Sunday, January 29, 2006

Candidate for the January Lost legacy Prize?

KEITH OATLEY (, Canada)Saturday, January 28, reviews “Roots of Empathy: Changing the World Child by Child” By Mary Gordon (Thomas Allen).

Keith Oatley writes:

Of all our human characteristics, empathy is among the most important. Adam Smith thought that the set of emotional traits that includes empathy, sympathy and compassion was the glue that holds society together. He called these traits "moral sentiments."

This is excellent use of ideas from Smith’s “Moral Sentiments” (1759), a books being rediscovered by a wide range of academics. Smith’s “Theory of Moral Sentiments” available at a sensible price from Liberty Fund, Indianana, USA (try

I have a slight worry about the metaphor of 'glue' holding society together - only because of what has happened to Smith's use of Shakespeare's metaphor of the invisible hand!

Keith Oatley is director of the Cognitive Science Program at the University of Toronto. Last year, he published Emotions: A Brief History, and this year a second edition of his standard textbook, Understanding Emotions, came out, co-authored with Dacher Keltner and Jennifer Jenkins.


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