Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Selfishness is No Virtue

Greg Baldwin, President of VolunteerMatch, writes HERE:

The Case Foundation: Why Don't People Want To Give?”

“From The Case Foundation”:

“Well, the easy answer is that it's hard to make people give because people don't really want to. The logic is simple and compelling. People don't give because we are by our nature self-interested creatures pursuing our own survival in a competitive world. Adam Smith and Charles Darwin saw us for what we are: a collection of individuals looking to get ahead, not give back.”

Greg Baldwin has got the wrong end of the stick. Adam Smith wrote in detail (Moral Sentiments, [1759- 1790), the exact opposite of Greg Baldwin’s assertion. There is precious little Smithian morality in selfishness.

Smith’s criticism of Bernard Mandeville (Private Vice, Public Benefit, 1724) is quite specific on selfishness and Greg Baldwin attributes to Adam Smith what Mandeville became notorious for – making a virtue out of selfishness, a theme taken up by Ayn Rand (The Virtue of Selfishness), another person confused with Adam Smith’s diametrically opposed and explicit views about morality. Self interest is not about selfishness.

If everybody tries takes and few give in exchange, commercial society would be impossible. The very act of exchange is about each giving something to the other party which they prefer in place of what they give up to get it.

If everybody expects others to give without them getting something back, we would soon be impoverished. Poverty is the absence of exchange relations; it is not caused by them, Greg.

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Blogger Unknown said...

Thanks for the comment. Secretly I want to believe that self interest and selfishness can be neatly distinguished, but I'll confess quotes like this from our friend Mr. Smith have not helped me to find the clear distinction:

"It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer or the baker, that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own self interest. We address ourselves, not to their humanity but to their self-love, and never talk to them of our own necessities but of their advantages."

` Adam Smith, Wealth of Nations

I'm not sure I fully understand everything Smith is trying to say here, but self-love + self interest do seem to be at least the basic ingredients for selfishness...no?

What am I missing?

5:59 pm  
Blogger Gavin Kennedy said...

See my post on 13 Novemebr.


9:35 am  

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