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An Investigation into the Smithian System of Sympathy: from Cognition to Emotion

Laurie Bréban
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Laurie Bréban: PHARE - Philosophie, Histoire et Analyse des Représentations Économiques - UP1 - Université Panthéon-Sorbonne

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Abstract: The paper aims to offer a characterization of Adam Smith's concept of sympathy. After having made it explicit that Smithian sympathy, strictly speaking, possesses an emotional content, it is shown, in the first section of the paper, that it relies on a complex cognitive process (the "imaginary change of situation") which enables one to conceive of others' sentiments. Of course, Smith's aim, with his system of sympathy, was not to explain how we manage to conceive of others' feelings but rather how we come to be affected by them. This cognitive process constitutes, therefore, just one step, the next step being to highlight how we move from the cognitive to the emotional realm. It is argued that such a movement relies on the concept of "force of conception" which allows for our conception of others' feelings to give rise to an emotion being experienced that is related to others' situations. In the second section, the paper offers a characterization of the emotional result that arises from Smith's imaginary change of situation. We do so by highlighting the influence of the cognitive realm on the emotional realm, through the role of the force of conception. After having highlighted two properties of Smith's imaginary change of situation it is shown that it systematically leads the spectator to feel an emotion distinct from the one felt by the person with whom he identifies.

Keywords: Cognition; Adam Smith; Sympathy; Emotion; David Hume; beliefs (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Date: 2017-02-14
New Economics Papers: this item is included in nep-neu
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