On seeing pleasure and pain in others

I.  On the Propriety of Action; Section I O the Sense of Propriety; Chapter I.1 Of Sympathy.

When we see people in pain or joyful, we feel.  We may not get any direct benefit from their emotion, but we “derive sorrow from the sorrow of others”and  are interested in the their fortune.  This description of “sentiment” is seems to describe an empirical reality as such that it is universal, although some may feel it with “most exquisite sensibility,” and “The greatest ruffian, the most hardened violator of the laws of society is not altogether without it.”

This is Smith’s understanding of sympathy – not necessarily approval or disapproval, but that we feel what others feel.    I am riveted by sentimental You Tube videos; I enjoy the winning of my favorite team; I am sad when a family member faces a disappointment.  Girard might consider this obvious as well, for we do imitate one another.  He might add that we learn from one another how to by sympathetic.

Are we blank slates?  Or is this innate?  Pragmatically, until babies can survive on their own, perhaps the question is moot.  We have to learn to survive from someone, so perhaps we are built to be excellent imitators of both action and emotion.  Still, are the captains of finance sympathetic to the needs of the suffering?

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