This paper examines a key implication of the different conceptions of sympathy and the approbation associated with sympathy in the writings of David Hume and Adam Smith. For Hume, sympathy is an empathy we feel for those like us and hence we are motivated to obtain the praise or approbation of those with whom we sympathize. In Hume’s construction there is a direct link from sympathy to motivation because sympathy is reflected self-love. By contrast, in Smith’s construction sympathy is an act of imagination which only habit makes motivational. The abstraction by our imagination means we earn the approbation (or disapprobation) from those unlike as well as those like us. In Smith’s account we can obtain approbation as we step outside ourselves and regard our own actions dispassionately.

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Copyright © 2004 Cambridge University Press. This article first appeared in Economics and Philosophy 20 (2004), 331-349.

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