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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Political Philosophy: Plato’s Just City

In his Republic, Plato sets forth a vision of a Just City that he considers to be radical and unlikely to occur. This is because his plan includes elements such as the equality of women, the abolition of the family, the disregard for the happiness of the rulers, and the institution of the philosopher-kings. Despite these difficulties, Plato always maintains that the just city is, in principle, possible.

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Wisdom of the Moderns: How We Have Arrived at Nihilism

This past semester was a whirlwind of reading and writing for me. I spontaneously decided that I wanted to extract a liberal education from my university experience, and took three philosophy classes, each one extremely different. I took Introduction to Political Philosophy, in which we studied Plato, Machiavelli, Hobbes, Rousseau, Marx, Mill, and Weber. I took Wisdom of the Moderns, in which we studied Shakespeare, Adam Smith, Mill, Nietzsche, Conrad, Dostoyevsky, Rand, and a few others. And I took Theories of Gender and Sexuality, in which we studied numerous feminist (and related) thinkers, including Beauvoir, Bem, Wittig, Fanon, Foucault, Butler, and Fausto-Sterling. Needless to say, it was rather overwhelming, and I imagine I am going to process it for years.

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