Adam Smith on Sensory Perception: A Sympathetic Account

  • Brian Glenney
Part of the Archival Insights into the Evolution of Economics book series (AIEE)


The aim of this chapter is to propose an account of sensory perception from the known writings of Adam Smith, chiefly his juvenile work, ‘On the External Senses’1. This account asserts that when we perceive an object we simulate its painful or pleasurable effects on our body — we imaginatively place ourselves in proximity to the object and feel some measure of the pain or pleasure we naturally associate or have learned to associate with its presence. When we smell food, our mouths water with the pleasure we anticipate will result from eating it (ES 80). When we hear a loud sound, we automatically shrink with fright in anticipation of the pain we imagine would be caused by such an object (ES 87). As Adam Smith writes, the senses ‘instinctively suggest to us some conception of the solid and resisting substances which excite their respective sensations’ (ES 75).


Moral Judgment Size Constancy Representational Content Loud Sound External Attribution 
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Copyright information

© Brian Glenney 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Brian Glenney
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyGordon CollegeMassachusettsUSA

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