Ability to care about others has its limits and that

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ability to care about others has its limits and that these limits are themselves the object of our personal and collective ' concern:
58 THE MORAL LANDSCAPE Let us suppose that the great empire of China, with all its myri- ads 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 sor- row 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 tranquility, 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 multituqe seems plainly an object less interest- ing to him, than this paltry misfortune of his own. To prevent, therefore, this paltry misfortune to himself, would a man of humanity be willing to sacrifice the lives of a hundred millions of his brethren, provided he had never seen them? Human nature startles with horror at the thought, and the world, in its greatest depravity and corruption, never produc:;:ed such a villain as could be capable of entertaining it. But what makes this difference? 10 Smith captures the tension between our reflexive selfishness and our broader moral intuitions about as well as anyone can here. The truth about us is plain to see: most of us are powerfully absorbed by selfish desires almost every moment of our lives; our attention to our own
Good and Evil 59 pains and pleasures could scarcely be more acute; only the most pierc- ing cries of anonymous suffering capture our interest, and then fleet- ingly. And yet, when we consciously reflect on what we should do, an angel of beneficence and impartiality seems to spread its wings within us: we genuinely want fair and just societies; we want others to have their hopes realized; we want to leave the world better than we found it.

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