In this post I will blog the complete Chapter 2, "Of the Pleasure of mutual Sympathy."
Having developed the notion of sympathy and of the fellow-feeling, Smith now answers a question that naturally arises. For example, someone like me may put it this way: "Well, I can explain why this fellow-feeling seems to exist that way. You see, man has this need for the assistance of others and because he wants to make sure that this assistance is available to him, he exhibits this so called fellow-feeling. So there's really nothing mysterious about that at all."
Not quite so, Smith says. Though we all have this inherent need for
the assistance of the others, that need is not the reason for the
existence of the mutual sympathy because, "both the pleasure and the pain are always felt so
instantaneously, and often upon such frivolous occasions, that it seems
evident that neither of them can be derived from any such
self-interested consideration." (paragraph 1)
In other words, self-interest is not the reason why sympathy and fellow-feeling exists between you and me. Instead Smith develops an interesting case for the presence of mutual sympathy. This he does it by refining and expanding the meaning of the phrase, "mutual sympathy."
We know that "sympathy" arises out of our faculty of imagination that makes us put ourself in other person's shoes and experience what he or she is experiencing: his grief, her joy etc. So, whatever you feel, I too feel it, in a sort of resonating manner, right?
Yes, but there's more to it, according to Smith. I think here Smith refines the term "sympathy" when he says that sympathy is not just a "correspondence of the sentiments of others with our own." It is not all that clean, he says.
And it gets really interesting as Smith expands the notion of sympathy and says the following: we feel united, you and I feel like brothers that we do, more in moments when we share our grief, than when we share our joy. So here we have one more distinction in front of us. Grief and joy are no longer the equal contributors to the fellow-feeling. That sympathy, that fellow-feeling, is no longer that symmetrical as it appeared in the beginning. It's not that simple as, you feel joyful whenever I feel joyful and so on, so to speak.
In other words, that which alleviates our grief is more satisfactory than that which heightens our already joyful condition. We feel good when we realize that we have successfully sympathized with our friends who are in grief and they know it and we know that they know it. "To seem not to be affected with the joy of our companions is but want of politeness; but not to wear a serious countenance when they tell us their afflictions, is real and gross inhumanity."
Not only that, but our feelings towards our friends are also modulated by how they feel towards our enemies. If you are not friends with my friend, that's ok. But if you are friendly with my enemy, that does it!
In any case, as I said before, all these descriptions are really only saying about our normal, day-to-day lives - about yours and mine - when we are in our unreflective moods. In other words, we don't deliberate about these things: we just are this way. On the other hand, the moment we begin to reflect, that is, the moment we begin to be self-conscious about the way we are, then we switch ourselves into a more judgemental, analytical mode which is a step above our unreflective state. We are not talking about that deliberative state of being here. Just a simple reminder because I think this point is very important!