Superphysics Superphysics
Chapter 3

The Unsocial feelings

by Adam Smith Icon
8 minutes  • 1525 words
Table of contents

Hatred, Anger, and Resentment

21 Hatred and resentment must always be regulated before we can enter into them.

Our sympathy with them is divided between:

  • its subject, or the person who feels them, and
  • its object, or the person whom he is angry at.

The interests of these two are directly opposite.

  • Our sympathy with the subject-person would prompt us to wish for fear.
    • Our sympathy with him is less than the anger which he feels=
      • because all sympathetic passions are inferior to the original ones, and
      • beause of our opposite sympathy with the object-person.
  • Our fellow-feeling with the object-person would lead us to fear.
    • Our fear for what the object may suffer, damps our resentment for what the subject has suffered.

Therefore, for resentment to be agreeable, it must be brought down below what it would naturally rise to, than almost any other passion.

22 People have a very strong sense of the injuries done to one another. We hate the villain in a tragedy, just as we sympathize with the hero.

We detest Iago as much as we esteem Othello. We delight as much in Iago’s punishment as we are grieved at Othello’s distress.

Mankind has so strong a fellow-feeling with the injuries done to their brethren. But they do not always resent them more than the sufferer. Usually, the greater his patience, mildness, and humanity, the higher their resentment against the person who injured him. His amiableness exasperates their sense of the injury’s atrocity.

23 However, anger and resentment are regarded as necessary parts of human nature.

A person becomes contemptible if he submits to insults, without attempting to repel them.

  • We cannot enter into his insensibility.
  • We call his behaviour ‘mean-spiritedness’.
  • We are as really provoked by it, as by his adversary’s insolence.

Even the mob is enraged to see any man submit patiently to such insults.

  • They want to see this insolence resented by the sufferer.
  • They cry to him furiously to defend himself.
  • They heartily applaud him after he finally becomes angry.
  • It enlivens their own anger against his enemy.
  • They rejoice to see him attack in his turn.
  • They are as really gratified by his revenge, provided it is moderate, as if the injury had been done to themselves.

24 Anger and resentment is useful by:

  • rendering insult and injuries dangerous, and
  • turning the public into the guardians and administrators of justice.

Anger towards anybody is regarded negatively, as:

  • an insult to that person and
  • rudeness to the group.

Anger is prevented by respect for others. Thus,

  • the remote effect of anger is to restore the respect that was lost
  • the immediate effect is mischief on the person we are angry at
    • This makes it diesagreeable

The imagination either does not take time to trace out the remote effects, or sees them at too far to be much affected by them.

A prison is more useful to the public than a palace, even if the immediate effects of a prison are disagreeable. A prison, therefore, will always be a disagreeable object.

A palace, on the contrary, will always be agreeable, even if its remote effects might be inconvenient to the public.

  • Its immediate effects are the conveniency, pleasure, and gaiety of the people who live in it. The imagination generally rests on them and seldom goes further in tracing its more distant consequences.
  • Its remote effects are the promotion of luxury and the dissolution of manners.

Trophies made of agricultural instruments are agreeable ornaments of our halls and dining rooms.

Trophies made of surgical instruments and bone saws would be absurd and shocking. Surgical instruments are always more finely polished than the instruments of agriculture.

  • Their remote effect is the patient’s health, which is agreeable.
  • But Their immediate effect is pain and suffering.

Weapons are agreeable and the finest ornaments of architecture.

  • Their immediate effect is=
    • the ideas of courage, victory, and honour, and
    • pain and suffering
  • But their remote effect is=
    • the pain and suffering of our enemies, with whom we have no sympathy.

To the ancient stoics, the world was governed by the all-ruling providence of a wise, powerful, and good God. Every event=

  • is to be regarded as a necessary part of the universal plan, and
  • promotes the general order and happiness of the whole.

Therefore, mankind’s vices and follies were a necessary part of this plan just as mankind’s wisdom and virtue was. By inferring good from bad, the vices and follies were made to tend equally to nature’s prosperity and perfection.

However, this reasoning could not reduce our natural abhorrence for vice.

  • The immediate effects of vice are so destructive.
  • Its remote effects are too distant to be traced by the imagination.

25 It is the same case with anger and resentment. Their immediate effects are so disagreeable, even just anger. Therefore, these are the only feelings which we naturally do not sympathize with until we know their cause.

When we hear a man with sad voice, we feel concerned about him. If it goes on, it forces us almost involuntarily to fly to his assistance.

In the same way, a smile elevates us and disposes us to sympathize with, and share the joy it expresses.

But it is otherwise with hatred and resentment. The voice of anger gives us fear or aversion.

  • Women, and men of weak nerves, tremble at it, even if they are not the objects of the anger.
    • They conceive fear by putting themselves in that person’s situation.
  • Those with stronger hearts become disturbed enough to make them angry too, as they feel anger in the other person’s situation.

It is the same with hatred. Mere expressions of spite inspire hatred only against the man who hates.

We are both averse to anger and hatred. Their disagreeable and boisterous appearance never generates our sympathy.

Grief does not more powerfully engage and attract us to the grieving person than anger and resentment do to angry and hateful persons.

While we are ignorant of their cause, disgust and detach us from him. It was Nature’s intention that those rougher and more unamiable emotions, which drive men from one another, should be less easily and more rarely communicated.

Musical Feelings

26 When music imitates grief or joy, it:

  • inspires us with those feelings, or
  • makes us easy to conceive them.

Joy, grief, love, admiration, devotion, are passions which are naturally musical.

  • Their natural tones are all soft, clear, and melodious.
  • They naturally express themselves with regular pauses that are easily adapted to regular periods of tune.

But when music imitates anger, it inspires us with fear as the voice of anger and all its similar passions are harsh and discordant. Its periods are:

  • all irregular,
  • sometimes very long,
  • sometimes very short, and
  • distinguished by no regular pauses.

Therefore, it is difficult for music to imitate anger and hatred. The music which does imitate them is not the most agreeable.

A whole entertainment may consist of the imitation of the social and agreeable feelings. It would be strange to have entertainment made of the imitations of hatred and resentment.

27 If those passions are disagreeable to the observer, they are not less so to the person who feels them.

Hatred and anger are the greatest poison to the happiness of a good mind. Inside them, there is=

  • something harsh, jarring, and convulsive,
  • something that tears and distracts the breast.

These destroy the mind’s composure and tranquility which are so necessary to happiness.

This composure is best promoted by the contrary passions of gratitude and love. The generous and humane are most apt to regret the idea of treachery and ingratitude done by others towards them.

  • Whatever they may have lost, they can generally be very happy without it.
  • They suffer most from discordant and disagreeable passions excited by treachery and ingratitude.


28 How can revenge be rendered completely agreeable? How can we make the observer thoroughly sympathize with our revenge?

First of all, the provocation must be:

  • contemptible, and
  • exposed to perpetual insults, if we did not resent it in some measure.

Smaller offences are always better neglected. On the other hand, fault-finding in every small quarrel is most despicable. Our resentment should be based more on what people expect of us, than on what our furies dictate.

The human mind’s natural sense of propriety is most capable of judging=

  • the justness of resentment,
  • how much we should indulge in it, and
  • what will be the the sentiments of the cool and impartial spectator regarding it

Magnanimity is the regard to maintain our own rank and dignity in society. It is the only motive which can ennoble resentment. It makes our behaviour must be:

  • plain, open, and direct,
  • determined without positiveness,
  • elevated without insolence,
  • free from bad temper and offensiveness, and
  • generous, candid, and full of all proper regards, even for the person who has offended us.

In short, our behaviour must show that our humanity remains. We must yield to revenge only:

  • from necessity,
  • in consequence of great and repeated provocations, and
  • reluctantly.

When resentment is guarded and qualified in this way, it may be even seen as generous and noble.

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