Chap. 1: Sympathy

1 However selfish man may be, there are some principles in his nature which:

  • interest him in the fortune of others
  • render the happiness of others necessary to him, though he only derives the pleasure of seeing that happiness

Under this principle is pity or compassion.

  • It is the emotion we feel for the misery of others.
  • We often derive sorrow from the sorrow of others.
  • The virtuous and humane feel it with the most exquisite sensibility.
  • The greatest criminal has it too.

2 We have no immediate experience of what other men feel.

  • Therefore, we can have no idea how they are affected other than by conceiving what we ourselves should feel in the same situation.
    • If our brother is on the rack, our senses will never tell us of what he suffers.
    • Our senses can never carry us beyond our own person.
  • Only by our imagination can we form any conception of his sensations.
    • Imagination can represent what our own sensations would be if we were in his situation.
    • Our imaginations copy only the impressions of our own senses.
    • By imagination, we place ourselves in his situation.
      • We conceive ourselves enduring the same torments.
        • We enter into his body.
        • We become the same person with him
        • We form some idea of his sensations.
          • We even feel something similar, though weaker.
      • His agonies finally begin to affect us when they are brought to ourselves and made our own.
        • We then shudder at the thought of what he feels.
  • Pain or distress excites the most excessive sorrow.
    • To conceive or imagine pain or distress excites sorrow proportional to the intensity of the conception of pain or distress.

3 This is the source of our fellow-feeling for the misery of others.

  • It is by changing places in imagination with the sufferer, that we can be affected by what he feels.
    • This is proven by many obvious observations.
      • When we see a stroke aimed and just ready to fall on the leg of another person, we naturally draw back our own leg.
        • When it does fall, we feel hurt by it as well as the sufferer.
      • When a crowd gazes at a dancer on the slack rope, they naturally writhe and twist their own bodies, as they see him do.
        • They feel that they themselves must do if they were in his situation.
      • Sensitive people complain that they are apt to feel an itching or uneasy sensation in their own bodies in looking on the beggars’ sores and ulcers.
        • The horror which they conceive at the misery of those beggars affects that part in themselves more than any other.
          • That horror arises from conceiving what they themselves would suffer if:
            • they really were the beggars they are looking at
            • that part in themselves was actually affected in the same way
        • The force of this conception is sufficient to produce that itching or uneasy sensation in their feeble frames.
      • Strong men feel soreness in their own eyes in looking on the sore eyes of others.
        • It comes from the same reason — the eyes are more delicate in the strongest man.

4 Circumstances which create pain or sorrow are not the only ones that call forth our fellow-feeling.

  • An analogous emotion springs up in the breast of every attentive observer to whatever passion arises in the person observed.
    • Our joy for the deliverance of the heroes who interest us, is as sincere as our grief for their distress.
    • Our fellow-feeling with their misery is as real as our fellow-feeling with their happiness.
    • We enter into their gratitude towards those faithful friends who did not desert them.
    • We heartily resent those traitors who injured, abandoned, or deceived them.
    • In every passion, the bystander’s emotions always correspond to what he imagines would be the sufferer’s sentiments.

5 Pity and compassion signify our fellow-feeling with the sorrow of others.

  • The meaning of sympathy was perhaps originally the same with pity.
  • It may now denote our fellow-feeling with any passion.

6 Sometimes, sympathy may arise merely from seeing another person’s emotions.

  • Sometimes, the passions seem to be transfused from one man to another, instantaneously and without knowing what excited them.
    • For example, when grief and joy are strongly expressed in anyone, the spectator is instantly affected with a similar emotion.

7 However, this is not universal with every passion.

  • There are some expressed passions which excite no sympathy.
    • But before we know what caused them, we are rather disgusted at them.
  • The angry man’s fury is more likely to exasperate us against himself than against his enemies.
    • As we are unacquainted with his provocation, we cannot:
      • bring his case home to ourselves
      • conceive any similar passions which it excites
    • But we plainly see the violence awaiting the people whom he is angry with.
      • We readily sympathize with their fear or resentment and go against the angry man.

8 Seeing grief and joy in others bring us similar emotions because they suggest the good or bad fortune of the persons observed.

  • This suggestion is sufficient to have some little influence on us.
  • The effects of grief and joy terminate in the person who feels those emotions.
  • Unlike resentment, they do not suggest:
    • an opposite interest
    • any other person other than the person observed
  • The general idea of good or bad fortune, therefore, creates some concern for the person observed.
    • But the general idea of provocation excites no sympathy with recipient of that anger.
  • Nature teaches us to be more averse to anger and resentment until we know its cause.
    • Nature teaches us rather to fight it.

9 Even our sympathy with another person’s grief or joy is always extremely imperfect, before we know the cause of either.

  • General lamentations which express only the sufferer’s anguish, make us curious about his situation.
    • It brings some disposition to sympathize with him, but not in a very sensible degree.
  • The first question which we ask is, What has befallen you?
  • Until this is answered, our fellow-feeling is not very considerable, although we are uneasy from:
    • the vague idea of his misfortune
    • what his misfortune might be

10 Therefore, sympathy arises more from the situation which excites it.

  • We sometimes feel for another, a passion of which he himself is totally incapable of.
    • Because that passion arises in our breast from our imagination when we put ourselves in his case.
  • Even though the same passion is not experienced by the person observed.
  • We blush for the rudeness of another, even if he himself did not know the impropriety of his own behaviour.
    • Because we cannot help feeling ashamed if we behaved in the same absurd manner.

11 The loss of reason appears by far the most dreadful of all conditions.

  • People have deeper sorrow for a person’s loss of reason than any other.
  • But the poor wretch who has no sense of reason, laughs and sings, insensible of his own misery.
    • The anguish we feel for him, therefore, cannot be the same sentiment he feels.
    • The observer’s compassion must all arise from his consideration of what he himself would feel if he had the same unhappy situation.

12 What are the mother’s pangs when she hears the cries of her infant who cannot express what it feels?

  • In her own consciousness, she joins:
    • her idea of its helplessness to its real helplessness
    • that idea of helplessness with her own terrors for its unknown consequences
  • From of all these, she forms the most complete image of misery and distress.
    • The infant, however, feels only some uneasiness.
      • The baby’s future is perfectly secure.
    • Its innocence is an antidote against fear and anxiety.
    • When it grows up to be a man, its innocence will be replaced by reason and philosophy, which will attempt to defend it from fear and anxiety.

13 We even sympathize with the dead.

  • The real importance in the dead’s situation is that awful futurity which awaits them.
    • We overlook this.
    • We instead are affected by those circumstances which strike our senses, even if these circumstances have no influence on the dead’s happiness.
  • We think that it is miserable to be:
    • deprived of sunlight
    • shut out from life and conversation
    • laid in the cold grave
    • not thought of in this world
    • removed from the memory of their dearest friends and relations
  • Surely, we imagine that we can never feel too much for the dead.
  • Our fellow-feeling gives double tribute to the dead when they are in danger of being forgotten by everybody.
    • We pay vain honours to their memory.
    • We try to artificially keep alive our sad remembrance of their misfortune, for our own misery.
    • We think that:
      • our sympathy cannot console them and that this adds to their calamity
      • all we can do is unavailing
      • even the alleviation of their friends’ distress can give them no comfort.
    • All these increase our sense of their misery.
  • However, the happiness of the dead, most assuredly, is not affected by these.
    • The thought of these things can never disturb the profound security of their repose.
  • Our imagination naturally ascribes the idea of endless sadness to the dead.
    • This idea arises from us joining our own consciousness to the dead person’s situation, or by us putting ourselves in its situation.
    • It arises from us lodging our own living souls into their dead bodies.
      • This gives us an idea of what our emotions would be if we were to die.
      • Our imagination’s very illusion gives us the idea that our death is so terrible to us.
      • This idea gives us no pain after we die.
      • However, it makes us miserable while we are alive.
      • From this idea arises the dread of death.
        • It is one of the most important principles in human nature.
        • This dread is the great poison to one’s happiness.
        • But it is the great restraint which guards and protects society from mankind’s injustice.


Next: The Pleasure of Mutual Sympathy

Words: 1,635

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