Vous êtes sur la page 1sur 3

Adam Smith’s Portrayal of Human Nature

- Yishen Zhou

Before Adam Smith wrote The Wealth of Nations, he was a prominent moral philosophy
professor and wrote The Theory of Moral Sentiments. With this context, what inferences can we
make from the way Adam Smith portrays our selfish nature in The Wealth of Nations?
Our interdependence on each other separates us from other animals, which, according to
Smith, are able to live “entirely independent[ly]” (Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations, P14,
1937). Although man has the ability to consciously cooperate with each other, we retain the basic
biological nature of “self-love” apparent in other animals that ultimately lead to collective gains.
Like animals, by fulfilling our self-interests, we simultaneously benefit those around us. Adam
Smith implies, and I will proceed to argue, that our basal instincts are akin to those of animals
and that they enable us to succeed in life.
Are acts of cooperation more than mere coincidences? By opening the passage with an
anecdote portraying two greyhounds that have “the appearance of acting in some sort of
concert”, Smith establishes that it is “accidental” – a mere coincidence that these two are
working together, not a meaningful collaboration. His choice of diction – “appearance”, “acting”,
“accidental” – strengthened by the use of alliteration, hints at the artificial nature of their
cooperation. There is no “fair and deliberate exchange”, only acts of selfishness that appear to be
a team effort.
Despite the fact that the opening anecdote is an illustration of the self-orientated behavior
of animals, Smith extends a similar image to mankind. He states that help, or “service” is only
rendered “but for their regard to their own interest”. Smith also points out the dichotomy
between us and animals; the by-product of our self-interest is our conscious decision to seek
cooperation with others, whereas cooperation between animals is unintended. We work together
with purpose. Whilst animals are characterized to be “entirely independent” of one another and

Whatever our occupation. the brewer and the baker” – his idea of a “constant occasion for the help of his brethren”. There is an interdependence between individuals in a society. Yet there are limits to what self-interest can explain. It is only during times when we can’t obtain what we want using goodwill and friendship that we turn to exchange. We give up our time and skills willingly in exchange for money and other resources. Smith’s characterization of man is completely the opposite. Smith’s ideas are still apparent today. Yet unlike animals. which . there are evidently some principles in his nature. Smith makes it clear that we are interdependent on each other to survive.Yishen Zhou able to survive on their own. irrational decisions are commonly made in the markets and random acts of kindness are seen on the streets. we are extremely dependent on one another: “Man has almost constant occasion for the help of his brethren. The market economy relies on profit and self-interest as a leading motive. and self-interest.Adam Smith’s Portrayal of Human Nature . and it is in vain for him to expect it from their benevolence only. We climb the corporate ladder by using the “arts” of sucking up. The idea of the animal “gaining the favor of those whose service it requires” can be directly transposed to those of humans.” Yet according to Smith. Helping others is simply a by-product of “selflove” – we feed others to feed ourselves. In Adam Smith’s own words: “How selfish soever man may be supposed. Just like how the greyhounds appear to work in unison to obtain their meal. it takes three skilled workers to prepare dinner: “the butcher. it is a good value to try and get what we want using the least amount of resources possible. after all. our behaviour is similar to those of animals. We have the same basic traits: brownnosing. both humans and animals try to brownnose to get what they want. our selfishness gives rise to greatness as we know how to maximize the value of our collective skills by consciously working together. In evaluation.

Adam. 1937 - Smith. 1976 .Adam Smith’s Portrayal of Human Nature . 24 September 2014.html - Coase. http://www. Adam. I. (Adam Smith. An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations. Ed. I. Adam Smith’s View of Man. R H.org/library/Smith/smMS1. Edwin Cannan. References: - Smith.econlib. 1. 1790). New York: Modern Library. and render their happiness necessary to him.Yishen Zhou interest him in the fortune of others. though he derives nothing from it except the pleasure of seeing it. University of Chicago. The Theory of Moral Sentiments. Library of Economics and Liberty. The Theory of Moral Sentiments. 1790.