by Yan XIE, Wuhan University
ABSTRACT In this article we outlined Smith’s opinions on self-command, its origin, its working. Then we further discussed the implications for us: the means and purpose of self-command, the limits and weak points of self-command, and how we should exercise self-command.
KEYWORDS Adam Smith, self-command, the Theory of the Moral Sentiments, self-love
In the review article Adam Smith: Right and Wrong, the author briefly summarized Smith’s opinions on the origin of self-command with these words: “…each normal person is born with the capacity to imagine how it feels to be in someone else’s place…. The molding starts in the family… A social being emerges from this hitherto mysterious process, as one who possesses self-command, who is able to rule his or her own passions and thus be fit to live with others.”
In Adam Smith’s book The Theory of the Moral Sentiments, Smith more thoroughly explains self-command. Adam Smith points out that self-command is not an inborn character. People may be born with a moral sense, just as they may have inborn ideas of beauty or harmony, but they are never born with self-command. And self-command does not originate from “abstruse syllogism”. It is acquired from “a regard to the sentiments of the real or supposed spectator of our conduct”. He holds that self-command is not a product of logical reasoning, but results from regard to the reactions of the spectator of our behavior.
Then Smith exemplified the process of how self-command originated: “A very young child has no self-command; .., its anger is the first and, perhaps, the only passion which it is taught to moderate.” The first great "school of self-command," says Smith, is the company of our playfellows, who refuse to indulge us the way our parents do; when we are adult, the major arena in which we need constantly to attend to the interests of others, and restrain our self-absorption, is the market. When I try to strike a bargain with someone...