Speaking of Smith
In this Speaking of Smith, Sarah Skwire urges you to Wash Your Hands. Stop an Earthquake, considering how Adam Smith might react to the social and political call for cleanliness and physical distancing:
"Adam Smith might say that the right thing to ask these people is whether they’re really willing to risk killing their grandparents and their immuno-compromised friends in order to avoid losing their little finger."
Or, as Adam Smith himself says,
“To prevent, therefore, this paltry misfortune to himself, would a man of humanity be willing to sacrifice the lives of a hundred millions of his brethren, provided he had never seen them? Human nature startles with horror at the thought, and the world, in its greatest depravity and corruption, never produced such a villain as could be capable of entertaining it. But what makes this difference? When our passive feelings are almost always so sordid and so selfish, how comes it that our active principles should often be so generous and so noble? When we are always so much more deeply affected by whatever concerns ourselves, than by whatever concerns other men; what is it which prompts the generous, upon all occasions, and the mean upon many, to sacrifice their own interests to the greater interests of others? It is not the soft power of humanity, it is not that feeble spark of benevolence which Nature has lighted up in the human heart, that is thus capable of counteracting the strongest impulses of self-love. It is a stronger power, a more forcible motive, which exerts itself upon such occasions. It is reason, principle, conscience, the inhabitant of the breast, the man within, the great judge and arbiter of our conduct.” TMS III.3.5
(You might also want to check out this section of our TMS Reading Guide!)
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