Adam Smith and self-interest

In Christopher J. Berry, Maria Pia Paganelli & Craig Smith (eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Adam Smith. Oxford University Press. pp. 241 (2013)
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The concepts of self-interest and self-love feature prominently in both The Theory of Moral Sentiments and The Wealth of Nations. Various notions of self-preservation, self-interest, and self-love are distinguished, and it is shown how self-love functions less as a motive than as an orientation. Although self-love may corrupt moral perception, the impartial spectator serves as an antidote. Smith’s conception of self-interest in The Wealth of Nations is a broad one and not inconsistent with the moral psychology of The Theory of Moral Sentiments. That the virtue of benevolence features less in The Wealth of Nations than The Theory of Moral Sentiments is not surprising given Smith’s overall account of sympathetic interaction, as well as the threshold of knowledge required for benevolent action. The chapter closes with a summary consideration of prudence, a virtue grounded in self-interest, and an examination of the status of ambition.



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