29 February 2012

He Said It: David Hume

"We may conclude, therefore, that, in order to establish laws for the regulation of property, we must be acquainted with the nature and situation of man; must reject appearances, which may be false, though specious; and must search for those rules, which are, on the whole, most useful and beneficial. Vulgar sense and slight exeprience are sufficient for this purpose; where men give not way to too selfish avidity, or too extensive enthusiasm."

--David Hume, Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals, sect. III, pt. 2

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

I really like your blog Dr. Otteson!

I have a question on what Smith says in the "Wealth of Nations" and in "Theory of Moral Sentiments". How can we reconcile two opposing views of man. In the former, man is self interested with the invisible hand taking care of society, while in the latter man has the ability for sympathy and compassion. Ultimately, what is Smith's view of man? I'm sure you address this in your book, which I'm ordering on Amazon.

Thanks! Take care!

Susan Johnson, Portland

James R. Otteson PhD said...

Thank you so much for your comment, Ms. Johnson! The question you raise, about how Smith's two books go together, has been the subject of an awful lot of discussion--including by me, in both of my books about Smith. The short answer is that they do not give conflicting conceptions of human nature; rather, they describe different kinds of motivations as being appropriate to different circumstances. We always want "mutual sympathy of sentiments" with others, according to TMS, but when we do not know the people with whom we are dealing--as is typically the case in markets--then Smith thinks self-interest within the bounds of justice is perfectly appropriate.

If you wish to investigate further, have a look at either of my books. Let me know what you think!