Self-Command: Learn This Powerful Thinking Tool

When should you censor yourself, and when should you speak up? Emily Chamlee-Wright explains moral philosopher Adam Smith's 'impartial spectator'.

18th-century moral philosopher Adam Smith argued that you could measure the appropriateness of your words and actions by satisfying an imaginary judge he called the impartial spectator.

Switching perspectives to listen to that impartial spectator is a difficult skill as it requires self-command to triumph over self-love. Wise people imagine the spectator's response and use it to help steer productive discourse – especially in difficult and chaotic debates.

Self-command is an intellectual virtue. It's a thinking tool that helps us know when to self-censor and when to speak up in the interest of civil discourse and truth seeking.

About the Author

Dr. Emily Chamlee-Wright is the president and CEO of the Institute for Humane Studies, which supports and partners with scholars working within the classical liberal tradition. She was previously Provost and Dean at Washington College in Chestertown, Maryland. Prior to joining Washington College, she was Elbert Neese Professor of Economics and Associate Dean at Beloit College in Beloit, Wisconsin.


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