A Textual Analysis of the Adam Smith Problem

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Textual Analysis of the Adam Smith Problem

Sympathy and self-interest, when examined superficially, seem like conflicting notions. For this reason, Adam Smith is often criticized for writing two philosophical books – one about the human nature to exhibit sympathy, and one about the market’s reliance on our self-interest – that contradict each other. Through careful examination of Smith’s explanations, however, these two apparently separate forces that drive human behavior become not only interwoven, but symbiotic.
In his first work, Theory of Moral Sentiments, Smith seems to argue that sympathy is the guiding force that produces most human behavior. He writes that it is human nature to be concerned with both the wellbeing and
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In this way, society is guided by a morality, which is based in sympathy and enabled by self-interest.
In Wealth of Nations, self-interest seems to be synonymous with selfishness, and be the driving force of capitalism and the necessary ingredient for personal and economic wealth. This is, however, and partial and superficial view. Although in Wealth of Nations Smith does declare that human’s primary motive for most actions is self-love, all of their actions are still made within the moral parameters of society, which were created because of sympathy. A man, for example, will not pursue his self-interest at any cost to the people around him. He has to be ethical and fair in his interactions in order to be seen as morally and socially acceptable. In this way an understanding of, and cooperation with the sympathetic nature of society proves to further one’s self-interests. Therefore, to act morally and sympathetically is in fact an act out of self-interest.
When applied to economics, Adam Smith’s ideas of sympathy and morality actually drive his ideas of the division of labor and capitalism. Firstly, as Smith explains in Theory of Moral Sentiments, sympathy actually creates a longing and appreciation for wealth, as wealth is seen as an escape from suffering. He says that since humans want others to want to sympathize with them, they flaunt their wealth and hide their misery. This is because, due to the nature of sympathy, seeing
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