THOUGH OUR BROTHER SUFFERS UPON THE RACK

freedomconscienceHere is a comment I want to make certain my readers see.

Citizen Tom, thank you for the list. Some of these, as you note, are readable at your links; Adam Smith’s works for example. Many people misunderstand him; reading what he said is instructive. And it helps to understand how his thinking, among others, informed the creation of our extraordinary system of government.

It was a different world; when Adam Smith describes pity for another man being stretched to death on the rack, this was a device very much in use during Smith’s lifetime: the Constitutio Criminalis Theresiana that depicts the rack as an officially approved torture device was being written at the same time as Wealth of Nations.

The sorts of freedoms from dictatorial or monarchical whim that we take for granted were of keen interest to Smith and others. They were new territory to be explored, defined, and understood. Now, by our assumptions that such freedoms will always be around, we are letting them slip away — wasting the work of so many great minds. It is not too late, but the nature of the problem has yet to be grasped by most people.

===|==============/ Keith DeHavelle

Adam Smith wrote the passage Keith mentioned above in The Theory of Moral Sentiments. Here it is.

As we have no immediate experience of what other men feel, we can form no idea of the manner in which they are affected, but by conceiving what we ourselves should feel in the like situation. Though our brother is upon the rack, as long as we ourselves are at our ease, our senses will never inform us of what he suffers. They never did, and never can, carry us beyond our own person, and it is by the imagination only that we can form any conception of what are his sensations. Neither can that faculty help us to this any other way, than by representing to us what would be our own, if we were in his case. It is the impressions of our own senses only, not those of his, which our imaginations copy. By the imagination we place ourselves in his situation, we conceive ourselves enduring all the same torments, we enter as it were into his body, and become in some measure the same person with him, and thence form some idea of his sensations, and even feel something which, though weaker in degree, is not altogether unlike them. His agonies, when they are thus brought home to ourselves, when we have thus adopted and made them our own, begin at last to affect us, and we then tremble and shudder at the thought of what he feels. For as to be in pain or distress of any kind excites the most excessive sorrow, so to conceive or to imagine that we are in it, excites some degree of the same emotion, in proportion to the vivacity or dulness of the conception. (from here)

Since we no longer use torture racks (at least for the time being), I suppose some are not familar with the device. Wikipedia has an article here.  However, Adam Smith did not want us to become experts in torture.

When Adam Smith wrote The Theory of Moral Sentiments, what was he trying to accomplish? He wanted to explain how we are capable of forming moral judgements.

morality
     n 1: concern with the distinction between good and evil or right
          and wrong; right or good conduct [ant: immorality]
     2: motivation based on ideas of right and wrong [syn: ethical
        motive, ethics, morals]

Without the capacity to properly distinguish between good and evil, no people can long tolerate liberty.

Statesmen, my dear Sir, may plan and speculate for Liberty, but it is Religion and Morality alone, which can establish the Principles upon which Freedom can securely stand. The only foundation of a free Constitution is pure Virtue, and if this cannot be inspired into our People in a greater Measure than they have it now, They may change their Rulers and the forms of Government, but they will not obtain a lasting Liberty. They will only exchange Tyrants and Tyrannies. — John Adams (Letter to Zabdiel Adams (21 June 1776))

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