Adam Smith distinguishes between what is praised and what is praiseworthy, between being loved and being lovely. What we desire is “that thing which is the natural and proper object of love”; what we really want is “not only praise but praiseworthiness,” praise for those things that are the proper and natural object of praise.
He finds insipid those who are concerned only with praise or being loved: “They are the most frivolous and superficial of mankind only who can be much delighted with that praise which they themselves know to be altogether unmerited.” On the other hand, ”unmerited reproach . . . is frequently capable of mortifying very severely even men of more than ordinary constancy.” To be condemned when we are in the right is one of the great trials of human life.
And only religion resolves it, Smith thinks. Religion of a particular type:
“Religion can alone afford them any effectual comfort. She alone can tell them, that it is of little importance what man may think of their conduct, while the all-seeing Judge of the world approves of it. She alone can present to them the view of another world; a world of more candour, humanity, and justice, than the present. . . . In such cases, the only effectual consolation of humbled and afflicted man lies in an appeal to a still higher tribunal, to that of the all-seeing Judge of the world, whose eye can never be deceived, and whose judgments can never be perverted. A firm confidence in the unerring rectitude of this great tribunal, before which his innocence is in due time to be declared, and his virtue to be finally rewarded, can alone support him under the weakness and despondency of his own mind, under the perturbation and astonishment of the man within the breast, whom nature has set up as, in this life, the great guardian, not only of his innocence, but of his tranquillity.”
Final judgment is for Smith a source of comfort not fear. Not dread of exposure but hope for vindication.
posted by Peter J. Leithart on Wednesday, October 17, 2012 at 2:17 pm
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