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The Enlightenment of SympathyJustice and the Moral Sentiments in the Eighteenth Century and Today$
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Michael L. Frazer

Print publication date: 2010

Print ISBN-13: 9780195390667

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: September 2010

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195390667.001.0001

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Adam Smith’s Liberal Sentimentalism

Adam Smith’s Liberal Sentimentalism

Chapter:
(p.89) Chapter 4 Adam Smith’s Liberal Sentimentalism
Source:
The Enlightenment of Sympathy
Author(s):

Michael L. Frazer (Contributor Webpage)

Publisher:
Oxford University Press
DOI:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195390667.003.0004

This chapter elucidates the main ways in which Adam Smith’s sentimentalist theory of justice departs from Hume’s. It begins with an objection to grounding political commitments in sympathetic sentiments voiced in the twentieth century by Hannah Arendt and John Rawls. Both Arendt and Rawls are concerned that, if our politics is inspired by a sense of sympathetic union with our fellow human beings, we will overlook the all-important distinctions among individuals necessary for an adequate conception of justice. The remainder of the chapter argues that, even if Hume’s sentimentalist theory of justice is liable to this criticism, Smith’s alternative theory is not. Smith’s is a distinctively liberal, rights-based conception of justice grounded in an understanding of sympathy and the moral sentiments which fully appreciates the distinctions among individuals in a way that Hume’s public-interest-based theory fails to do.

Keywords:   Adam Smith, David Hume, John Rawls, Hannah Arendt, liberalism, sympathy, compassion, pity, rights, natural law

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