Sunday, August 3, 2008

My sympathy makes me nonexpressive

Will Wilkinson summarizes The Theory of Moral Sentiments:

We are naturally sympathetic. Of course, our sympathy is rather limited and weak. But because we are sympathetic, we sympathize with the weakness of others’ sympathy. So, being sympathetic to the limits of others’ sympathy, we mute the expression of our own emotions, so that others will not be made uncomfortable or burdened by their failure to connect fully with what we really feel. And, likewise, we appreciate it when others do this for us. A sympathetic person doesn’t put other people out. Observing many instances of this pattern of praise for the sympathetic accommodation of weak sympathy (”thank you for not asking me to be that sad for you!”), we produce a general rule. And then we apply it to ourselves and come to disapprove of freely expressing unmuted emotion even when alone — even though we are actually having our emotions and not trying to sympathize with them. Our natural sympathy, wedded to the general weakness of sympathy, generates an individual conscience that demands that we be no more emotional than other people are ready to handle. Therefore, stoic self-command is awesome. “It’s OK! Just let it all out.” Nonsense! Why would you so rudely embarrass yourself with your own emotions?

I hope my girlfriend is reading this.

1 comment:

DC Mail Vigilante said...

As much as I symp..., that is, might be inclined to act according to this description, I think this may just explain Britishness, not virtue.