Scholarly Comments on Academic Economics

Adam Smith’s Impartial Spectator

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Abstract

Adam Smith claims that humans naturally sympathize with others and seek their approval. The process of matching our sentiments with others’ sentiments forms the basis of our moral judgment. But what do we do when sentiments conflict? Smith saw that we need to move beyond literal impartial spectators to reach some ideal by which we can judge others’ sentiments and our own. That ideal is a category that we develop inductively. The category then allows us to construct imaginary representations of a perfect impartial spectator to arbitrate conflicts between the views of literal impartial spectators and our own.