Dan Klein on Smith: Self-Command, Pride, and Vanity

vanity pride self governance self command

May 31, 2024

Daniel B. Klein is a professor of economics at George Mason University. Today, He talks to us about another of Smith’s great ideas: self-command. We discuss what the difference between command and control is, and how its important in today’s society. He describes the prideful man and the vain man, including details such as their reactions to unwanted estimation (usually bad, not valuing them as they value themselves or want you to value them). We discuss whether Adam Smith is a reason-oriented philosopher. This episode is jam-packed, so check it out!



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Juliette Sellgren 
Science is the great antidote to the poison of enthusiasm and superstition. Hi, I'm Juliette Sellgren and this is my podcast, the Great Antidote- named for Adam Smith, brought to you by Liberty Fund. To learn more, visit www Adam Smith works.org.

We welcome Dan Klein today back to the podcast. He's a professor of economics at George Mason University and recently gave a talk on self-command and Adam Smith. So we're going to be talking about that today. We're going to be talking specifically about pride and vanity, something I'm really excited to talk about. I think you're now one of the more frequent guests on the podcast. We've only had a few reach, three interviews, so you should get a hat or something unless you already have the Great Antidote hat. Otherwise we'll get you that or something else. So let me know.

Dan Klein 
Pride.

Juliette Sellgren 
Awesome. Is pride good?

Dan Klein 
It can be, yeah. It goes both ways I think.

Juliette Sellgren 
Okay, and we'll get into that. But first I want to ask you a different take on the original first question, and I kind of flipped them in a weird way. Now I'm going to ask you what you think Adam Smith takes, Adam Smith's takes would be. So what do you think that Adam Smith would say is the most important thing that people my age or my generation should know that we don't? And do you agree with that?

Dan Klein (1.36)
I thought about this question and the answer. You say the most important thing. Well, if you include the really big things that he says, it kind of turns into his whole outlook as the thing, and that's kind of elaborate and it isn't boiled down, so that doesn't really maybe answer the question in a good way. So what I thought I would do is share this five word sentence from TMS, frankness and openness, conciliate confidence, frankness and openness conciliate confidence conciliate means invite, encourage, establish with the person you're being frank and open to. That's a good sentence. So I don't know that they don't know this people your age, but I do think it's something worth reflecting on. So just five words, frankness and openness, conciliate confidence. How's that?

Juliette Sellgren (2.43)
That's great. It's concise, it's understandable. I think I need to keep that in mind. It is long enough to be a mantra. You just walk around saying it over and over again.

Alright, so something as I was kind of getting into this, something that I was thinking about was that we live in a culture that is all about self-control. Either it's virtuous striving towards self-control or a flailing sort of striving towards it. And in some cases it's a, I need to be medicated. I have no self-control, I need self-control approach. Funny enough, as with most things, Adam Smith kind of talks about this, but in the same way he doesn't even call it, he calls it self-command. And I'm wondering if those are the same things or if I'm conflating the two or is there a relationship there?

Dan Klein (3.37)
Relationship, there's a relationship. Self-control is not a bad translation I think. But either way, command, whether you say command or whether you say control, that itself is somewhat broad in his presentation. It can be more of a kind of brute restraining or repressing, but it can also be a kind of cajoling or subduing, almost even a befriending. And he associates that latter kind of self-command with getting your passion itself or your passion to understand a sense of propriety that you're sort of imposing on it or looking for it to show. And that's a little bit more like taming the horse so that the horse is kind of okay with doing just what you indicate you want to do rather than really physically restraining the horse with the bridle and kind of pulling on the reins one way or the other. So command itself has both this harsher and this softer more befriending side to it. You see what I'm saying? So it's kind of broad in and of itself in the way he uses it anyway.

Juliette Sellgren 
Yeah. And so why is this idea of self-command so important? And I guess when do you need one version, the more strict version versus the other more friendly version?

Dan Klein (5.14)
Well, you need some version, whether it's the stricter or the more friendly because we go through life and basically moment by moment we're sort of prisoners of the present and a sort of program or module in us kind of get set on course to undertake and fulfill some task and we have to be that way because otherwise we'll constantly be kind of interrupting and distracting and worrying and hesitating and so you got to do this. But then there's sort of passions that are part of this modular task fulfillment and they can be wayward. So you can have troublesome passions certainly. And so they also need these different kinds of commanding and so then it becomes certain different kinds of characteristics. Often we call them certain kinds of virtues to command these possibly troublesome passions. And this is just part of the layered self. It's really the very just I think the natural constitution of the self. We've got kind of layer upon layer upon layer here.

All of this relates to our purposes and our purposes kind of give our character. So this is all part of our character, so we need self-command. It's not even like we need it. It's the only way to understand even; what we are is kind of layers of this kind of relational passions and commanding of passions. Now one thing I want to try to put across in this conversation is that passions are on both sides of that passions are part of the commanding. So it's not as though there's something a that commands passion, it's the A, which does the commanding is partly passion and definitely involves passion. So it's about this whole kind of nested congealed system of passions, kind of like a republic of passions. That's a term that Smith ascribes to Plato when he talks about these things. When Smith talks about these things, he said Plato talked about a republic of passions. Now Juliette, before we get too far, let me just say that passions are sentiments and they have the more active connotation. Passion is more active. You're being impelled to act by a passion. Another sort of broad, you might say heading of sentiments is emotion, which generally has a more passive connotation. You can just watch a movie and have emotions without necessarily being impelled to do anything. You can hear a story. So when we talk about passions, do understand that we're talking about sentiments, the more active sort of sentiments.

Juliette Sellgren (8.52)
How does this happen? That's kind of like a weird vague basic question, but when we go analytically about talking about some of these things, it's hard to remember that or how we're supposed to think about it. Is this something we should be doing or is this something that happens regardless of our consciousness of it?

Dan Klein (9.15)
It happens regardless of our intellectual articulation of it. Like I say, it's very much just part of how we're constituted and human beings and especially, but I suppose you could kind of interpret or ascribe self-command to other animals. So I wouldn't say I think it's very natural and so it's more just like how best to make sense of it, to formulate it, to articulate it. And so I think that's helping us do here. Yeah, he begins, this is all the self-command section that I'm drawing from principally, and he starts off, I think setting it out kind of schematically and can I talk about a basic division he starts off with there? Does that sound good?

Juliette Sellgren 
Yeah, yeah.

Dan Klein (10.15)
So he starts off right at the beginning saying that there are different sets of troublesome passions. He says that the best of the ancient moralists have seen these kind of two broad sets. The one are those which drive us from our duty and the term for these ones, which in the primary ones he speaks of are fear and anger are turbulent. You could think of these as turbulent passions that drive us from duty. They are those which it requires a considerable exertion of self-command to restrain even for a single moment. So there's sort of a dramatic moment of commanding this rising almost violent passion of fear of anger. The fear makes you shrink and pull back and the anger might make you do something rash. And so you need this momentary self-command, which may be difficult. The other set of troublesome passions are those which seduce us from our duty, and though it is easy to restrain them for a single moment, they by their continual solicitations are in the course of a life very to mislead us into great deviations.

And he says, these are the love of ease, of pleasure, of applause and other selfish gratifications. So I can overcome in the moment my passion for lethargy being lazy or ease or something and get up my butt and start moving and start doing something so I could kind of overcome it. But the thing is these tend to be continual, continual solicitations. He says, and when they are apt over time to seduce us from our duty. So these I call the seductive passions using his word seduce. So we've got the turbulent and the seductive and then he talks about these two types and creates a bit of a scheme.

The controlling of each type has virtues associated with it or names of virtues. So controlling the fear in the moment is courage. In other words that are about controlling turbulent passions, fortitude, manhood, strength of mind. He says controlling, seductive, temperance, decency, modesty, moderation. So these are different sets. He says that controlling the turbulent is often splendid and dazzling, whereas the steady regular creates a kind of sober luster in the guy's reliability, punctuality, steadiness. Now one of the things on this topic of self-command keep in mind is that self-command is not all to the good. I mean self-command itself can be troublesome and in fact especially dangerous because self-command can make somebody very effective. So if somebody has motives or goals, which in fact are bad for the whole for society, having good self-command can make that person more effective in doing something bad. And he says some of the greatest criminals have great self-command and we even find this dazzling actually, and we're even we're very impressed by it. But robbers, buccaneers, he speaks of, and I think it doesn't get all political, but I certainly think he also has that kind of application in mind. So they can be the controlling of the passion. The self-command can itself be troublesome, requiring more commanding like another layer of commanding.

And he does say that we learned the control of turbulent in things like war warlike exploits and the battles of faction and we learned to keep our cool. He says soldiers are especially trained in this and their character is recognized for this kind of controlling of the turbulent role, the seductive, but I think that would just be in ordinary social relationships in the workplace and school and church just in keeping up our responsibilities in regular life. So anyway, those are two broad classes of troublesome passions and each one has different kinds of self-command associated with it. When that self-command is working to the good that we then have these different kinds of virtues that he mentions. We've got on the one side, the fortitude and courage and then the other one, temperance, decency, modesty and moderation. So he's starting to get into a kind of typology and terminology for all of this. Does that make sense?

Juliette Sellgren (16.06)
Yeah, no, it makes a ton of sense and it's a good layout because you deal with the two different types in different ways and they affect you in different ways. And so I think it's brilliant. Something that I am wondering about, you mentioned that it takes some self-command sometimes to overcome the self-command in the example of maybe a villain, a rob or someone who's doing something that's not great but has really good self-command in that case or even in a more minor case of people living their day-to-day lives. How do we know when to end the self-commanding of self-commanding? Couldn't it just go all the way down and all you're doing is sitting around thinking about, well, am I the right proportion of this virtue to this passion and so on and so forth? How do we maybe approximate so that we can actually still enjoy the fruits of life and virtue and all of that without spending all of our time thinking about it?

Dan Klein (17.07)
Jump to sort of the ending to me of this whole topic, we have to develop a conscience and listen to our conscience. And the conscience is something we consult, we get a feeling and we have to get that feeling and move and act at the end of the day. I mean you can always, if you have time, go back and reflect and review and so on, and we do that, but kind of in the moment moment by moment, you were relying a lot on a feeling within you as were, and I think Smith's approach here is very relational in the sense that you in the moment, conscious, self-articulate, self-speaking of yourself as I maybe kind of have to think of yourself as in a relation with another being. He speaks of the conscience as the man within the breast and you've got to get a sense, you're just acting on a sense of Juliette's got a great question.

How many layers of self-command should I reflect on and ponder and hesitate over, but what's my man within the breast? What kind of feeling or whatever? And you've got to push through life, gain experience, live and learn. And so there's no real good answer to that. It doesn't come down to some set last principle algorithm formula. There's not this pure reason of fact plus syllogism that sort of ends the question that never happens and you just got to get used to that and work with it. So that's my answer to your question is that I don't really have an answer.

Juliette Sellgren (19.19)
But I don't want to say good, but it's clear what I'm wondering about. I think we often associate Smith with reason and this kind of logical, okay, here are the facts we can analyze, we can see, whereas this process seems much more as you were saying, relational, it's experiential, you have to do it in order to know and it's different by person. There's not an objective answer. And so how does this fit within the rest of what we see from Smith and what we usually think as Smith's big conclusions? Does it fit perfectly in there or does it alter some of the other stuff we understand about him?

Dan Klein (20.04)
It might alter some of what we think we understand about him. But let me go back to the beginning of what you just said and point out that Smith in fact does not make a big deal of reason, does not bloom large as some kind of basis or touchstone in his writings and in particular in the theory of moral sentiments. It gets mentioned, it comes up, but he is not propounding. I would say learn the facts, apply reason, and you'll get to my right conclusions. He doesn't come across that way at all I would say, and he's often been criticized on that for that reason as being non a sentimental philosopher that there's no, that his sympathy approach is circular and this is one reason the book fell into oblivion for 170 years and I mean oblivion, so he's not actually a big kind of reason guy. He really doesn't propound, I would say, oh, we should learn the detailed facts and reliably applying reason, we'll get you to these proper conclusions. He doesn't really come across that way, nor does he say, oh, we should learn some fundamental general truths and as self-evident fundamental axioms and then deduce from there. I mean neither of those approaches I would say is the impression you get from his work and it's certainly not the way I think of him.

Juliette Sellgren 
It's not the impression I would say you get from TMS because as you were saying, it is very sentiments oriented. But I think maybe it's because he's taking you through his thinking, it's just his writing style comes across as so rational and logical and especially when he talks about economics, which I guess is not entirely what we're talking about here, but I think it's more the common sentiment I guess towards Smith is that that is what he is and that's not quite right. Just because someone is explaining something doesn't mean that what they're explaining is,

Dan Klein 
I mean he certainly can be highly factual and deploy kind of strict logic like logistic reasoning and that certainly has its place, but the notion that the large judgements depend just on that is not the way it works in the big picture for Smith, I would say.

Juliette Sellgren 
And before we get back to the meat of what we're talking about, I want to ask you to situate this. Where does Smith talk about these things in his work and what is it like next to, I feel like this is important for some reason.

Dan Klein 
When you say these things, you mean kind of like these philosophy of science, philosophy of reasoning and thinking almost epistemology is kind of the question?

Juliette Sellgren 
But kind of more even the self-command. Is it just throughout his work or is there a specific section that you're talking

Dan Klein (23.55)
About? For the self-command, there's a specific section and it's a section he added in 1790. It's the third of the three sections of the new part six, which he added in 1790. That's the main source. Of course there's other stuff in the book that relates to it and he does use self-command, the word self-command elsewhere in the book, but it's really very much this section that I have in mind here.

Juliette Sellgren 
So to get back to the seductive virtues, the ones that you point out as being dangerous and that word I think especially in cancel culture, land era, the word dangerous when we talk about words or things is a little sticky. But what is so dangerous about pride and vanity and how do they fit into what we've been talking about and how should we self-command them? 

Dan Klein (25.06)
They fit in under seductive. It's very interesting in this new section of self-command that he sets out that basic distinction between turbulent and seductive and then he starts getting into certain points and he wanders into talking about fried and vanity and he never really clearly sets out and says these are the two principle troublesome seductive passions. But I infer that that's clearly what it's all about and why he gives so many pages to it. And so to say, let me set out a bit this pride and vanity. Pride is sincerely thinking more of yourself than you are.

So your own merit, there's a notion there and in Smith of your true merit and that you should think of or associate with as your merit in the eyes of the universal beholder, benevolent beholder of humankind, which is the highest sense of the expression, impartial spectator and it's proper to associate that with God or something like God. So God as it were, has a sense of your merit and is kind of defined. God is as it were, defined as having a proper sense of your merit. And God is super knowledgeable, so God is right, God is good, good is God and God is good.

There's a merit that you have. The proud man thinks his is higher than it's, and he then expects others to or hopes others to assess him, estimate him as he estimates himself. And so he is offended when he finds that they don't. So there's three estimations going on here. There's the estimation of God, let's call the guy Jim. Jim is our proud man. There's God's estimation of Jim, there's Jim's estimation of Jim, and then there's others, other people's estimations of Jim or if you like the average of other people's or something or maybe just some other person that Jim happens to be with that afternoon. So Jim has a higher estimation than God's by definition of being the proud man and then he expects others to have to share that estimation. That's different than the vain man. The vain man doesn't estimate himself higher than God does.

However, the vain man wants others to estimate him higher than he estimates himself. So both types, the proud man and the vain man, both look to others to estimate them higher than they really are. But the root is different for the proud man, it's that he wants them to estimate him as he does estimate himself. And for the vain man, he wants them to estimate him higher than he actually does himself. So they're both making their mistake at a different point as it were. So that's the two. And then he draws a super interesting contrast between them, which I find extremely relevant and applicable to social life where I think some people show more of the pride and some people show more of the vein and I'd like to share those descriptions. But first I'll give you a chance, but let me just say and before I go any further, let just that I have as having the vice of the proud man, which is that I estimate myself higher than I am and not so much the vice of the VA man, although of course I have those too. And let me just add before I give you a chance to react, it's not as though you're all one or the other. And he then goes on and says, and of course you can be proud and vain. And so in fact they naturally kind of go somewhat together. So it's not as though it's all one and all the other in each person, but you could think that some people are more the proud and others are more the vain. Does that make sense?

Juliette Sellgren 
Yeah, it does. It sounds like we're screwed not to put it in a ah, and it's not like we're screwed as in the entire American order is falling apart, type of screwed that we sometimes talk about- are you pessimistic or optimistic on the podcast? But it is more of a fundamental question that it leads us to, which is how do we properly estimate that and how do we then fix it?

Dan Klein (30.44)
It's a big challenge and it's a tough question, but it's our responsibility to work on that and to do better than we otherwise would and everybody's constrained and limited. So don't get too down on yourself. Let me bring in another thing that's very much involved here and that he does talk about in this discussion in estimating yourself, he speaks of two different standards by which you might do so. One is a very high kind of exact propriety and perfection standard and Jesus is the figure that represents that in human form. So I mean I haven't seen Jesus lately, so I don't have a clear picture of how Jesus' conduct, but the idea of a notional, even if somewhat vague, very high, that's the very high standard. And then there is the standard that is basically fair to middling among those around you, your peer group, your reference group, and those are two different standards, kind of how am I doing compared to my peers and friends and adversaries or whomever and how am I doing with respect to some very high perfection oriented notion that I also maintain.

The proud man focuses too much on the local average around me standard. And let's assume that he's superior to that or plausibly superior to that. He then feels that's that self-satisfaction and he feels himself higher. He ends up thinking of himself higher than he is kind of like because looking down on the people around him and he neglects too much that high standard, the wise and virtuous man on the other hand, and that's another character that Smith gives in this section. So that's another character in the cast of characters, the wise and virtuous man. He looks up, he's always mindful of the high standard and therefore looking up, remember I told you about looking up cilia?

Juliette Sellgren 
Yes. So many people have come to me and talked about that. So many people have asked me about that since our last recording. Yeah.

Dan Klein 
That's interesting. Yeah, I wonder if anybody…

Juliette Sellgren 
That's highly mentioned…

Dan Klein 
Has had kind of an experience of interest about it. But so anyway, by looking up, he doesn't have this tendency to overestimate himself. He always feels himself falling short. He's always mindful of what he would like to become and feels himself and sees himself falling short. But that's the nature of things. We're always both looking up and looking around. And so again, you can't get too down on yourself and even God as it were would be very forgiving. I mean we're human, even if you want to get a Christian about it, we are human, we're creatures of God. We aspire to be children of God. That's the kind of looking up and moving up and becoming more virtuous aspect of the challenge, the test. So that's just the way it is in this temporal world to get all Christian about it. Not that I'm a Christian, that's just again, get used to it. That's what we're in for.

Juliette Sellgren (34.55)
Well, so when we see self-command of other passions such as the turbulent ones, we see virtue as a product of that. What are the flip sides really? What are the virtues that come out of self-command and understanding and seeing clearly vanity and pride?

Dan Klein 
I do think that talking about vanity and pride formulating them, and I would like to share these descriptions at some point soon. 

Juliette Sellgren 
You go ahead right now.

Dan Klein (35.34)
Alright, let me just finish something of an answer to the question is that I do think that thinking about these things, hearing the descriptions, the distinctions, the terminology does help, can help. I think our culture has been very bad at talking about virtue, has been very incompetent. And that is because I think our full orientation has been too mechanistic and reductionist and anti-religious frankly. And so it's good if we can return to this more spiritual approach which Smith ultimately is teaching. So in the interest of putting a little bit more description on these two characters, these two guys who have fallen victim as it were to some of their own seductive passions, one give you sincerely thinks more of himself than he is, and I've got a whole series of things to say about the proud man and then I'll do a series of things about the vain.

Okay, if you appear not to respect him as he respects himself, he is more offended than mortified. He disdains to court your esteem. He affects even to despise it. He seems to wish not so much to excite your esteem for himself as to mortify that for yourself. Again, he kind of enjoys looking down on what's around him. So if he can lower that, he feels elevated. The proud man never flatters and is frequently scarce civil to anybody. He is full of indignation at the unjust superiority as he thinks it, which is given to other people. Now you know me, Juliette, this sounds like me, right? The proud man I'm going to go on. The proud man is careful to preserve his independency and studies to be frugal and attentive in all of his expenses. I dunno if you've ever seen the dump condo that I live in or the car that I drive, the proud man does not always feel himself at the ease.

At his ease in the company of his equals and still less in that of his superiors. He has recoursed the humbler company for which he has little respect that of his inferiors, his flatterers and dependence. Pride is always a grave, and a severe passion. The lies he talks about for each the kind of falsehoods or lies, they tend to tell the lies of pride whenever it condescends to falsehood are more serious than white lives. Now there is an upside to both of these characters and he says for pride when there is a real superiority in the geist character, that is to say he's not as high as he thinks, but he is actually higher than a lot of his peers. Pride is frequently attended with many respectable virtues, with truth, with integrity, with a high sense of honor, with cordial and steady friendship with the most inflexible firmness and resolution is a proud guide. Pride often lacks what I call upward vitality. So now I quote Smith, the proud man is commonly too well contented with himself to think that his character requires any amendment. The man who feels himself all perfect naturally enough despises all further improvement. So that's the proud man. Now let me give you the vain man or do you want to comment on that Juliet?

Juliette Sellgren
I just want to say wow, please continue.

Dan Klein (39.44)
Okay, so now I'm going down actually kind of like the next row of a table I made. So these mostly line up to things I just said because he does it that way. He makes these points about both kind of going through the paragraphs. Okay, the vain man, when you appear to view him in his proper colors, he is much more mortified than offended. That was the reverse for the proud man. He was offended rather than mortified. It's not like he really cares that you don't. I'll just go on about the vain man. Far from this is the vain man far from despising your esteem. He courts it with the most anxious assiduity, far from wishing to mortify your self-estimation. He is happy to cherish it in hopes that in return you will cherish his own. He flatters in order to be flattered, he studies to please an endeavors to bribe you into a good opinion of him by politeness and complacence and sometimes even by real and essential.

Good offices though often displayed with unnecessary ostentation, he often reduces himself to poverty and distress long before the end of his life. So unlike the proud man who's content to sit in his dump home and brood on his own, the vain man needs to have a nice car and be well dressed and be out and be seen. And so he often gets himself into financial trouble. He courts the company of a superiors as much as the proud man shuns it. He haunts the courts of kings and the levies of ministers and gives himself the heir of being a candidate of fortune and preferment. He is fond of being admitted to the tables of the great and still more fond of magnifying to other people the familiarity with which he is honored there. He associates himself as much as he can with fashionable people, with those who are supposed to direct the public opinion with the witty, with the learned, with the popular.

And he shuns the company of his best friends whenever the very uncertain current of public favor happens to run in any respect against them, with the people to whom he wishes to recommend himself, he employs unnecessary ostentation, groundless, pretensions, constant assentation, frequently flattering, not withstanding all of its groundless, pretensions, however, vanity is almost always a sprightly and a gay and very often a good natured passion. So here he gets into some of the positive things about vanity. He says, first of all, the worst falsehoods of vanity are all what we call white lies. Vanity is frequently attended with many amiable passions, with humanity, with politeness, with a desire to oblige in all little matters and sometimes with a real generosity and great ones, a generosity, however, which it often wishes to display in the most splendid colors that it can. Unlike pride, as I said, vanity does show more capacity for upward vitality and especially in the young Smith says, vanity is very frequently, no more than an attempt prematurely to usurp that glory before it is due though your son under five and 20 years of age should be, but a cox comb do not.

Upon that account despair of his becoming before he's 40, a very wise and worthy man and a real proficient in all those talents and virtues to which at present he may only be an ostentatious and empty pretender. The great secret of education is to direct vanity to proper objects. So that's a lot. Your thoughts on all that?

Juliette Sellgren (44.01)
The very last thing you said, really I'm not finding the right word, really brought together a lot of the things that have been circulating in my mind, which is that I think a lot of the liberal values and virtues that we talk about, right, humility, curiosity, those sorts of things seem to be, I don't want to say solutions because it seems more gray than black and white. They're not necessarily all bad all the time. And there's something that we humans have to live with and learn about ourselves and other people around us because we all have these aspects to differing degrees. But if we lean into the liberal virtues, there's kind of a way out we can get better on these fronts, right?

Dan Klein (44.51)
We got to expect people to be showing a lot of pride and a lot of vanity and kind of tolerate it and smile about it and joke about it and joke about our own pride and vanity constantly. And a liberal society is a society where you kind of expect, and that's why commutative justice is so important. Commutative justice says, look, people have these different notions about what's good and how virtuous they are and what virtue implies in terms of what you should believe, what you should do, who you should vote for. But look, folks, let's put aside all those, I mean not put aside, but beyond all those loose, vague, and indeterminate matters, which we can't help disagreeing on. In fact, we can't help disagreeing on our former selves with our former selves on because we're upward. We hope. Let's all agree on those other rules which are not like that, which are precise and accurate, which are grammar, which are property promises due, not messing with your neighbor's stuff.

And then let's kind of look for a politics where the government is under an obligation to not mess with other people's stuff unless it can give a really good reason, a presumption of liberty. I mean, we got to go back to the grammars of society just to keep the peace, just to give us a framework so that we can all then kind of tolerate all of our vices and foibles and then we can all try to pursue happiness, right? Life, liberty, that's the grammar and the pursuit of happiness. So all of this stuff about how fallen we are and imperfect we are in a way highlights the importance of emphasizing, let's keep a clear focus on the grammar and maintain the grammar. Does that make sense?

Juliette Sellgren 
Yeah, no, it totally does. And speaking of justice, something I've been thinking about as you've been talking about this is this idea of, I say justice.

Juliette Sellgren (47.28)
Justice, which we've talked about before, but Smith uses the word estimation a lot in talking about this stuff. So I'm wondering how the two relate if there is a relationship there.

Dan Klein 
Totally. Look, estimated justice is nothing more than estimating objects properly. Now that's a big thing, that's a big heading, but it's three words estimating objects properly and one object for estimation is you like, okay, what's your estimation of you? And the proud man overestimates that object, the VA man does not, but he wants other people to. 

Juliette Sellgren 
Yeah , I see. So you mentioned earlier that society today is kind of mechanistic. I was wondering what you mean by that description and how that ties into everything we've been talking about, how it maybe leads us down the wrong path or does it actually lead us toward the right path?

Dan Klein (48.38)
I think it can lead us down the wrong path, especially when it becomes too exclusive and doesn't give proper central place, I would say central place to this relational spiritual approach to ethics and epistemology. And by the way, I see epistemology as nested within ethics. So the mechanistic thing looks too much to somehow get to a final answer. You might say. First principle, self-evident truth, a foundation. Sometimes people say, and this is ways of trying to flatten things down again to something like fact plus syllogism, it often has this rationalistic flavor in the way people speak of it or promote it. You might say it has a certain materialism in certain respects, reductionism.

And so it's kind of appealing or invoking something that's not another human-like being. Whereas the other side here, the contrasting approach does suppose that it is about relating to another being either another human being or a super human being, an imaginative being, a godly, being a theistic, being a spirit, a mythical spirit. I'm open there and I'm in agnostic. So I'm not saying to find God and believe in God in the full sense of the word God. I don't think you necessarily, I don't, I'm agnostic on that. But you need a being and the being helps you and you commune or encounter the being through sentiment, including passions, and it is precisely passions from that being that help you to move upward, that help you be more virtuous. So this whole approach stands opposed to the notion of, okay, people get a grip on yourself. You are thinking emotionally what you need is to think reasonably or rationally. And so you got to separate the emotion from, or the sentiment or the passion. You got to separate the sentimental from the logical and put the sentiments aside and get the logic. And then you can see you have your emotions based on the proper logic. That's not exactly how it works.

Juliette Sellgren 
We tend to work simultaneously.

Dan Klein (51.57)
They're like interpenetrating, interwoven, and you never have an entirety, you never have this, shouldn't even be hoping to, it's more like what we are after as proper sentiment because we never get to a final, we never get to something other than as it were, another relational thing with a being or with the same being the same high being of some sort. Our conscience, again, he speaks of the conscience as the man within the breast, like a being. And I think we should think that way. We should actually think of spirits and I don't mean go and talk to spirits and whatever. I'm not like goofy or culty.

Juliette Sellgren 
Shoot, I just looked at my nearest crystal store. Is that not what you're talking about?

Dan Klein 
No, that's not what I'm talking about. It's not like I, I'm sort of quasi religion, but it's not that I speak to God so to speak, as though it's like a being across the dinner table or up there in the ceiling or in the sky that so it's not, yeah, but still it's all of the stuff that kind of implies use the word invisible a lot. It kind of implies that's actually the way to organize this ethical thinking is along the pattern of benevolent monotheism. And so that's an approach, very different. I call it beholder. I'm starting to call it beholder. And so the beholder or spiritual, relational, like I've been saying, you might say use also beholder, like a beholder that stands kind of in contrast to this other approach. Rationalistic, mechanistic, I might say Foundationalist. And I think I'm getting Smith right on this, and this is kind of different from, I think the majority of what Smith scholars and a lot of the discussion around Smith has been up until now.

Juliette Sellgren 
Is this kind of a new way that you've been reading Smith or how did you come about not just thinking, oh, the man within the breast, but the being within the breast. How did you I don't know, read into that?

Dan Klein (54.35)
I don't think what I'm saying is terribly new and in some older sense before TMS fell into oblivion, I think it was very natural to Christendom to think in terms of this beholder. And it was couched in terms of God and Smith explicitly affirms divine providence and God in TMS. And maybe sincerely, I'm not sure about that or how sincerely or what exactly. So I mean it's not like what I'm saying is new in some sense it's very old and original and is the whole arc of Christianity of benevolent monotheism. But then we fell off a cliff, we being Western civilization and we went into the wrong directions. And it was only after we found that those directions didn't pan out, that we couldn't find some non relational, non being sort of formulation that actually provided useful and workable foundations fact plus syllogisms or something. And all that went crashed and burned that a move came at the end of the 20th century against that kind of approach. And that's when people stopped holding TMS’s non foundationalism against it and rediscovered it. That's when the book came roaring out of oblivion and is now so very vastly popular because people enough people don't hold, its non-foundationalism against it. And I'm just picking up on that and moving in that.

And it does all this does relate to the expression impartial spectator very much. And I, along with Ryan Hanley and Jeff Young and many others that I could name, see the beholder is and affirm the beholder. But on the other hand, there are many Smith scholars who don't really get the G, tend to kind of limit the expression, impartial spectator to just the conscience. And they don't bring it higher to this beholder idea, this universal beholder idea, godlike idea, which I think is absolutely necessary. And Smith specifically says the conscience is a representative of what I take him to be referring to there as this universal beholder. So there is differences. There are differences or disagreements in Smith scholarship about some of this and about how high impartial spectator goes, like the term impartial spectator and I bring it all the way up to God or God being,

Juliette Sellgren (57.42)
What do you think is one thing that Adam Smith believed at one time in his life that he later changed his position on and why? I know that's tricky. So I sent you another version of this, which is there anything Adam Smith believed that you originally disagreed with or agreed with that you've come to change your position on and why?

Dan Klein (58.04)
Lemme quickly take the second, the second and then say maybe something a little bit more about the first. The second I think is asking me, okay, so there's some claim X in Adam Smith and can you give an example of where you used to disagree or agree with Smith about climax and now you go the opposite way about climax and not really. I wouldn't say so. I kind of have a, no, I don't have a very good example of that, but I would say that there's many examples where I used to think he was saying claim X, and now I don't necessarily see it that way. So it's my reading of what Smith is saying that may have changed, not so much my assessment of what I still see him seeing that's changed. So anyway, that's not a very interesting answer. Lemme go to the second one.

The second question was do what you think is one thing Adam Smith believed at one time in his life that he later changed his mind about his position on and why that's what it is, right? Yeah. Okay. So what did Smith change his position on? First of all, to address this question, I think we should think about figuring that we're talking about kind of changing his position after he was say 25, because God who knows what he changed from the time he was 10 or something. And we can imagine that he changed his views on certain things, although we don't really know. So in a kind of later life, what did he change his position on?

I think it's a great question and it gets to the idea of an author telling a story about his own progression of thought and those thoughts and that progression is going to involve a progression of sentiment, like sentiments about certain objects like claims or statements and so on. It's a very effective way for an author to develop ideas and persuade people of ideas, is to talk about his own progression that way. Does Smith do that? And the answer actually is pretty much no. The one case where you might say he does it is in the astronomy where philosophize and do science, and he talks about surprise wonder and admiration prompting us to think about how the stars work and everything. And what's really awesome about that piece is that he says, well, I'm going to go through the history of astronomy with the understanding that what we really are doing is coming up with better interpretations of better descriptions of how the cosmos works.

And we never really capture the cosmos, we just kind of manage. We model from one interpretation to another, generally from a lesser to a better interpretation, but none of them are really very finely accurate or complete. And then when he gets to the very end of the essay and he finally arrives at Newton and how incredibly impressive and exact and integrative of both above the super lunar, the heavens and the sub lunar all in one principle about the relationship of attraction at a distance gravity between mass, he says, and I find myself surprised, I'm not sure how exactly he puts it, but he says, I am surprised that I myself have fallen into speaking of it as the actual final truth. And so he expresses this surprise of, I've fallen into the very trap that I was saying we shouldn't fall into. And so it says, it's no wonder that people are so immensely impressed with Isaac Newton's achievements. So that's a kind of cute thing where he talks about surprise as a prompt to philosophizing and then he uses himself as being surprised at himself that he himself has fallen into saying or speaking as though Newton grasped the final truth.

Juliette Sellgren
Once again, I'd like to thank my guests for their time and insight. I'd also like to thank you for listening to The Great Antidote podcast means a lot. The Great Antidote is sound engineered by Rich Goyette. If you have any questions, any guests or topic recommendations, please feel free to reach out to me at great antidote@libertyfund.org. Thank you.


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