The agreeable eye

an eudæmonistarchives


There is a bit in Adam Smith’s Theory of Moral Sentiments that I misremembered, misunderstood, or made up entirely, but the gist of it was that if one takes on one of a thinker’s ideas, one has to take on their entire system of thinking and being – the faults in their logic and the faults in their life.1 Agreeing with Aristotle’s definition of happiness or friendship, for example, would mean that one accepts his views on the (in)humanity of women or the appropriateness of slavery, or that one approved of his navigation of the admittedly tricky political situations he encountered. Even if one does not deliberately take hold of those aspects as handles for grasping a worldview, one is still picking them up and carrying them along with the elements one has deliberately chosen. They are inseparable.

I found this troubling. For a long time, liking Smith’s prose, I refused to read a biography of him, because I was afraid of the horrible things I might find.2

  1. I could not find the passage in question when I looked for it, so a citation (should one exist) will have to wait until I can scrape together a few crumbs of time to reread it. []
  2. An instance, perhaps, of ‘a natural shrinking from raising curtains and looking into unlighted corners’, as Henry James would put it. []


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