Adam Smith's Prudence (Self Interest-Self Love) Was the Bedrock Foundation and Necessary Condition for the Attainment of All Other Virtues in the Theory of Moral Sentiments and the Wealth of Nations
15 Pages Posted: 3 Apr 2018
Date Written: March 29, 2018
There can’t be too much self-interest or self love, Prudence, for Adam Smith (or Aristotle, Aquinas, Augustine, Buddha, etc.). Without prudent conduct and behavior at the individual level, nothing else is possible. Prudence is the bedrock foundation upon which all other virtues are build. There can be no successful display of courage, temperance, self command, justice, beneficence, benevolence, charity, concern for others or the interests of others, without prudence having been practiced successfully first. Economists, especially, have very great difficulty with Adam Smith’s The Theory of Moral Sentiments and The Wealth of Nations because economists have been raised and trained as Benthamite Utilitarians in their earlier years as undergraduate and graduate students. They thus end up reading Smith only after they have already been exposed to and digested Bentham’s contrary view of self interest, which directly conflicts with Smith’s Virtue ethics approach. Bentham was an acknowledged practitioner and enthusiastic advocate of egoist behavior. There are no other interests except self(ish) interests for the egoist. Bentham sought to destroy Virtue ethics.
Utilitarianism as a school of ethics is in direct conflict with Virtue ethics because it claims that only the future monetary consequences of actions matter. Understanding Adam Smith requires rejecting Utilitarianism completely. Maximizing one’s Utility, where money is used as a proxy by Bentham for one’s utility, means exactly what it states-accumulating the most amount of money for oneself and no one else.
Smith never incorporated any form of utilitarianism into his ethical approach. Economists generally fail to grasp that, while only consequences matter for utilitarians, Virtue ethicists include consequences as one aspect of many that must be analyzed and considered.
Keywords: Kennedy, Smith, Virtue ethics, Projectors, Imprudent risk takers, prodigals, Benthamite Utilitarianism, modern economics
JEL Classification: B10, B12, B14, B16, B20, B22
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation