Saturday, May 19, 2012

Little finger

"Let us suppose that the great empire of China, with all its myriads
of inhabitants, was suddenly swallowed up by an earthquake, and let us
consider how a man of humanity in Europe, who had no sort of
connection with that part of the world, would be affected upon
receiving intelligence of this dreadful calamity. He would, I imagine,
first of all, express very strongly his sorrow for the misfortune of
that unhappy people, he would make many melancholy reflections upon
the precariousness of human life, and the vanity of all the labours of
man, which could thus be annihilated in a moment. He would too,
perhaps, if he was a man of speculation, enter into many reasonings
concerning the effects which this disaster might produce upon the
commerce of Europe, and the trade and business of the world in
general. And when all this fine philosophy was over, when all these
humane sentiments had been once fairly expressed, he would pursue his
business or his pleasure, take his repose or his diversion, with the
same ease and tranquillity, as if no such accident had happened. The
most frivolous disaster which could befall himself would occasion a
more real disturbance. If he was to lose his little finger to-morrow,
he would not sleep to-night; but, provided he never saw them, he will
snore with the most profound security over the ruin of a hundred
millions of his brethren, and the destruction of that immense
multitude seems plainly an object less interesting to him, than this
paltry misfortune of his own."

Adam Smith, The Theory of Moral Sentiments: To Which Is Added, a
Dissertation on the Origin of Languages (London: George Bell & Sons,
1892), p. 193.