New Book Appreciates Adam Smith on Multi-Layered Motivations
John Paul Rollert (14 December) reviews Jack Russell Weinstein, Adam Smith's Pluralism, Rationality, Education and the Moral Sentiments. Yale University Press HERE (John Paul Rollert is a Lecturer in Law at the University of Chicago Law School).
“There are worse fates. Consider Adam Smith. His philosophy — indeed, the fact he was a philosopher — has been obscured by the “invisible hand.” That phrase occurs just three times in his entire corpus and only once in his most famous work, The Wealth of Nations. Nevertheless, it has become a symbol for the “caricaturish libertarian” whose philosophy (if we may call it that) has supplanted the “holistic picture of human agency” Smith spent his adult life describing.
Or so says Jack Russell Weinstein in a remarkable new book, Adam Smith’s Pluralism: Rationality, Education, and the Moral Sentiments. The title is most telling for what it omits. Smith is best known as the founding father of modern economics. More than two centuries after his death, he is still celebrated for establishing a “free-market paradigm” — as Alan Greenspan put it in a 2005 lecture in Kirkcaldy, Scotland, Smith’s birthplace — that “remains applicable to this day.”
…. [Rational Choice Theory (RCT) “in its most vulgar form, that calculus presumes that people are always and everywhere driven by self-interest, an arid account of human motivation.’ …” As opposed to the “formal modeling of rational deliberation,” the decision-making process for Smith is “significantly more layered.” Human beings are buffeted by a wide variety of motivations — some inspired by custom, others etched in our DNA, all shaped by circumstance — and adjudicating between them is not a straightforward exercise in utility maximization, whether in respect to aim or the manner of deliberation….
… “Indeed, what truly distinguishes Adam Smith from the adherents of RCT as well as the proponents of a Kantian-based liberalism is the auxiliary role of reason in decision-making. The credo of the Scottish Enlightenment was famously coined by David Hume, Smith’s dearest friend, when he said, “Reason is, and ought only to be the slave of the passions, and can never pretend to any other office than to serve and obey them.” … Ultimately, Smith’s work, and The Theory of Moral Sentiments in particular, provides us “a process of finding social unity in the face of otherness, of creating a stable pluralism.”… Ultimately, Smith’s work, and The Theory of Moral Sentiments in particular, provides us “a process of finding social unity in the face of otherness, of creating a stable pluralism.” …
There is much in John Paul Rollert review that I would agree with. He captures neatly and convincingly Adam Smith’s views on humans’ “mutli-layered” concepts of human motivation in rejecting uni-dimensional Rational Choice theories and the mathematics of 'Max-U' thinking that dominates many (too many) modern economists, specially where it imagines self-interest is adequate to explain everything or even most, of human behaviour. It is not even an approximation.
Having castrated “self-interest” into mere “selfishness” it ends up with butchers, brewers and bakers screwing their customers over their dinners, ignoring the very words Smith uses to explain how people bargain in the real world, where individuals’ self-interests leads them, via mutual persuasion, to mediate their self-interests to realise the mutually satisfying terms of exchange. [New readers can scroll through Lost Legacy to read my many posts of “Adam Smith on Bargaining”.]
Jack Russell Weinstein’s new book looks interesting and I shall note its details from Yale Press for future reference when I complete my reading of recent purchases of some other recent books on Smithian scholarship.
However, I have reservations about Weinstein’s take on Smith’s approach to education and the division of labour (also discussed on Lost Legacy, often in relation to Chomsky’s interpretations).
Meanwhile if you know of other published reviews let me know of them, please.