Philosophers on Sympathy

  • Lauren Wispé
Part of the Perspectives in Social Psychology book series (PSPS)


Just as there are those who can hear music that has not yet been written, and see pictures that have not been painted, so there are those who can grasp principles and mechanisms in people’s lives about which there has been little or no systematic study. In this book we will call them the “heroes of sympathy”: David Hume, Adam Smith, and Arthur Schopenhauer. Each achieved fame for his work in other areas: Hume for his epistemology, Smith for his economic theory, and Schopenhauer for his philosophy of the will. Yet the concept of sympathy played an important role in their systems of morality. In this chapter we will consider the concept of sympathy as it was described, defined, and explained by each of them. Our emphasis will be upon the idea of sympathy itself and how it was conceptualized by the requirements of the system within which it was supposed to function. For Hume the system was psychological—in the broadest sense of that term. For Smith it was a matter of moral development, where sympathy was the important contact between the individual and the society where justice and virtue could prevail. For Schopenhauer it was the problem of human motivation and the foundation of morality. Although each writer addressed somewhat different aspects of sympathy, there were also important areas of agreement. This book will address the various problems and possibilities of the concept of sympathy, the roots of which will be found in this chapter.


Human Nature Moral Behavior Moral Motivation Moral Sentiment Moral System 
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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 1991

Authors and Affiliations

  • Lauren Wispé
    • 1
  1. 1.University of OklahomaNormanUSA

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