Common virtue and the perspectival imagination: Adam Smith and common law reasoning

Jurisprudence 9 (1):58-70 (2018)
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This paper considers the similarities between Adam Smith's device of the impartial spectator and the use of perspectival devices in common law reasoning. The paper adopts a reading of Smith's device as one involving the exercise of imaginative sympathy by an ordinarily virtuous, and culturally and historically situated, spectator who does not have a stake in the outcome of the scene being evaluated. The point here is to show that the impartial spectator is 1) a device of common, ordinary virtue – both in the sense of being located in a culture at a specific point in time, and in the sense of possessing only moderate, achievable virtues ; and 2) a device that enables a focus on a situation, which requires imaginative work, emotional engagement and careful, particularised description. Having so modelled Smith's device, the paper shows the similarities between it and the use of perspectival devices in common law reasoning, specifically here via the ‘right-thinking member of society' test in defamation law.



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Ethical absolutism and the ideal observer.Roderick Firth - 1951 - Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 12 (3):317-345.
Ethical Absolutism and the Ideal Observer.Roderick Firth - 1997 - In Thomas L. Carson & Paul K. Moser (eds.), Morality and the Good Life. Oup Usa.

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