entirely fictional account, though of course, it is autobiographical at some level. I have certainly felt these things, though less than this particular Bride did.

January 1

I am worthless, I am worthless, but my Groom has brought me to Himself! He sought me out, He pursued me, and He even gave me the desire to love Him. Oh! what a Groom! It was not easy for Him; He died to save me. How could he sacrifice himself for the pit that is me? What a mystery, but He has done it! He knows who I really am inside, and He loves me…. I can’t even imagine this. Continue reading “Diary of a Bride”

Wisdom of the Moderns: Mill’s Analytical Path to Happiness

In “A Crisis in My Mental History,” John Stuart Mill relates a nervous breakdown he experienced when he was twenty years old, and his emergence from it. He saw his crisis as a crisis that all of mankind was headed towards, and his solution as a solution for everyone. Although his account gives several reasons he was able to escape from his depression, the reasons he provides do not seem to answer his initial questions.

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Wisdom of the Moderns: Smith’s Account of Evil

In The Theory of Moral Sentiments, Adam Smith attempts to explain the processes by which people come to acquire moral sentiments. The primary element he identifies is the process of sympathy. Smith defines this phenomenon as a capacity to imagine ourselves in the position of others. He asserts that the method by which people judge the propriety of their own actions is by imagining a “spectator” who ought to be impartial (III.I.6). We consider how others would imagine themselves in our position, and this informs us of the correctness of our own behavior. However, says Smith, many people do not listen to their impartial spectator, “foolishly and weakly” preferring self-deceit (III.I.91).

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