Prompt: Self-interest and prudence

moral philosophy invisible hand quotes virtue economics prudence adam smith for high school history high school social justice economic history self interest classroom resources social studies


Self-interested behavior, according to Smith, encourages the virtue of prudence. This quotation can be used to launch a discussion into what constitutes prudence, whether self-interested behavior really does encourage it, and what personal prudence might do for society as a whole. 
“Bellringers” are classroom tools that help set the tone or introduce a topic in the classroom. Adam Smith Works bellringers use quotations from and activities based on the work of Adam Smith, allowing you to illustrate the long history of the ideas you will explore in your classroom by grounding them in great books. 

Adam Smith Works Prompts are short quotations that you can discuss with your students to set the tone for your lesson. They cover topics from economics to history to moral philosophy. 

Bellringers are presented as slides ready to pull and use in your classroom. On each slide you can find speaking notes and links to more information. 
  • Click the hyperlinked quotation (for example, look for something like (WN 1.ii.2) to see the quotation in the context of the full text. 
  • Where available, click "Click here for more about this quotation" to visit a short article about the passage in question. 
  • Speaking notes suggest topics for discussion when using each quotation.  
“Every individual is continually exerting himself to find out the most advantageous employment for whatever capital he can command. It is his own advantage, indeed, and not that of the society, which he has in view. But the study of his own advantage naturally, or rather necessarily leads him to prefer that employment which is most advantageous to the society.” (WN IV.ii.4)

Self-interested behavior, according to Smith, encourages the virtue of prudence. This quotation can be used to launch a discussion into what constitutes prudence, whether self-interested behavior really does encourage it, and what personal prudence might do for society as a whole.
 
See the quotation in context as part of the full online text of Wealth of Nations here (link will take you to the paragraph in which the quotation can be found).

Read more about this quotation at the OLL Entry. You may choose to share this piece with your students following their discussion. Do they agree or disagree with the explanation provided?