Can We Become the Impartial Spectator?
November 11, 2019
To what extent did Smith believe we can become the impartial spectator?
I agree with Sam and the referee. I do not think that we can ever fully enter into the Impartial Spectator, just like we can never fully sympathize with other people. We try, and we are guided by the man within the breast, but he is not perfect. Earlier on in the same Part, in III.2.32, Smith writes:
"But though man has, in this manner, been rendered the immediate judge of mankind, he has been rendered so only in the first instance; and an appeal lies from his sentence to a much higher tribunal, to the tribunal of their own consciences, to that of the *supposed* impartial and well-informed spectator, to that of the man within the breast, the great judge and arbiter of their conduct." (emphasis added).
The word "supposed" is key there. Our man within the breast, the man whose judgment we appeal to, is a supposed representation of the Impartial Spectator, but he is not perfect. Through reflection on our actions, and our judgments of those actions, and our judgments of those judgments (etc), we can help our supposed impartial spectator get closer to the Impartial Spectator, but he can still never be absolutely perfect.
Thanks for the comment, Jon!