Superphysics Superphysics
Chapter 3

Systems Based on Feelings

by Adam Smith Icon
9 minutes  • 1800 words
Table of contents

1-17 Moral systems based on feelings can be divided into 2 classes.

  1. Some think that the principle of approbation is founded on a particular faculty of perception.

This is exerted by the mind at the view of actions or affections.

  • Some actions affect this faculty agreeably and are stamped as right, laudable, and virtuous.
  • Some actions affect it disagreeably and are stamped as wrong, blamable, and vicious.

This feeling is called a moral sense. It is of a peculiar nature, distinct from every other and is the effect of a particular power of perception.

  1. Others think that morality is not based on a moral sense, but on the fact that nature acts with the strictest economy all the time.

This economy naturally produces sympathy in the mind, which then leads to morality.

The Moral Sense

20 I. Dr. Hutcheson took great pains to prove that morality came from a moral sense and not from self-love nor reason.

But he only arrived at such a moral sense because he took morality away from self-love and reason. This led him to say that Nature endowed the human mind with this faculty.

21 He supposed this moral sense to be analogous to the external senses.

  • Our external senses give us an idea of an object’s sound, taste, smell, and colour.
  • This moral sense, to Hutcheson, gives us an idea of an action’s virtue or vice, propriety or impropriety.

22 According to this system, the mind derives all its simple ideas from two kinds of senses=

  1. The direct or antecedent senses

These derived the perception that were not antecedent to any other. Sounds and colours were objects of the direct senses. To hear a sound or to see a colour does not presuppose the antecedent perception of any other quality or object.

  1. The reflex or consequent senses

These derived the perception that was the antecedent perception of some other perception. Harmony and beauty were objects of the reflex senses.

In order to perceive a sound’s harmony or a colour’s beauty, we must first perceive the sound or the colour. The moral sense was considered as a reflex sense.

According to Dr. Hutcheson, the faculty which Mr. Locke called reflection, and from which he derived the simple ideas of the human mind’s passions and emotions, was a direct internal sense.

That faculty by which we perceived the beauty or deformity, the virtue or vice of those passions and emotions, was a reflex, internal sense.

23 Dr. Hutcheson tried to support this doctrine by showing:

  • that it was agreeable to the analogy of nature, and
  • that the mind had other reflex senses exactly similar to the moral sense, such as:
    • a sense of beauty in external objects,
    • a public sense, by which we sympathize with others,
    • a sense of shame and honour, and
    • a sense of ridicule.

24 But despite all his efforts to prove that morality is based in a moral sense, he acknowledges some refutations to this doctrine.

He allows the qualities which belong to the objects of any sense, cannot be ascribed to the sense itself, without the greatest absurdity.

There is no sense for:

  • black or white,
  • loud or not loud, or
  • sweet or bitter

Likewise, according to him, there is no=

  • sense of virte or sense of vice, and
  • sense of good or sense of evil.

These qualities belong to the objects of those faculties, not to the faculties themselves.

It would be strange for a person to see=

  • cruelty and injustice as the highest virtues, and
  • equity and humanity as the most pitiful vices.

25 If we saw any man loudly applauding a barbarous execution ordered by a tyrant, we would regard him as most morally evil, even if his applause only showed that his moral faculties were depraved as to see a horrid action as something noble and magnanimous. The tyrant would even be more excusable.

26 On the contrary, correct moral sentiments naturally appear laudable and morally good in some degree.

A man whose censure and applause are always very accurately suited to the object even seems to deserve moral approbation. We admire his moral sentiments’ delicate precision. They lead our own judgments. They even excite our wonder and applause because of their uncommon and surprising justness.

We cannot be always sure that such a person’s conduct would correspond to the precision of his judgments on the conduct of others.

Virtue requires habit and resolution of mind, as well as delicacy of sentiment.

Unfortunately, the habit and resolution are sometimes lacking where delicacy is most perfect.

This disposition of mind may sometimes have imperfections. However, it is not grossly criminal.

It is the happiest foundation on which the superstructure of perfect virtue can be built. Many men mean very well and seriously do their duty, despite the coarseness of their moral sentiments.

27 The principle of approbation is not founded on any power of perception analogous to the external senses.

However, it may still be founded on a peculiar sentiment which answers only this one particular purpose. It may be pretended that approbation and disapprobation are feelings which arise in the mind on the view of characters and actions. Resentment might be called a sense of injuries. Gratitude may be called a sense of benefits. These may very properly receive the name of a sense of right and wrong, or of a moral sense.

28 This is not liable to the same objections as the objections against the previous moral sense.

However, it is exposed to other objections equally unanswerable.

29 The variations of any emotion still keeps the general features of the main emotion.

These general features are always more striking than any of its variations. Thus, anger is a particular kind of emotion.

Its general features are always more distinguishable than all its variations. Anger against a man is somewhat different from anger against a woman. Anger against a woman is again different from anger against a child.

In each of those three cases, the general passion of anger is modified by its object. This is easily observable by the attentive.

A very delicate attention is needed to discover their variations. Everybody notices the general features. Nobody observes their variations.

Therefore, if approbation and disapprobation were distinct kinds of emotions like gratitude and resentment, they should retain their general features in all their variations. Those general features mark it as such a particular kind of emotion, clear, plain, and easily distinguishable. But in fact, it happens quite otherwise.

If we attend to what we really feel when we approve or disapprove, we shall find that= our emotion in one case is often totally different from that in another, and no common features can be discovered between them.

Thus, our approbation on a tender, delicate, and humane sentiment, is quite different from our approbation of a great, daring, and magnanimous sentiment. Our approbation of both may be perfect on different occasions. We are softened by the one and elevated by the other. There is no resemblance between the emotions they excite in us. But according to the system that I have been trying to establish, this must be the case.

In those two cases, the emotions of the person we approve of are opposite. Our approbation arises from sympathy with those opposite emotions. What we feel on one occasion cannot resemble what we feel on the other.

This could not happen if approbation:

  • arose from a view of the sentiments it observes, like any other passion arises from the view of its object, and
  • consisted in a peculiar emotion which had nothing in common with the sentiments we approved of.

The same thing is true with regard to disapprobation.

Our horror for cruelty does not resemble our contempt for mean-spiritedness.

We feel a different kind of discord from those two vices, between our mind and the mind of the person having those sentiments.

30 In my system, a person’s passions are moral if those passions are moral to ourselves. How can we make a moral opinion on the moral opinions of others?

When his moral opinion coincides with our own, we approve of his opinion.

When it does not coincide with our own feelings, we disapprove of it.

In this case, the coincidence or opposition of feelings between the observers and the person observed, constitutes moral opinon.

Why do we need to create a new moral sense when morality is already sourced from the match or mismatch of feelings?

31 I object against any moral system that is based on a unique feeling, separate from other feelings.

It would mean that Providence created this feeling to govern human nature has been unnoticed that it has not gotten a name in any language.

  • The word ‘moral sense’ is very new and is not yet part of the English language.
  • The word ‘conscience’ does not immediately denote any moral sense though it supposes the existence of such a faculty..

Our conscience shows our awareness in acting to the directions of a moral sense, which have all our feelings as its subjects.

Those feelings have made themselves considerable enough to get names such as ’love’, ‘hatred’, ‘sorrow’, etc. It is surprising that the sovereign of them has been so little heeded, that only a few philosophers have given it a name.

32 According to my system, our moral opinion is based on our feelings which are then derived from four sources=

  1. From our sympathy with the actor’s motives [This is the first law of value in Supereconomics]

  2. From our sympathy with the gratitude of those who receive the benefit of his actions. [This is the third law of value in Supereconomics]

  3. From our sympathy with the actor’s conduct matching with the general rules. [This is the fourth law of value in Supereconomics]

  4. From our sympathy with the utility the actor’s conduct and how it benefits a person or others. [This is the second law of value in Supereconomics]

Is there any other source besides these four? If there is, I can ascribe the fifth source to be a moral sense or any other peculiar faculty, provided that this sense or faculty can be precisely defined.

If there is such a moral sense, then we should be able to feel it separated from every other sense, just as we feel joy, sorrow, hope, and fear, purely and unmixed with any other emotion.

However, I have never heard of any instance in which this principle exerted itself alone and unmixed with=

  • sympathy or antipathy,
  • gratitude or resentment,
  • a sense of agreement or disagreement with an established rule, or
  • that general taste for beauty in living and nonliving things.

*To Social Superphysics, this moral sense is the invisible hand. In Buddhism, it is prajna-paramita which lets conscious entities perceive the dharma.

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