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Between Impartiality and Parrhesia: Adam Smith’s Figure of the Impartial Spectator

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Chapter Summary

Adam Smith was probably one of the first philosophers to introduce the concept of impartiality into the realm of moral philosophy. In his book, The Theory of Moral Sentiments (TMS), published in 1759, Smith develops the idea of an impartial spectator, one of his most compelling concepts. Like the ancient parrhesiast, the impartial spectator stands for an authority that we need greatly in order to 'pull off the mysterious veil of self-delusion'. The impartial spectator possesses a particular type of objectivity, since the stranger holds a viewpoint which is within and beyond society at the same time. The author's argument starts with a short discussion of Adam Smith's theory of sympathy, and then proceeds with a general account of his idea of the impartial spectator, followed by showing how Smith's impartial spectator could be understood as a revenant of the ancient figure of the parrhesiast.

Keywords: Adam Smith; impartial spectator; impartiality; parrhesiast; sympathy; The Theory of Moral Sentiments



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