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(2019) Systems thinking and moral imagination, Dordrecht, Springer.

The role of self-interest in Adam Smith's wealth of nations

Patricia Werhane

pp. 271-280

Werhane challenges the arguments of leading economists, including Milton Friedman, that Smith extols the virtue of self-interest above other virtues, especially in the marketplace. Werhane is careful to explain that for Smith self-interest is a complex notion referring variously to (a) the object of a person's interests which may be interests in others, in sports, in history, etc. and (b) a person's interests in herself as the object of her interests. Moreover, this complex self-interest is by no means invariably a vice such as greed or avarice; a self-interested person could simply be someone who was not particularly interested in others without any necessity to consider harming them. In a marketplace setting, or at least in contexts wherein free exchanges may take place, a position that Smith clearly defends against overregulation and feudalism, each of us will be interested in our personal well-being. But Smith cautions that the market works, and works well, only if we (i) treat each other fairly, (ii) engage in fair competition, and (iii) avoid monopolies.Original publication: Werhane, Patricia H. "The Role of Self-Interest in Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations." Journal of Philosophy (1989) 86: 669–680. ©1989 Reprinted with permission.

Publication details

DOI: 10.1007/978-3-319-89797-4_15

Full citation:

Werhane, P. (2019)., The role of self-interest in Adam Smith's wealth of nations, in D. Bevan & R. W. Wolfe (eds.), Systems thinking and moral imagination, Dordrecht, Springer, pp. 271-280.

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