THE PRINCIPLES WHICH LEAD AND DIRECT PHILOSOPHICAL ENQUIRIES, AS ILLUSTRATED BY THE HISTORY OF ASTRO by@smithadam

THE PRINCIPLES WHICH LEAD AND DIRECT PHILOSOPHICAL ENQUIRIES, AS ILLUSTRATED BY THE HISTORY OF ASTRO

WONDER, surprise, and admiration, are words which, though often confounded, denote, in our language, sentiments that are indeed allied, but that are in some respects different also, and distinct from one another. What is new and singular, excites that sentiment which, in strict propriety, is called Wonder; what is unexpected, Surprise; and what is great or beautiful, Admiration.
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The Essays of Adam Smith

The Essays of Adam Smith, by Adam Smith is part of HackerNoon’s Book Blog Post series. You can jump to any chapter in this book here. THE PRINCIPLES WHICH LEAD AND DIRECT PHILOSOPHICAL ENQUIRIES, AS ILLUSTRATED BY THE HISTORY OF ASTRONOMY

 THE PRINCIPLES WHICH LEAD AND DIRECT PHILOSOPHICAL INQUIRIES, AS ILLUSTRATED BY THE HISTORY OF ASTRONOMY

WONDER, surprise, and admiration, are words which, though often confounded, denote, in our language, sentiments that are indeed allied, but that are in some respects different also, and distinct from one another. What is new and singular, excites that sentiment which, in strict propriety, is called Wonder; what is unexpected, Surprise; and what is great or beautiful, Admiration.

We wonder at all extraordinary and uncommon objects, at all the rarer phenomena of nature, at meteors, comets, eclipses, at singular plants and animals, and at every thing, in short, with which we have before been either little or not at all acquainted; and we still wonder, though forewarned of what we are to see.

We are surprised at those things which we have seen often, but which we least of all expected to meet with in the place where we find them; we are surprised at the sudden appearance of a friend, whom we have seen a thousand times, but whom we did not at all imagine we were to see then.

We admire the beauty of a plain or the greatness of a mountain,  though we have seen both often before, and though nothing appears to us in either, but what we had expected with certainty to see.

Whether this criticism upon the precise meaning of these words be just, is of little importance. I imagine it is just, though I acknowledge, that the best writers in our language have not always made use of them according to it. Milton, upon the appearance of Death to Satan, says, that

The Fiend what this might be admir’d,
Admir’d, not fear’d.———

But if this criticism be just, the proper expression should have been wonder’d. Dryden, upon the discovery of Iphigenia sleeping, says that

The fool of nature stood with stupid eyes,
And gaping mouth, that testified surprise.

But what Cimon must have felt upon this occasion could not so much be Surprise, as Wonder and Admiration. All that I contend for is, that the sentiments excited by what is new, by what is unexpected, and by what is great and beautiful are really different, however the words made use of to express them may sometimes be confounded. Even the admiration which is excited by beauty, is quite different (as will appear more fully hereafter) from that which is inspired by greatness, though we have but one word to denote them.

These sentiments, like all others when inspired by one and the same object, mutually support and enliven one another: an object with which we are quite familiar, and which we see every day, produces, though both great and beautiful, but a small effect upon us; because our admiration is not supported either by Wonder or by Surprise: and if we have heard a very accurate description of a monster, our Wonder will be the less when we see it; because our previous knowledge of it will in a great measure prevent our Surprise.

It is the design of this essay to consider particularly the nature and causes of each of these sentiments, whose influence is of far wider extent than we should be apt upon a careless view to imagine. I shall begin with Surprise.

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Smith, Adam. 2018. The Essays of Adam Smith. Urbana, Illinois: Project Gutenberg. Retrieved May 2022 from https://www.gutenberg.org/files/58559/58559-h/58559-h.htm#C

This eBook is for the use of anyone anywhere at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg License included with this eBook or online at www.gutenberg.org, located at https://www.gutenberg.org/policy/license.html.

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