Volume 5, Issue 1, 2008
Relationships and the spectator perspectives in Hutcheson, Hume, and Smith
Looking closely at Adam Smith’s account of the spectator perspective – along with the compatible spectator accounts in Hutcheson and Hume – is especially
helpful to understanding one of the main themes of the Scottish Enlightenment. The Scots in response to Hobbesian egoism described a morality that does not need to overcome a human nature that pits individuals against each other. Rather each of the three Scots describes the empirical formation of our humanity and our moral sentiments in the context of relating to and observing others. The three spectator accounts of Smith, Hutcheson, and Hume clearly describe this involvement of others in the formation of morality. Adam Smith explicitly gives an accounting of the importance and, in fact, necessity of others in the formulating of not only our moral evaluations but also the very possibility of understanding one’s humanity and having an idea of morality at all. In this paper, I explain Smith’s account specifically along with its similarity to Hutcheson’s and Hume’s and argue that these empiricists ground moral sentiments in person to person relationships. For the three Scots, being human and developing a morality is begun in interactions with others. We formulate who it is we are and can be and determine acceptable ways to interact in the company of others.