Chap. 3-4: Sympathy

Chap. 3: When there is no approval of the Benefactor’s conduct, there is little sympathy with the Beneficiary’s gratitude and when there is no disapproval of the Erring Person’s motives, there is no sympathy with the Sufferer’s resentment


2.1.15. No matter how beneficial or hurtful a person’s actions or intentions are,:

  • if there was no propriety in his good motives, if we cannot enter into his affections, we have little sympathy with his beneficiary’s gratitude, and
    • Little gratitude seems due in this case.
      • His action seems to merit little reward.
  • if there was no impropriety in his motives, if we must necessarily enter his affections, we can have no sympathy with the sufferer’s resentment.
    • All sorts of resentment seems unjust in this case.
      • His action seems to deserve no punishment.


2.1.16. 1. Whenever we cannot sympathize with the agent’s affections, whenever there is no propriety in his motives, we are less disposed to enter into the gratitude of the person who received benefit from his actions.

  • A very small return seems due to that foolish and profuse generosity which confers the greatest benefits from the most trivial motives.
    • An example is giving an estate to a man merely because his name and surname happen to be the same with those of the giver.
      • Such services do not seem to demand any proportional recompense.
  • Our contempt for the agent’s folly hinders us from thoroughly entering into the gratitude of the person to whom the good office has been done.
    • His benefactor seems unworthy of it.
  • As when we place ourselves in the situation of the beneficiary, we feel that we could conceive no great reverence for such a benefactor.
    • We easily absolve him from much of that submissive veneration and esteem which we think should be due to a more respectable character.
    • Provided he always treats his weak friend with kindness and humanity, we are willing to excuse him from many attentions which we demand to a worthier patron.
  • Princes have heaped wealth, power, and honours on their favourites.
    • They have seldom excited that degree of attachment to their persons often experienced by those who were more frugal of their favours.
    • The well-natured but injudicious prodigality of James I of Great Britain attached nobody to himself.
      • Despite his social and harmless disposition, he appears to have lived and died without a friend.
    • English gentry and nobility exposed their lives and fortunes in the cause of his more frugal and distinguishing son, despite his ordinary deportment’s coldness and distant severity.


2.1.17. 2. Wherever the agent’s conduct appears to have been entirely directed by motives and affections which we thoroughly enter into and approve of, we can have no sympathy with the sufferer’s resentment, no matter how great the mischief done to him.

  • If two people quarrel and we side and adopt the resentment of one of them, we cannot possibly enter the other’s resentment.
    • Our sympathy with the person we side with, hardens us against all fellow-feeling with the other.
      • We regard the former as in the right and the other as in the wrong.
      • Whatever the other person may have suffered, it cannot displease or provoke us while it is no more than:
        • what we ourselves should have wished him to suffer
        • what our own sympathetic indignation would have prompted us to inflict on him
  • When an inhuman murderer is brought to the scaffold, we might have some compassion for his misery.
    • However, we can have no fellow-feeling with his resentment against his prosecutor or judge.
      • Their natural, just indignation against so vile a criminal is the most fatal and ruinous to him.
      • But it is impossible that we should be displeased with this indignation, which we cannot avoid feeling.


Chap. 4: Recapitulation of the foregoing chapters


2.1.18. 1. We do not thoroughly sympathize with the gratitude of one man towards another, merely because this other was the cause of his good fortune, unless we entirely go along with his motives.

  • Our heart must adopt the principles of the agent.
  • We must go along with all the affections which influenced his conduct, before it can entirely sympathize with, and beat in time to, his beneficiary’s gratitude.
  • If the benefactor’s conduct was proper, it does not seem to demand or require any proportional recompense, no matter how beneficial its effects.


2.1.19. But when the benefactor’s good action is joined with the propriety of the gratitude it creates, when we entirely sympathize with his motives, our love for him enhances our fellow-feeling with his beneficiary’s gratitude.

  • The benefactor’s actions seem then to call aloud for a proportional recompense.
  • We then entirely enter into the beneficiary’s gratitude which prompts to bestow it.
  • The benefactor seems then to be the proper object of reward, when we thus entirely sympathize with, and approve of, the gratitude which prompts to reward him.
  • When we approve of, and go along with the gratitude which the action creates, we must necessarily:
    • approve of the action, and
    • regard the person towards whom it is directed, as its proper and suitable object.


2.1.20. 2. In the same way, we cannot sympathize at all with one man’s resentment  against another, merely because this other caused his misfortune, unless we can enter his motives.

  • Before we can adopt his resentment, we must:
    • disapprove of his agent’s motives, and
    • renounce all sympathy with the affections which influenced his conduct.
  • If there was no impropriety in those affections, his actions, no matter how fatal, does not seem to:
    • deserve any punishment, or
    • to be the proper object of any resentment.


2.1.21. But when the hurtfulness of the action is joined by the impropriety of the affection which caused it, when our heart rejects with abhorrence all fellow-feeling with the agent’s motives, we entirely sympathize with the sufferer’s resentment.

  • Such actions seem then to deserve and call aloud for a proportional punishment.
    • We entirely enter into, and approve of, that resentment which prompts to inflict it.
  • The offender necessarily seems then to be the proper object of punishment, when we thus entirely sympathize with, and approve of, that resentment which prompts us to punish.
  • In this case too, when we approve, and go along with, the affection which caused the action, we must necessarily:
    • approve of the action, and
    • regard the person against whom it is directed, as its proper and suitable object.

Words: 1,050

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