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“How selfish soever man may be supposed, there are evidently some principles in his nature, which interest him in the fortunes of others, and render their happiness necessary to him, though he derives nothing from it, except the pleasure of seeing it.” (from The Theory of Moral Sentiments)Adam Smith considered his first major book, The Theory of Moral Sentiments, his most important work. Indeed, the tome was a wild success upon its publication, selling out immediately. It has not lost popularity since. In this legendary work, Smith discusses the nature of morality, and the motives behind and origins of these “sentiments.” Originally published in 1759, this work provides the philosophical underpinnings for his later works, as well as elucidating the psychological and moral foundations of the workings of a complex society. Smith parses many important concepts in this book, with the central questions perhaps being: Where do our moral principles come from? Are they divine and inborn, reflection of man-made laws, or rational, based on their usefulness to society? Smith’s answers to these questions and more, and his explanation of how such sentiments, however derived, influence society’s self-coordination, have interested lay and scholar alike for hundreds of years.
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