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The Ruffin Series of the Society for Business Ethics

Volume 4, 2004

Business, Science, and Ethics

Robert C. Solomon
Pages 53-58

Sympathy as a “Natural”

In this essay, I want to reconsider sympathy as a “natural” emotion or sentiment. Adam Smith famously defended it as such (as did his friend David Hume) but both used the term ambiguously and in a different sense than we use it today. Nevertheless, it seems to me that Smith got it quite right, that the basis of morality and justice is to be found in the realm of affect rather than in theory and principles alone, and that sympathy is a “natural” or should we say a “basic” emotion. But that means that morality may not be an exclusively human characteristic, as many philosophers (including Smith and Hume) have assumed. But some contemporary thinking in psychology and philosophy makes that extension plausible.

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