Wednesday, March 23, 2011

A Blogger Gets Adam Smith Right on Earthquakes in China

Gary Fine writes (17 March) in the Deliberately Considered Blog

On Moral Sentiments in Shaky Times”

After quoting the full paragraph in which Adam Smith discusses the ‘man of humanity’s behaviour and his ‘little finger” in his parable of the earthquake in distant China, Gary Fine concludes:

But this realization is not for Smith a moral desideratum. He, rather, recognizes how our passive feelings revel in what does not affect us. This passage presents the predicate for the remainder of the paragraph. Smith is not coldly cynical – Ayn Rand in a kilt – but he knows that our emotions do not define us to the exclusion of our ethical reflection. “It is reason, principle, conscience, the inhabitant of the breast, the man within, the great judge and arbiter of our conduct.” This is mind filtered through morality. The inhabitant in the breast provides the wisdom that the imp in the heart can not trump. Or so is Smith’s hope. Our emotions may discount distant suffering and make otherness a justification for inaction, but it is the recognition of the honorable and the noble that makes us worthy. Smith wisely recognized that our presumptuous passions can be bettered by active engagement. Smith, I choose to believe, would not be cross with our cynical distancing and would not believe that it will be overwhelmed with the soft power of humanity alone, but rather our good works and best deeds occur when our world – near and far – is deliberately considered.”

If Gary Fine get it absolutely right in his assessment of what Adam Smith was actually saying, why can’t those many other quotation junkies who get it absolutely wrong do so too?

So, congratulations to Gary Fine for his correct understanding of Adam Smith’s legacy. It bodes well for the future.

[Postscript: I liked the other post by Gerald Dayan too: "Voice of dissent should always be welcome in debate" (follow the link and scroll down the past posts link, but note among his commentators on the article, some do not seem to accept the liberty principle enunciated in the post).

This is a common scourge in debates from contributors of both left and right bloggers, who seek to have (in this case Fox News) silenced for its biases. I do not watched Fox News regularly though it is among my Sky News TV channels, as is Al Jerzeera, and it also bookmarked on my Internet connections. I exercise my right not to view them, but would not dream of having Fox News, or any other channel, silenced by State authorities.]



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