Chapter 1

The Sense of Justice, Remorse, and the Consciousness of Merit

by Adam Smith Icon

Justice requires a lowered ego

11 Only the just indignation for evil done to us is the only proper motive for us to=

  • hurt our neighbour and
  • incite us to do evil to another

By nature, everyone=

  • is first and principally recommended to his own care
  • is fitter to take care of himself than of any other person.
  • prefers his own happiness

But no impartial spectator can go along with this at the expense of the happiness of others.

Every man is more deeply interested in whatever immediately concerns himself, than in what concerns others. We are more concerned with an insignificant disaster that affects us, than about the death of a person totally unconnected to us. Our neighbour’s ruin may affect us much less than our own very small misfortune. But we must not ruin him to prevent our small misfortune or our own ruin.

As in all other cases, we must view ourselves how we appear to others, not so much according to how we appear to ourselves. There is a proverb=

Every man may be the whole world to himself. But to others, he is a most insignificant part of it. His own happiness may more important to him than all the world's happiness. But to every other person, it is of no more consequence than that of any other man.

A person might naturally prefer himself to others. But he does not tell others this because he knows that they will never go along with it.

When he views himself as how others will view him, he sees himself no better than the others. To make others have sympathy with him, he must humble his ego to something which others can go along with.

They will then indulge his ego so far as to=

  • let him be more anxious about his own happiness
  • pursue his happiness with more earnest attention

He may run as hard as he can for wealth and honours against his competitors.

But if he should throw down any of them, the sympathy of others will end as his action violates fair play, which they cannot go with. They transfer their sympathy with the natural resentment of the injured.

12 The sufferer’s resentment becomes stronger the greater and more irreparable the evil done.

The most sacred laws are=

  1. Those which protect life - all humans are guaranteed to be living
  2. Those which protect property and possessions - these are the things that we already have
  3. Those which protect rights and contracts - these are things that are expected to come

Death is the greatest evil which one man can inflict on another. It excites the strongest resentment in those immediately connected with the slain. This is why murder is the most atrocious of all crimes.

To be deprived of that which we have, is a greater evil than to be disappointed of what we could have had. This is why breach of property, theft, and robbery, are greater crimes than breach of contract. The former take from us what we have, while the latter only extinguishes our expectation.


13 After the passion of the violator of justice is gratified, he begins to reflect on his past conduct. It now appears as detestable to him as to other people.

He starts to hate himself is he sympathizes with the hatred from others. He feels that he is now the proper object of=

  • mankind’s resentment
  • vengeance and punishment, which are the natural consequences of resentment

The thought of this perpetually haunts him. He would rather fly to some inhospitable desert, where no one knows the condemnation of his crimes. But the horror of solitude drives him back into society where he is loaded with shame and distracted with fear.

Such a feeling is called ‘remorse’. It is the most dreadful of the feelings and is made up of=

  • shame from the past conduct,
  • grief for its effects,
  • pity for those who suffer by it, and
  • the dread of punishment from others

Deserved Reward

The man who has done a generous action from proper motives feels himself as the natural object of=

  • his beneficiaries’ love and gratitude, and
  • mankind’s esteem by their sympathy with his beneficiaries.

When he looks back at his motives as an indifferent spectator, he applauds himself by sympathy with this impartial judge. In both these points of view, his own conduct is agreeable to himself. This fills him with cheerfulness, serenity, and composure.

Such a feeling is called ’the consciousness of merit’ or ‘deserved reward’.


No comments yet. Post a comment in the form at the bottom.

Latest Articles

How to Fix Ukraine
How to Fix Ukraine
The Age of the Universe
The Age of the Universe
Material Superphysics
The End of Capitalism (and Marxism)
The End of Capitalism (and Marxism)
The Elastic Theory of Gravity
The Elastic Theory of Gravity
Material Superphysics

Latest Simplifications

Nova Organum by Francis Bacon
Nova Organum by Francis Bacon
The Analects by Confucius
The Analects by Confucius
The Quran by The Prophet Mohammad
The Quran by The Prophet Mohammad

All Superphysics principles in our books

The Simplified Series

Developing a new science and the systems that use that science isn't easy. Please help Superphysics develop its theories and systems faster by donating via GCash