In addition to having the need to attain the approval of others who are judging us, Smith maintains that we have a non-selfish interest in the happiness and pleasure of others. We attempt to adjust our behavior so that they experience pleasure. To please others we must give them objects (i.e., ourselves) to observe that will promote pleasurable sentiments in them. It gives them pleasure when they can sympathize with our motives, where they can identify with the gratitude of the beneficiaries of our actions, when they can see the compatibility of our behavior with society's general rules, and when they can view our actions as a component of one grand system.
Over time, the shared process of searching for sympathy of sentiments leads to mutually acceptable standards. This reciprocal adjustment process of correction, revision, and fine-turning results in an unintended and, for the most part, unconscious system of standards. According to Smith, the process of sympathetic interaction results in the development of the higher virtues, moral norms, and moral order. The general rules comprising such a system of morality are the result of an induction process that each person performs based on his experiences. General rules are based upon individuals' attempts to sympathize with specific actions. It is found by induction that all actions of a certain type, or circumstanced in a particular way, gain approval or disapproval.
The Impartial Spectator Procedure
At this point, Smith observes a problem with his theory and adds the notion of an "impartial spectator" to deal with it. He notes that it is possible for an individual to be judged unfairly based on biased or incomplete information. The judgments of real persons as spectators are partial and biased as a result of limited knowledge of the observed person's situation or the lack of knowledge of the agent's true sentiments. Although the general rules of society that have developed serve as one corrective for partiality. Smith sees the need to introduce a further corrective in the form of the mental construct of the impartial spectator.
Smith explains that sympathy, being rooted in human nature, is an imperfect tool and is only approximate. A person's sympathy is limited because it is impossible to truly become another. A man can never fully duplicate the feelings that he imagines exist in the other person. Impartiality involves the absence of particular personal interests. Smith explains that a person's initial assessment has to be corrected by imagining how someone more impartial than he himself would react.
Smith states that a person sympathizes most with himself and with those who are close to him and least with those that he never sees. There is a hierarchy of attachments that runs from the most immediate (i.e., self and family) to the most distant. Although a man has the capacity for sympathy with others' feelings, this capacity is only exercised in diminishing degrees as the connection to himself becomes more and more weakened. The familiarity principles states that there is an ascending level of benevolence and a descending order of self-interest as we go from strangers, to acquaintances, to friends, and to family.