Wednesday, May 24, 2017


I was sent this snippet by a reader. It appears to be quite interesting and worth a look. Unfortunately I am more or less housebound and the last time I tried to enter Edinburgh University Library, I was adamantly refused entry by an over-officious, uniformed security guard, whose firm refusal was not open to discussion. So I could not get a day’s pass without accessing the library’s information desk, located inside while I pleaded on the street-side of the security desk.
Hence, my commemt is confined to the paragraph below:
Journal of Scottish Philosophy HERE  Lisa Hill
‘The Poor Man's Son’ and the Corruption of Our Moral Sentiments: Commerce, Virtue and Happiness in Adam Smith”
“In order to operate effectively, modern capitalism depends on agents who evince a rather morally undemanding type of moral character; one that is acquisitive, pecuniary, recognition-seeking and merely prudent. Adam Smith is considered to have been the key legitimiser of this archetype.
In this paper I respond to the view that Smith is actually sceptical about the value of material acquisition and explore whether he really believed that the pursuit of tranquillity and virtue—especially beneficence—offers a superior route to happiness than the commercial world of materialist acquisition. I approach these issues partly by considering the roles of beneficence and sympathy in Smith's system and partly by analysing the story of ‘The Poor Man's Son’ related in Book IV of The Theory of Moral Sentiments. As he narrates this story, Smith seems highly critical of the unrelenting drive for worldly success. But what is the real moral of the story? Should people contain their ambition for recognition and material success and pursue tranquillity and virtue instead?
I suggest that Smith's discussion in and around the story of ‘The Poor Man's Son’ points to a significant tension between his personal ideal of happiness and his observations and recommendations as a social scientist.”
I agree that the ‘Poor Man’s Son” parable is a trifle paradoxical. On the one hand, Smith points to the dubious benefit for the poor man’s son of seeking to establish the material aquisitions available to a ‘rich man’s son’, who is born into affluence. The poor man’s son is going to suffer a lot on the road to acquisition, in which Smith speaks in his best imitation of a Calvinist preacher (to which Smith was exposed each Sunday when he escorted his mother to Church).
On the other hand, Smith slides into the unrelenting positivity of such sacrifices by ambitious folk which led to the oceans being crossed, the forests felled, to create farmland, and to the building of great city centres of prosperity (I paraphrase). 
Of course, Smith was born into the social class of educational opportunity, another route to a comfortable, if not a wealthy, over-abundance in material possessions. Smith did accumulate an abundance of books, which was (and is) more ceditable than sets of tweezers, watches, decorative chairs (and the rooms to display them), and other consumables producing stylish manners to suit.
Smith recognised that “the commercial world of materialist acquisition” made everything that created the ‘wealth of nations’ possible. The alternative was to have remained in the ‘Forest’ where the indigenous “king” ruled the tribe absolutely amidst an economy where the lowest members of the tribe were so destitue that the lowest members of a society with developed ‘commerce’ were incomparably richer than the tribal ‘King” of the Forest, who ruled with absolute power his tribal poor. 
It was better to be poor in a commercial/farming society than even to be ‘king’ in an indigenous forest society, let alone to be one of his tribe.

Whatever is imputed as Smith’s moral stance, I do not think it was “to pursue tranquillity and virtue instead”. Smith was quite definite in his actions in pursuit of academic “recognition” and as determined for “material success” to fund his scholarly ambitions, such as the free-time and “tranquility” to spend over ten years writing “Wealth of Nations”, funded by his life-pension from the Duke of Buccleugh.


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