Saturday, June 28, 2014


From Foucault’s commentary on Greek philosophy and the self-community link to human behaviour
Michel Foucault, The Hermeneutics of the Subject, Lectures at the College De France, 1981-2,  p. 196. ed. Frederic Gros, English series ed. Arnold I. Davidson. Trans. Graham Burchill, Palgrave Macmillan 2005
“Epictetus says, the order of the world is so organized that all living beings, whatever they are animals or men, it doesn’t matter, seeks their own good.   Zeus, God, the rationality of the world, etcetera, have determined that whenever one of these living beings, whatsoever it may be, seeks its own good, at the same time and by the same act, and without wishing to or seeking to, acts for the good of others. The this is is set out in discourse 19 of book 1: “Zeus has arranged the nature of the rational animal in such a way he can atttain no particular good without bringing  about the common utility.  Thus it is not anti-social (akonineton) to do everyhting for oneself” (panta hattou heneka poiein). So, doing everything for oneself is not asocial, it is not antisocial.  You will say that the text says that Zeus has constituted the nature of the rational animal’ […][However, more generally, Epictetus establishes the] natural [bond] between usefulness for others and the selfish pursuit of what is useful or indispensable to each. Second and on the other hand, this bond is transposed when it involves the rational being strictly speaking, the human being.  At this point the bond is established at a reflexive level.  As you know, according to Epictetus, though animals seek and obtain their own good, they do not obtain this by having to take care of themselves  in order to do what is good for them.  They have been endowed with a number of advantages like fur, for example, which frees them from having to weave their own clothes - these are old commonplaces on the advantages of animals over men.  Men, however, have not been endowed with the advantages that exempt them from taking care of themselves.  Zeus has entrusted men to themselves.  Zeus has determined that unlike animals, and this is one of the fundamental differences between the rational aanimal and nonrational animals, men are entrusted to themselves and have to take care of themselves. That is to say, in order to realize their nature as a rational being, in order to conform to his differences from animals, man must in fact take himself as the object of his care.
I came across this today.  Interesting.  Strip out the theological diversions (Zeus, etcetera) and compare with Adam Smith’s ‘intentional’ and ‘unintentional’ consequences of human motivated actions, and we can see the roots of his thinking when using the ‘invisible hand’ metaphor in TMS (1759) to “describe in a more striking and interesting manner” the “object” of the metaphor. ( in Smith’s Lectures on Rhetoric and Belles Lettres” (1962-3) p. 29. In this case the consequences of the actions of “proud and unfeeling landlords”.  The Landlords’ intentional actions as described in TMS - feeding their peasant labourers, motivated by enabling them to labour in their fields so that the landlord’s “greatness” remained possible, which had the unintentional consequence that the labourers also bred children to contribute to the “propagation of the species”. 
Smith’s later example in WN of merchants intentionally preferring to invest their capitals domestically, motivated by their insecurity if they let their capital out of their sight and control, and thereby risked losing it.  This action had a subsequent unintentional consequence that their capital added to their country’s domestic “revenues and employment” and thereby benefitted those living in the local economy.
Given alternative explanation of the “invisible hand” metaphor, ranging from unnecessary and wholly imaginary theological meanings, from Grecian Zeus via Roman Jupiter, through to Jewish, Christian, and Islamic versions of God, who mysteriously manipulates disparate human decisions in markets, Smith’s original and primary rhetorical explanation fully explains his use of the  IH metaphor to “describe in a more striking and interesting manner” the “object” of the metaphor.


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