If the Left thinks of Adam Smith at all, it is probably as a profile on neckties worn by their bete noires on the right, but genuine liberals might find him a worthy subject of more in-depth study.
“Adam Smith was a great friend of both the American founding and of American founders personally, particularly Benjamin Franklin,” Ryan Hanley of Marquette University said recently at the Philadelphia Society’s national meeting. The Philadelphia Society was formed in 1964 in the wake of the Goldwater defeat.
Hanley is an Associate Professor of Political Science at Marquette. Moreover, “Adam Smith had a more robust understanding of happiness than Aristotle,” Hanley avers. “He divided it down to the economic, political and moral.” Indeed, the Scottish sage believed that “economic freedom led to human flourishing.”
Nevertheless, Hanley argues that “Smith goes well beyond material gains in defining flourishing and happiness.” For example, in his book, Theories of Moral Sentiments, Smith describes the “agreeable bands of love and affection.”
Yet and still, Smith was concerned with “the improvement in the living standards of the lower strands of people,” Hanley argues.
“How selfish soever many may be supposed, there are evidently some principles in his nature, which interest him in the fortunes of others, and render their happiness necessary to him, though he derives nothing from it except the pleasure of seeing it,” Smith wrote in the aforementioned book. “Of this kind is pity or compassion, the emotion which we feel for the misery of others, when we either see it, or are made to conceive it in a very lively manner.”
“That we often derive sorrow from the sorrow of others, is a matter of fact too obvious to require any instances to prove it, for this sentiment, like all the other original passions of human nature, is by no means confined to the virtuous and humane, though they perhaps may feel it with the most exquisite sensibility.”
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