Sunday, March 22, 2009

Poor Essay Quality Discredits Educational Value

Mark Vargus, described as a San Diego Economy Examiner, writes a regular series in the Examiner.com (HERE) :

Self-interest and greed, the economic driver according to Adam Smith’.

“When Adam Smith started his study that eventually became the book "Wealth of Nations" he was a professor of political philosophy at the University of Edinburgh. Perhaps because of his experience with philosophy he theorized that men were driven by what he called "enlightened self-interest and greed" and wrote that people would act according to that drive.

Today, the original meaning of that phrase "enlightened self-interest and greed" receives wildly different definitions depending on the economist and his interests. Its not difficult to come up with more than a dozen interpretations of what would be the drive for a human. However, I find that the solution starts with considering how a person of Adam Smith's time viewed the world around him
.”

Comment
I read essays from examiner.com fairly regularly. I am not sure what their business model is, but I have the impression their academic model is of poor quality, and, therefore, generally refrain from commenting on their essays.

However, taking a break this morning from my other work, I could not resist noting that Mark Vargus is particularly off-track in his above ‘essay’.

For a start, Adam Smith was never ‘a professor of political philosophy at the University of Edinburgh’, nor indeed was he ever a ‘professor of political philosophy’ anywhere else. Wrong town, wrong chair.

He gave some private lectures in the city of Edinburgh during 1748-51, from which he earned £100 a year, sponsored by Henry Home Kames, later Lord Kames after he became a judge.

Smith’s first chair was the chair of logic 1751-52, when the transferred to the chair of moral philosophy in 1752, both at Glasgow University.

He did not theorize ‘that men were driven by what he called "enlightened self-interest and greed". He certainly theorized about ‘self-interest’; the ‘enlightened’ bit was added by modern presentations of his philosophy.

He never ‘theorised’ about ‘greed’, except to criticise the idea that ‘greed' had any redeeming features, especially as it had been presented by Bernard Mandeville (‘Fable of the Bees: Private Vice, Public Virtue’, 1714/32), with whom Smith is often confused by modern essayists, and especially by Hollywood scriptwriters and not a few academics, who should know better.

To consider ‘how a person of Adam Smith's time viewed the world around him’ it would be a good place for Mark Vargus to start by reading what Adam Smith actually wrote about.

Overcoming my normal modesty, I suggest he reads my book, Adam Smith: a moral philosopher and his political economy’, Palgrave Macmillan, 2008, or, better still, he should read Smith’sTheory of Moral Sentiments’ (1759) and ‘An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth Of Nations’ (1776). He could usefully read the best biography of Adam Smith, such as that of Ian S. Ross: The Life of Adam Smith, 1995, Liberty Books, Indianapolis (student-budget edition).

Only then should Mark Vargus (and the rest of the team at Examiner.com) write essays for students who rely on him to be a competent teacher about Adam Smith’s ideas.

Meanwhile, if the scheme's business model involves payment, then anybody tempted to pay for these essays, should hold off with their cash.

In today's world, these essays are, factually, toxic.

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1 Comments:

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