Superphysics Superphysics
Chapter 5

The Selfish Feelings

by Adam Smith Icon
5 minutes  • 970 words
Table of contents

The Selfish feelings are in between the Social and Unsocial feelings

32 Our grief and joy of our own fortune makes up the feelings which are in between the social and unsocial ones.

These selfish feelings are:

  • never so graceful as the social feelings
  • never so odious as the unsocial feelings.

When excessive, the selfish feelings are never so disagreeable as the unsocial feeling of excessive resentment.

  • This is because no opposing sympathy is created.

When suitable to their objects, they are never so agreeable as humanity and benevolence.

  • This is because no double sympathy is created.

Humans sympathize more with sorrow than joy. However, we sympathize more with small joys and great sorrows.

Envy prevents us from heartily sympathizing with great joys.

  • An upstart is generally disagreeable even if he is of the greatest merit.
  • The man who suddenly is lifted up into a better life, are congratulated by his best friends who are not all perfectly sincere.
    • If he is sensible of this, he will choose not appear elated with his good fortune.
    • He will try to:
      • smother his joy, and
      • keep down as much as he can that elevation of mind naturally inspired by his new circumstances.

He keeps the same plain dress and modest behaviour as before.

  • He redoubles his attention to his old friends.
  • He tries more than ever to be humble, assiduous, and complaisant.

We approve of this kind of behaviour because we expect him to have=

  • more sympathy with our envy, and
  • aversion to his happiness, than we have aversion to it

Sometimes, we suspect the sincerity of his humility or he grows weary of this constraint. In a short time, he generally leaves his old friends, except the closest ones dependent on him, and gets new ones. The pride of his new friends is as much offended to find him their equal, as his old friends had been offended by his becoming their superior.

He generally grows weary of persevering the modesty which prevents them from feeling offended. He neglects his new friends and avoids his old ones until he becomes habitually insolent.

Human happiness chiefly arises from being beloved. If this were true, those sudden changes of fortune should seldom contribute much to happiness. Those who advance more gradually to greatness are the happiest. The public sees every step of his progress. Once achieved, his success excites no extravagant joy in the public and thus no jealousy with other people.

33 However, mankind more readily sympathizes with those smaller joys flowing from less important causes.

It is decent to be humble amidst great prosperity. But we cannot express too much satisfaction in the little occurrences of common life, such as:

  • in the company with which we spent last night
  • in the entertainment we saw,
  • in what was said or done,
  • in all the little incidents of the present conversation,
  • in all those frivolous nothings which fill up the void of human life.


The habitual cheerfulness for all the little common pleasures is most graceful and so we readily sympathize with it.

  • It inspires us with the same joy.
  • It makes a happy person see every trifle as something agreeable.

This is why youth so easily engages our affections. The eyes and beauty of youth lets joy bloom.

Remembering our youth creates an above-ordinary joy.

  • We forget our infirmities for a while.
  • We remember the past agreeable ideas and emotions that we have forgotten.
  • We meet them like old acquaintances and embrace them more heartily because of this long separation

34 It is quite otherwise with grief. Small vexations excite no sympathy, but deep affliction calls forth the greatest.

We seldom sympathize with a man who feels uneasy with every little disagreeable incident, even if it is a bit reasonable.

  • He is hurt if the cook or the butler fails in their smallest duty.
  • He feels every defect in the ceremony of politeness whether to himself or to others.
  • He takes it amiss that=
    • his close friend did not greet him bid him ‘Good morning’ when they met.
    • his brother hummed a tune all the time while he himself was telling a story

Joy is a pleasant emotion which readily sympathize with in others whenever we are not prejudiced by envy.

But grief is painful. The mind naturally resists and recoils from it. We try to=

  • not conceive it at all, or
  • shake it off as soon as we have conceived it.

Our aversion to grief will not always hinder us from it during trifling occasions. But it constantly prevents us from sympathizing with the grief of others arising from frivolous causes, because our sympathetic passions are always less irresistible than our original ones. There is besides, a malice in mankind, which=

  • prevents all sympathy with little uneasinesses, and
  • makes little uneasinesses in some measure diverting.

Hence we delight in:

  • raillery and
  • our friend’s small vexation when he is teased.
    • Those who have ordinary good-breeding can dissemble the pain from any little incident.
    • Those who are more thoroughly formed to society naturally turn all such incidents into raillery, as they know their companions will do for them.
    • But a worldly man thinks of them as ridiculous because he is conscious of how others see him.
      • He thinks that others will also consider those calamities as ridiculous.

35 On the contrary, our sympathy with deep distress is very strong and sincere. We weep even at a tragedy. You can generally depend on the sincerest sympathy and assistance of your friends if you suffer any calamity, even those of your own fault.

But your friends will make fun of you if your misfortune is not as dreadful, such as if you=

  • have only been a little baulked in your ambition, and
  • have only been jilted by your mistress or hen-pecked by your wife.

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