There Never Was Any Real ‘Das Adam Smith Problem.’ The Virtues of Prudence and Benevolence, Expressed as Love Your Neighbor as You Love Yourself (Self Love), as Proclaimed by Jesus Christ, Were the Main Foundation for Both of Smith’s Books Combined
28 Pages Posted: 6 Jan 2020 Last revised: 20 Feb 2020
Date Written: December 14, 2019
A major confusion has been going on among academics for about 2 and ½ centuries with respect to assessments of Adam Smith’s use of the term self-interest. Economists have been confusing the Virtue of Prudence, which incorporates self-love or self-interest, emphasized by all spiritual leaders and teachers, including Adam Smith, with Jeremy Bentham’s maximization of utility. The Virtue of Prudence has nothing to do with the maximization of utility, assuming that such a task could be accomplished, which is very doubtful, given the lack of sufficient knowledge to estimate probabilities and the utility of outcomes.
There are three separate approaches involved. Adam Smith recognized the priority of prudence above all other virtues, which are related to the Virtue of prudence. Smith accepts Jesus Christ’s precise and concise summary, that you should love your neighbor as you love yourself. "…you love yourself" is the virtue of prudence. "Love your neighbor..." Is the virtue of benevolence. One must love one’s self first before one can love another.
Jeremy Bentham’s maximizing utility concept means to love oneself only, especially one’s money, given that money is the best proxy to serve as a measure of utility, according to Bentham, which all men love. Bentham’s egoistic approach can be summarized as loving your money only.
The altruist position directly conflicts with the virtue of prudence as enunciated by Jesus Christ and Adam Smith. The altruist position is that you only love your neighbor and not yourself. Altruism is not a virtue. Only in very extreme cases can the altruist position even be considered.
Economists have very severely confused benevolence and altruism. The self-interest enunciated by Bentham is always expressed from an egoist position as being associated with the love of money. Financial, pecuniary, and monetary gain only is what Bentham is talking about when he uses the term to Maximize your Utility. Smith and Christ are talking about maintaining your body, health, and good fortune, so as to build up a surplus that can be used, given that the future is uncertain and vague. Money is a tool that will help one care for one’s self. The accumulation of money, for money’s sake, is condemned by both Christ and Smith.
The severe deficiencies in economists' understanding of Smith appear very early in The Wealth of Nations on page 13. Smith presents what he would consider an obvious conclusion. The butcher, brewer and bread maker provide their goods for sale because they are prudent. They do not provide their goods for sale in the market because they are benevolent since it is impossible to be benevolent unless one has been successful first in selling one’s product. The first virtue that must be practiced successfully is prudence. Otherwise, there can be no virtue of benevolence later.
Keywords: Smith, Bentham, Prudence, Max U, University of Chicago, Virtue Ethics, Utilitarianism
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