Thursday, June 14, 2007

An Everyday Incident in a Young Boy's Life

Tim Schilling writes a quite moving piece on ‘Barney and the Theory of Moral Sentiments’ in Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago (here), and I return to regular Blogging with a comment :

Our actions are governed in part, by a need for acceptance by our companions and society’, and this is brought about by a learning process from childhood and from when we enter the company of others, such as at nursery, school and eventually the wider world, or what Smith called the ‘great school of self-command.’

That a young boy was not willing to share his ‘goodies’ with an adult indicates that the socialisation process was not yet completed, a not uncommon feature in any child’s behaviour.

The impartial spectator is the ‘judge within the breast’ and is not heard by the other person ‘outside’, so to speak. The impartial spectator in this case may not be ‘fully formed’ and may indeed be operating within the boy and without the outside person knowing of it.

Tim does not report if the boy was comfortable with his decision not to share, or if he justified his actions, but he had no way of knowing what he was thinking. Acts of selfishness that we all have committedmany critics speak of the "impartial spectator over our lives, including memorable one’s as a child, occasionally surface in memory, if only to embarrass us.

Tim says that ‘many critics speak of the "impartial spectator‘" as the anti-thesis of the "invisible hand" of the marketplace’.

As he is discussing Adam Smith’s two books, he should explain what is meant by ‘the invisible hand of the market place’ in the context of anything Adam Smith wrote about? I know of no reference by Smith to ‘an invisible hand’ in relation to the ‘market place’.

That is a construction placed on the metaphor (which he used only three times in all of his writings) and on no occasion was he referring to the market place. Of course, I speak of the Adam Smith born in Kirkcaldy and not the ‘Adam Smith’ supposedly ‘alive and well and living in Chicago’ (according to George Stigler).

On these grounds, Smith’s impartial spectator (the nature of which he detailed in Moral Sentiments) and his use of a well-known (at least to educated men like Adam Smith in the 18th century: Homer, Augustine, Shakespeare, Glanvill, Defoe, Rollin, Bonnet, Robinet, Voltaire, etc.,) literary metaphor of ‘an invisible hand’ have nothing in common or in ‘antithesis’ to each other whatsoever. That is a wholly false trail to set out upon, and compounds the errors in Tim's formulation of the problem he discusses.

The young boy’s actions are explained by his youth (an unfinished development of his conscience/guidance of his impartial spectator), which, as an outsider, Tim cannot ‘listen’ to – he could have overridden its advice, as many do. No outsider can decide if another person’s impartial spectator is a ‘true’ spectator, whatever judgement is involved in such an odd construction. Neither has the ‘impartial spectator’ concept anything to do with an "invisible hand", which incidentally does not look ‘after the best interest of BOTH parties’ (at least, the “Kirkcaldy” Adam Smith’s use of the metaphor did not do so).

I recommend readers to read Tim Schilling's interesting observation in the context of the impartial spectator; it is a great educator in that it provokes you to think over Smith's meaning.


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