Fable of the Bees1723
The nearer the object is the more we suffer, and the more remote it is the less we are troubled with it. To see people executed for crimes, if it is a great way off, moves us but little, in comparison to what it does when we are near enough to see the motion of the soul in their eyes, observe their fears and agonies, and are able to read the pangs in every feature of the face. When we hear that three or four thousand men, all strangers to us, are killed with the sword, or forced into some river where they are drowned, we say and perhaps believe that we pity them. It is humanity bids us have compassion with the sufferings of others, and reason tells us that whether a thing be far off or done in our sight, our sentiments concerning it ought to be the same, and we should be ashamed to own that we felt no commiseration in us when any thing requires it. But when men talk of pitying people out of sight, they are to be believed in the same manner as when they say that they are our humble servants. Those who have a strong and lively imagination, and can make representations of things in their minds, as they would be if they were actually before them, may work themselves up into something that resembles compassion; but this is done by art, and often the help of a little enthusiasm, and is only an imitation of pity; the heart feels little of it, and it is as faint as what we suffer at the acting of a tragedy, where our judgment leaves part of the mind uninformed.