How Enlightened was the Enlightenment?


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                                                                                                                                      Week 6 Human Nature in Adam Smith etc




Extracts from Adam Smith:


From The Wealth of Nations:

WN 1 As every individual, therefore, endeavours as much as he can both to employ his capital in the support of domestic industry, and so to direct that industry that its produce may be of greatest value; every individual necessarily labours to render the annual revenue of society as great as he can. He generally, indeed, neither intends to promote the public interest, nor knows how much he is promoting it. By preferring the support of domestic to foreign industry, he intends only his own security; and by directing that industry insuch a manner as its produce may be of the greatest value, he intends only his own gain, and he is in this, as in many other cases, led by an invisible hand to promote an end which was no part of his intention.  Nor is it always the worse for society that it was no part of it. By pursuing his own interest he frequently promotes that of society more effectually than when he really intends to promote it. I have never known much good done by those who affected to trade for the public good. It is an affectation, indeed, not very common among merchants, and very few words need be employed in dissuading them from it.  [Wealth of Nations (1776) IV ii]


From the Theory of Moral Sentiments (TMS):


TMS 1. “How selfish soever man may be supposed, there are evidently some principles in his nature, which interest him in the fortune of others and render their happiness necessary unto him, though he derives nothing from it except the pleasure of seeing it. Of this kind is pity or compassion, the emotion which we feel for the misery of others when we either see it or are made to conceive it in a lively manner… By the imagination we place ourselves in his situation… we enter, as it were, into his body and become in some measure the same person with him.” (Opening words of TMS)


TMS 2.        Were it possible that a human creature could grow up to manhood in some solitary place, without any communication with his own species, he could no more think of his own character, of the propriety or demerit of his own sentiments and conduct, of the beauty or deformity of his own mind, than of the beauty or deformity of his own face. All these are objects which he cannot easily see... and with regard to which he is provided with no mirror which can present them to his view.  Bring him into society, and he is immediately provided with the mirror which he wanted before.  [from Raphael, D.D.: Adam Smith, Fontana 1985]


TMS 2b.      The sentiment or affection of the heart from which any action proceeds, and upon which its whole virtue or vice must ultimately depend, may be considered under two different aspects, or in two different relations; first in relation to the cause which excites it, or the motive which gives occasion to it; and secondly, in relation to the end which it proposes, or the effect which it tends to produce...       In the suitableness or unsuitableness, in the proportion or disproportion which the affection seems to bear to the cause or object which excites it, consists the propriety or impropriety, the decency or ungracefulness of the consequent action... in the beneficial or hurtful nature of the effects which the affection aims at, or tends to produce, consists the merit or demerit of the action, the qualities by which it is entitled to reward, or is deserving of punishment.  [Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759) I i (iii)]


TMS 3.        We suppose ourselves the spectators of our own behaviour, and endeavour to imagine what effect it would, in this light, produce upon us.  This is the only looking-glass by which we can, in some measure, with the eyes of other people, scrutinize the propriety of our own conduct. [TMS I iii (iii) (?)]


TMS 4.        Self-preservation and the propagation of the species, are the great ends which Nature seems to have proposed in the formation of all animals... [TMS II i (v)].  Nature, indeed, seems to have happily adjusted our sentiments of approbation and disapprobation, to the conveniency both of the individual and of the society…  [TMS IV ii]


TMS 5.        [The perfection of human nature is] to feel much for others and little for ourselves... to restrain our selfish, and to indulge our benevolent affections... As to love our neighbour as we love ourselves is the great law of Christianity, so it is the great precept of nature to love ourselves only as we love our neighbour, or, what comes to the same thing, as our neighbour is found capable of loving us.  [TMS I i (v)]  


TMS 6.        Mere justice is, upon most occasions, but a negative virtue, and only hinders us from harming our neighbour. The man who barely abstains from violating either the person or the estate, or the reputation, of his neighbours, has surely little positive merit. [TMS II ii (v)]


TMS 7.        This disposition to admire, and almost to worship, the rich and powerful, and to despise or, at least, to neglect persons of poor and mean condition, though necessary both to establish and to maintain the distinction of ranks in the order of society, is, at the same time, the great and most universal cause of the corruption or our moral sentiments.  [TMS I iii (iii)]


TMS 8.        In what constitutes the real happiness of life, [the poor and obscure] are in no respect inferior to those who would seem so much above them. In ease of body and peace of mind, all the different ranks of life are nearly upon a level, and the beggar, who suns himself by the side of the highway, possesses that security which kings are fighting for. [TMS IV]


TMS 9.        And it is well that nature imposes upon us in this manner.  It is this deception which arouses and keeps in continual motion the industry of mankind...


It is to no purpose that the proud and unfeeling landlord views his extensive fields, and without a thought for the wants of his brethren, in imagination consumes himself the whole harvest that grows upon the. The homely and vulgar proverb, that the eye is larger than the belly, was never more fully verified than with regard to him.  The capacity of his stomach bears no proportion to the immensity of his desires, and will receive no more than that of the meanest peasant.  The rest he is obliged to distribute among those who prepare [....] that little which he himself makes use of, among those who fit up the palace in which this little is to be consumed [....] all of whom thus derive from his luxury and caprice, that share of the necessaries of life, which they would in vain have expected from his humanity or his justice.  The produce of the soil maintains at all times nearly that number of inhabitants which it is capable of maintaining.  The rich ... consume little more than the poor, and in spite of their natural selfishness and rapacity, though they mean only their own conveniency, though the sole end which they propose from the labours of all the thousands whom they employ, be the gratification of their own vain and insatiable desires, they divide with the poor the produce of all their improvements.. They are necessarily led by an invisible hand to make nearly the same distribution of the necessaries of life which would have been made, had the earth been divided into equal portions among all its inhabitants, and thus without intending it, without knowing it, advance the interests of society and afford means to the multiplication of the species. [TMS IV]