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Old Dec 27th 2013, 11:28 AM
Tom Palven Tom Palven is offline
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Default Adam Smith: The Theory of Moral Sentiments

"This Liberty fund edition of 1982 is an exact photographic reproduction of the edition published by Oxford University Press in 1976," 412 pages.


Disclaimer: The opinions in this book review are entirely my own, and you may be in total disagreement with them upon reading the book.

Conclusion: I was disappointed the book, finding it to be very outdated. Although it was not required reading in my economics courses at Cornell, (The Wealth of Nations was) I had taken it out of the library and perused it, and I thought I had found it to be more useful than I find it now.

Summary: Smith seemed to have the ethics of the Boy Scouts of America's oath-- "A Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent." Additionally, he seemed to be honest, and to have a benevolent worldview. He expressed his agreement with the early Stoics in several areas. On page 219 he states:
Every man, as the Stoics used to say, is first and principally recommended to his own care; and every man is certainly, in every respect, fitter and abler to take care of himself than any other person.

Smith deals with the question of "sympathy" quite often, which seems to equate more with "empathy" in today's usage. He says on page 141:
" 'When our neighbor,' says Epictetus, 'loses his wife or his son, there is nobody who is not sensible that this is a human calamity, although a natural event altogether according to the ordinary course of things; but, when the same thing happens to ourselves, then we cry out, as if we had suffered the most dreadful misfortune. We ought, however, to remember how we were affected when this accident happened to another, and such as we were in his case, such ought we to be in our own.'
What befalls ourselves we should regard as what befalls our neighbor, or, what comes to the same thing, as our neighbor regards what befalls us."

The above statement seems to be about as close as Smith gets to expressing the Golden Rule, which surprised me because I thought that I had picked up the idea of the Golden Rule as a moral/ethical standard from him.

In the index under the letter "C" there are 21 pages listed for Christianity, and references to Caesar, Julius, and to such obscure (to me, at least) philosophers as Campbell, T.D. and Chalmers, Alexander. And although Smith used extensive quotes from many different British, French, German, and other European philosophers, there not a single reference to Confucius, nor is there a reference to the Golden Rule anywhere.

Confucius is alleged to have said that all of human morality/ethics could be expressed in one word, xiang-hu, meaning reciprocity which is usually considered to be the origin of the Golden Rule which Jesus mentioned in his Sermon-on-the-Mount some 300 years later, so it seems surprising not to see it here in a book on morality. This may be at least partially due to the fact that in 1759 China was a closed society, and it's likely that little was known about China in the West, and that few Chinese works could be translated into English.

One paragraph in the book that mentions China is co-incidentally the only thing in the book that seemed completely recognizable to me, page 136:

" Let us suppose that the great empire of China , with all its myriads of inhabitants, was suddenly swallowed up by an earthquake, and let us consider how a man of humanity in Europe, who had no sort of connection with that part of the world, would be affected upon receiving intelligence of this dreadful calamity. He would, I imagine, first of all, express very strongly his sorrow for the misfortune of that unhappy people, he would make many melancholy reflections upon the precariousness of human life...And when all this fine philosophy was over, when these humane sentiments had been once fairly expressed, he would pursue his business or pleasure... as if no such accident had happened... If he was to lose his little finger tomorrow, he would not sleep tonight; but, provided he never saw them, he will snore with the most profound security over the ruin of a hundred million of his brethren..."

The above statement might be an accurate summation of Smith's economic theories- that even good, humane, people tend to be most concerned about their own self-interest and the welfare of the family and friends closest to them. This would contradict the views of Marx regarding a potential Workers Paradise or that of John F. Kennedy that people should not ask what their country (nation-state) can do for them, but what they can do for their nation-state, and may give us a clue as to why centralized command economies seem to be relatively unproductive compared to laissez-faire.
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Old Dec 27th 2013, 07:53 PM
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dilettante dilettante is offline
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Default Re: Adam Smith: The Theory of Moral Sentiments

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Every man, as the Stoics used to say, is first and principally recommended to his own care; and every man is certainly, in every respect, fitter and abler to take care of himself than any other person.
I suspect that assertion alone could be the basis of some serious debate.
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Old Dec 27th 2013, 08:28 PM
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Default Re: Adam Smith: The Theory of Moral Sentiments

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I suspect that assertion alone could be the basis of some serious debate.
That assertion is the fundamental and intellectual principle of our modern capitalist-market economy.

It is also the basis for the insane assumption made by economists that people will always act in a way that is purely rational from a financial perspective.

Needless to say, I disagree with the assertion and consider it to be premium quality bullshit. I don't know what percentage that mentally ill or physically disabled people make up, but I think it is patently obvious that they are not better able to take care of themselves than anyone else. And that's just for starters.

Indeed, capitalism seems to seek maximum profits by hiding market information from customers on a routine basis - giving away the lie that is at the heart of the game. In reality, an informed consumer is the worst enemy of our capitalist system and an informed citizen is the worst enemy of our government system. As such, big business and government collude to keep people ignorant of the true state of business and government affairs.
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Old Dec 27th 2013, 09:57 PM
Tom Palven Tom Palven is offline
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Default Re: Adam Smith: The Theory of Moral Sentiments

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That assertion is the fundamental and intellectual principle of our modern capitalist-market economy.

It is also the basis for the insane assumption made by economists that people will always act in a way that is purely rational from a financial perspective.

Needless to say, I disagree with the assertion and consider it to be premium quality bullshit. I don't know what percentage that mentally ill or physically disabled people make up, but I think it is patently obvious that they are not better able to take care of themselves than anyone else. And that's just for starters.

Indeed, capitalism seems to seek maximum profits by hiding market information from customers on a routine basis - giving away the lie that is at the heart of the game. In reality, an informed consumer is the worst enemy of our capitalist system and an informed citizen is the worst enemy of our government system. As such, big business and government collude to keep people ignorant of the true state of business and government affairs.
Seeing as how your hostility has dropped to the mildest of levels, referring only to "insane assumptions" and "premium quality bullshit," I think I'm gaining ground here, Michael. Only a matter of time before you're a raving individualist.
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Old Dec 28th 2013, 10:09 AM
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Default Re: Adam Smith: The Theory of Moral Sentiments

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Originally Posted by Tom Palven View Post
In the index under the letter "C" there are 21 pages listed for Christianity, and references to Caesar, Julius, and to such obscure (to me, at least) philosophers as Campbell, T.D. and Chalmers, Alexander. And although Smith used extensive quotes from many different British, French, German, and other European philosophers, there not a single reference to Confucius, nor is there a reference to the Golden Rule anywhere.

Confucius is alleged to have said that all of human morality/ethics could be expressed in one word, xiang-hu, meaning reciprocity which is usually considered to be the origin of the Golden Rule which Jesus mentioned in his Sermon-on-the-Mount some 300 years later, so it seems surprising not to see it here in a book on morality. This may be at least partially due to the fact that in 1759 China was a closed society, and it's likely that little was known about China in the West, and that few Chinese works could be translated into English.
I don't believe there is any authorative or historical citations for Confucius. All that is available is 2nd hand and 3rd hand references to "Confucius says...".

So you get things like your first line "Confucious is alleged to have said...". That's not the kind of thing one can footnote.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Tom Palven View Post
The above statement might be an accurate summation of Smith's economic theories- that even good, humane, people tend to be most concerned about their own self-interest and the welfare of the family and friends closest to them. This would contradict the views of Marx regarding a potential Workers Paradise or that of John F. Kennedy that people should not ask what their country (nation-state) can do for them, but what they can do for their nation-state, and may give us a clue as to why centralized command economies seem to be relatively unproductive compared to laissez-faire.
I know this is pissing in the wind, but you are misrepresenting Marx here (this is a very, very common misrepresentation).

If you are going to ridicule centralized command economies, please use the term "state socialism" (or "state capitalism" because that's what it actually is. That has nothing to do with Marx or 'communism' since there can be no government with Marx's conception of communism (and therefore, there can be no "centralized command" system). The idea of a centralized command economy was INVENTED and enacted by Lenin*. The very idea of it is totally opposite to Marx.

*Lenin actually created/enacted it. One could argue that the roots of the idea of a central planned economy can be found with the Fabian socialists as well as the Brownist socialists (as well as some other 19th century socialist groups), but I don't think this is a persuasive argument - I credit Lenin.
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Old Dec 28th 2013, 10:21 AM
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Default Re: Adam Smith: The Theory of Moral Sentiments

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Seeing as how your hostility has dropped to the mildest of levels, referring only to "insane assumptions" and "premium quality bullshit," I think I'm gaining ground here, Michael. Only a matter of time before you're a raving individualist.
Really?

I've always described my own political and economic views as "hardcore individualist" and that the liberty of the individual is always the highest goal. That's my general stance on pretty much every issue of politics and economics. I think I'm pretty darn consistent on that.

So how you can believe me to be some kind of anti-individualist, or anti-liberty in any way is totally beyond me.

Btw, I totally reject and ridicule the words and ideas associated with the US Libertarian Party, but that's only because I consider myself to be a true libertarian. If one follows the ideas of the US Libertarian Party, one ends up with fascism and authoritarianism - which is why I oppose it and ridicule it.
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Old Dec 28th 2013, 02:03 PM
Tom Palven Tom Palven is offline
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Default Re: Adam Smith: The Theory of Moral Sentiments

Am I now, or have I ever been a member of the Libertarian Party? Yes, I will confess to that, but I haven't been a member in a long time. I felt it had been co-opted by conservatives, and dropped out even well before the LP News and party officials refused to say anything about the shock and awe on the totally blameless people of Iraq, which was extremely popular at the time, boosting George Bush's popularity to over 80%, the highest recorded for a sitting President. It sure seemed that the conservatives and paid party hacks in the LP were a bunch of opportunist wimps.

So, I've dropped the label libertarian for myself and don't even like to called a libertarian, even with a small "l", and just prefer the terms "individualist." I don't like to called an American, either, although North American is accurate, and "earthling" would also be fine.

Glad that you like the term "individualist" for yourself, too.
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Old Dec 29th 2013, 08:51 PM
Tom Palven Tom Palven is offline
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Default Re: Adam Smith: The Theory of Moral Sentiments

In doing a little more research on Adam Smith I came across a brief synopsis of The Wealth of Nations titled The Real Voice of Adam Smith, by Michael Hauben. I think it does Smith justice, and if you start by reading the last paragraph, those who buy the conventional wisdom that Smith was an ogre might begin to question that view.
http://www.columbia.edu/~hauben/CS/adamsmith.txt
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Old Dec 30th 2013, 07:05 PM
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Default Re: Adam Smith: The Theory of Moral Sentiments

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Am I now, or have I ever been a member of the Libertarian Party? Yes, I will confess to that, but I haven't been a member in a long time. I felt it had been co-opted by conservatives, and dropped out even well before the LP News and party officials refused to say anything about the shock and awe on the totally blameless people of Iraq, which was extremely popular at the time, boosting George Bush's popularity to over 80%, the highest recorded for a sitting President. It sure seemed that the conservatives and paid party hacks in the LP were a bunch of opportunist wimps.
The US LP was taken over by fanatical Chicago/Austrian/Rand types long ago.

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So, I've dropped the label libertarian for myself and don't even like to called a libertarian, even with a small "l", and just prefer the terms "individualist." I don't like to called an American, either, although North American is accurate, and "earthling" would also be fine.

Glad that you like the term "individualist" for yourself, too.
I don't like that term at all, nor do I think it describes me. I am a liberal of the classical liberal tradition. That means I hold "liberty" to be the highest goal - but not at the expense of screwing everyone else.

Which is why I am so negative about the anti-Federal Reserve crap. That's just a game sponsored by the gold companies and the doomsday set. That's Glenn Beck/extreme wingnut territory.
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Old Dec 30th 2013, 09:04 PM
Tom Palven Tom Palven is offline
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Default Re: Adam Smith: The Theory of Moral Sentiments

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I don't like that term at all, nor do I think it describes me.
Michael, in post #6 above, you said "I've always described my own political and economic views as "hardcore individualist" and liberty of the individual as the highest goal." I guess I jumped to the wrong conclusion. And little did I realize that being an individualist means that I am in favor of screwing everyone else. But there it is, I must be just having more of those senior moments.
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