AdamSmithWorks Teaching Resources


Civility, Social Media, and our Need to Self-Check 

Have we become increasingly defensive of our views? Are we less tolerant of alternative arguments and their proponents? Are we too quick to judge? Has the rise of social media increased our propensity to dwell on what disturbs us?  With deep consideration of our responses to these questions, we might learn more about ourselves and how Adam Smith’s concepts of self-approbation and disapprobation can encourage our sympathetic sociability, propel us toward more civil discourse, and foster greater acceptance of others who hold opposing or different views. 

In this era of political, social, and educational upheaval, exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic and an unpredictable future, it is important that we are conscious of our conduct when interacting with others, whether we are debating in the classroom, posting and responding on social media, or conversing in a socially-distanced, masked setting

Adam Smith describes self reflection on of our behavior in this way:

“And, in the same manner, we either approve or disapprove of our own conduct, according as we feel that, when we place ourselves in the situation of another man, and view it, as it were, with his eyes and from his station, we either can or cannot entirely enter into and sympathize with the sentiments and motives which influenced it. We can never survey our own sentiments and motives, we can never form any judgment concerning them; unless we remove ourselves, as it were, from our own natural station, and endeavor to view them as at a certain distance from us.” 

Smith describes approbation, or our self approval, as “the principle object” for “the love of it is the love of virtue.” If we become more concerned about doing what is right, showing consideration for others, not promoting ourselves, choosing to respect others, all for our own self approval, we will depend less on approval from others. 


Thank you for being here with us, and as always, please let us know what we might do for you.

The AdamSmithWorks Team

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Straight to the Source

The AdamSmithWorks reading guides use three types of questions and highlighting to help guide readers. The three types of questions are based on the Great Books Shared Inquiry Handbook

This excerpt is from TMS Part III, Of the Foundation of our Judgments concerning our own Sentiments and Conduct, and of the Sense of Duty

Sample questions from this section include:

  • Do you believe Smith is right that we judge ourselves in the same way we judge someone else? If so, why? If not, what are the differences?
  • What are the differences between: Being loved and being lovely? Being hated and being hateful? Praise and praiseworthiness? Blame and blameworthiness?
  • What do you think stops people from coming clean about doing something wrong when no one knows about it?

Lessons for Fall 2020

No matter what the Fall semester may look like, ASW is committed to helping you teach more Smith! If you missed our collection of Online Teaching Tips, you can find them and more in our TEACH collection. We've added several new Lesson Plans for middle grades and up, including the following:

And don't forget out video series, with classroom conversation starters, An Animal That Trades.

Are YOU interested in submitting a Lesson Plan? Contact us at

For Further Exploration

Civil Squared Live:
A Curious Conversation with Russ Roberts

Join our friends at Civil Squared for a real-time, virtual conversation with Stanford University’s Russ Roberts, host of the popular EconTalk podcast. We'll ask Russ to share the best things he's learned from his interviews about what curious individuals can do to improve our lives and communities. Bring your questions because Dr. Roberts is ready to answer them! This event is held in partnership with our friends at The Library of Economics and Liberty. All are welcome, but advance registration is required. 

Thursday, October 29, 2020 at 12:30pm EDT

Click here to register.
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