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2022 | OriginalPaper | Chapter

6. Adam Smith’s Economics and the Lectures on Rhetoric and Belles Lettres: The Language of Commerce

Author : Benoît Walraevens

Published in: Adam Smith’s System

Publisher: Springer International Publishing

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Abstract

Under the light of Adam Smith’s Lectures on Rhetoric and Belles Lettres (LRBL), the aim of this paper will be to reinterpret some Smithian economic and moral issues. More precisely, it will try to highlight the relationship between discursive practice and economic reality in apparent simplicity, exchange. According to Smith, the essence and foundation of exchange and commerce lies in language. The departure point of this study will be to examine the dichotomy that he establishes between two main types of discourse: the rhetorical discourse and the didactic discourse.

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Footnotes
1
LRBL after. See Howell 1975, Skinner 1979, Salber Phillips 2006 for the historical and theoretical relevance of Smith’s LRBL. A significant exception is Brown 1994b whose conclusions, especially on the bartering of the market, are often similar to ours. Yet she does not provide a significant account of the relationship between Smith’s moral philosophy and the persuasive side of exchange. In the first section, this is the point we will focus on.
 
2
See WN, i.v.4.
 
3
See Brown 1994a, Force 2003 and Dellemotte 2005.
 
4
We follow here the way opened by Brown 1994a.
 
5
See Young 1997.
 
6
For the state of the debates, see Montes 2003.
 
7
TMS after.
 
8
See LRBL, ii.38.
 
9
For more details, see Brown 1994a, 70; 1994b, 16.
 
10
For Smith, Man is by nature a social being. The inter-subjectivity is the foundation of his subjectivity.
 
11
Here lies the difference between Man and the animal because Man needs to satisfy his desires but also to make them recognized by others.
 
12
No pleasure and entertainment in commerce?
 
13
Specifically Prose. See LRBL,ii.115.
 
14
«In almost every other race of animals each individual, when it is grown up to maturity, is intirely independent, and in its natural state has occasion for the assistance of no other living creature. But man has almost constant occasion for the help of his brethren» (WN, i.ii.2).
 
15
I develop this point in i.iii.
 
16
For instance, Smith’s use of the term in its broader sense is explicit in LJ(a), iv.13 and TMS, iii.3.7.
 
17
See Dellemotte 2005 for the relationship between sympathy and the desire to persuade.
 
18
This is true for most people but not, Smith adds, for the man of virtue who has enough self-command not to be corrupted.
 
19
A close look at Smith’ moral theory reveals how deceptive this interpretation can be. See below, pp. 13‒15.
 
20
See Plato’s Gorgias for example.
 
21
«No other animal possesses this faculty, and we cannot discover in any other animal any desire to lead and direct the judgment and conduct of its fellows. Great ambition, the desire of real superiority, of leading and directing, seems to be altogether peculiar to man, and speech is the great instrument of ambition, of real superiority, of leading and directing the judgments and conduct of other people» (TMS, vii.iv.24).
 
22
«Man continually standing in need of the assistance of others, must fall upon some means to procure their help. This he does not merely by coaxing and courting; he does not expect it unless he can turn it to your advantage or make it appear to be so»: LJ(a), vi.45.
 
23
«But man has almost constant occasion for the help of his brethren, and it is in vain for him to expect it from benevolence only. He will be more likely to prevail if he can interest their self-love in his favour, and shew them that it is for their own advantage to do for him what he requires of them» (WN, i.ii.2).
 
24
See Brown 1994a.
 
25
See Young 1986 for a just price interpretation of Smith’s theory of value.
 
26
LRBL, ii.40, i.83.
 
27
For a very rich and historical account of the Adam Smith Problem, see Montes 2003. Paganelli 2008 tries a reversal of the asp by arguing that TMS presents a more favorable account of self-interest than WN does.
 
28
We agree with Kalyvas and Katznelson 2001, 553, who write that for Smith «markets are not simply, or exclusively arenas for the instrumental quest by competitive and strategic individuals to secure their material preferences… they are a central mechanism for social integration derived not from strategic self-interest but rather from the inexorable struggle by human agents for moral approbation and social recognition».
 
29
See a paragraph from edition 1 where Smith states that «common looking glasses are extremely deceitful» (TMS, 112).
 
30
The man within the breast is only a semi-god. The perfection of moral judgment is the privilege of God.
 
31
«Man always endeavours to persuade others to be of their opinion even when the matter is of no consequence to them…You are uneasy when one differs from you, and you endeavour to persuade him to be of your mind; or if you do not do it is a certain degree of self-command »: LJ(a), vi.57.
 
32
«Whenever commerce is introduced into any country, probity and punctuality always ac- company it.»: LJ(b), 327.
 
33
The importance of independence will be furthered in part ii.
 
34
In the TMS Smith explains that in the race for wealth, the one who will not be «fair play» will be blamed by his fellows. As a consequence, he is naturally led, thanks to the impartial spectator, to lower his self-love and to be self-interested rather than selfish: «Though it may be true, therefore, that that every individual, in his own breast, naturally prefers himself to all mankind, yet he dares not look mankind in the face, and avow that he acts according to this principle. He feels that in this preference they can never go along with him, and that how natural soever it may be to him, it must always appear excessive and extravagant to them. When he views himself in the light in which he is conscious that others will view him, he sees that to them he is but one of the multitude in no respect better than any other in it. If he would act so as that the impartial spectator may enter into the principles of his conduct, which is of all things he has the greatest desire to do, he must, upon this, as upon all other occasions, humble the arrogance of his self-love, and bring it down to something which other men can go along with. They will indulge it so far as to allow him to be more anxious about, and to pursue with more earnest assiduity, his own happiness than that of any other person. Thus far, whenever they place themselves in his situation, they will readily go along with him. In the race for wealth, and honours, and preferments, he may run as hard as he can, and strain every nerve and every muscle, in order to outstrip all his competitors. But if he should justle, or throw down any of them, the indulgence of the spectators is entirely at an end. It is a violation of fair play, which they cannot admit of. This man is to them, in every respect, as good as he: they do not enter into that self-love by which he prefers himself so much to this other, and cannot go along with the motive for which he hurt him. They readily, therefore, sympathize with the natural resentment of the injured, and the offender becomes the object of this hatred and indignation. He is sensible that he becomes so, and feels that those sentiments are ready to burst out from all sides against them» (TMS, ii.ii.2.1).
See also TMS, iii.3.4 on the role of conscience in lowering self-love.
 
35
The sincerity of the prudent man is underlined in TMS, vi.i.8.
 
36
TMS, vi.i.11.
 
37
WN, i.ii.2.
 
38
See also Winch 1978.
 
39
Young 1997.
 
40
See Skinner 1979, Young 1997, Otteson 2002, Fitzgibbons 1995 to name a few.
 
41
TMS, vii.iv.37; Smith 1987, 237.
 
42
The LJ certainly are the material on which he would have built such a history.
 
43
«But if you have either no fellow feeling for the misfortunes I have met with, or none that bears any proportion to the grief which distracts me; or if you have either no indignation at the injuries I have suffered, or none that bears any proportion to the resentment which transports me, we can no longer converse upon these subjects. We become intolerable to one another» (TMS, i.i.4.5).
 
44
«To approve of another man’s opinions is to adopt those opinions, and to adopt them is to approve of them. If the same arguments which convince you convince me likewise, I necessarily approve of your conviction; and if they do not, I necessarily disapprove of it: neither can I possibly conceive that I should do the one without the other. To approve or disapprove, therefore, of the opinions of others is acknowledged, by every body, to mean no more than to observe their agreement or disagreement with our own. But this is equally the case with regard to our approbation or disapprobation of the sentiments or passions of others» (TMS, i.i.3.2).
 
45
See Dellemotte 2005.
 
46
We follow Danner’s interpretation who convincingly argued that the mutual and reciprocal coordination needed in economic interactions arises from the phenomenon of sympathy. This interpretation is rejected by Werhane because «Smith does not use the term ‘sympathy’ in the WN … and sympathy is not a principle of motivation». Yet she misses the point. Heavily influenced by Turgot and Cantillon, Smith understood the market process at a macro-economic level in which aggregate supply and aggregate demand are the key factors and the bargaining process vanishes. He did not provide a comprehensive analysis of the «higgling of the market» because its influence on the final result is supposed to be inexistent. The market price tends to be equal to the natural price, or to reveal the objective characteristics of the goods. Language is therefore a transparent medium as it does not affect the final values (see Brown 1994a, 73‒74 for more details). Maybe that’s why the word is absent from the WN. Moreover, in this paper we argue that sympathy is essential to reach an agreed valuation as an efficient cause of exchange and not as its final cause. Self-interest is my end and this end is achieved by means of sympathy. See Werhane 1989 and Danner 1976.
 
47
Our social interactions, including here the exchange of goods, foster our own consciousness.
 
48
The emergence of economic (prices) and moral values (norms of behavior) seems to be founded on a similar “evolutionary” process of trials and errors. This perspective was adopted by Otteson 2002 who brilliantly explained Smith’s marketplace of morality. He shows that the standards of moral judgments arise unintentionally from the moral judgments and actions of individuals and that the standards that develop in this way constitute a self-regulating order. This market model of unintended order is then extended to explain the formation of economic and linguistic norms as well. Otteson claims that the market model is Smith’s overall representation of human institutions. I agree with him on this point. Yet, even if he points out the analogy between the three models, they are presented in separate ways. It is as if the emergence of economic rules (prices) was independent of the emergence of moral rules. My argument in this article is that moral and linguistic norms are essential to the working of the «economic» market. The process that leads to the formation of economic values is not merely analogous to the one giving rise to the formation of moral values, it is built upon it. The mutual benefits of exchange relationships are founded on the ethical character of economic agents. Probity, prudence, and fairness are successful qualities in both economic and social life. Fair practices give rise to fair exchanges at fair prices.
 
49
Griswold 1999, 297 rightly argued that for Smith «life in a market society is an ongoing exercise in rhetoric ».
 
50
Furthering this point, we add that man’s willingness to be approved and, therefore, to persuade, is also the result of the “pain” associated with disapprobation which finds its corollary in the “uneasiness” of being contradicted. See TMS, i.ii.1 and LJ(b), 222.
 
51
See Kennedy 2008.
 
52
See part ii, where it is shown that the employment relationship exhibits none of these assumptions. Consequently, the distribution of the surplus between capital owners and workers is unjust and suboptimal. The growth rate is then, too, suboptimal.
 
53
This is an aesthetical and disinterested pleasure. There is an aesthetical pleasure for the man of system too, coming from his observation of the harmony and the order of society in which many people «act in concert». See TMS, iv.1.11.
 
54
See Griswold 1999, 297‒298.
 
55
See TMS, i.i.3.4.
 
56
See Nieli 1986.
 
57
See TMS, iii.3.4.
 
58
See Young 1986, 371.
 
59
«No man but a beggar depends on benevolence, and even they would die in a week were their entire dependence upon it»: LJ(b), 220.
 
60
«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»: TMS, iii.3.4.
 
61
See Force 2003, 132. Note that benevolence is to be found in WN, v.iii.31 with people making «family settlements» and providing for «remote futurity».
 
62
Remember the first lines of the TMS: «However selfish man may be supposed, there are evidently some principles in his nature, which interest him in the fortune of others, and renders their happiness necessary to him, though he derives nothing from it except the pleasure of seeing it».
 
63
For a similar idea, see Dupuy 1992, 80.
 
64
Force 2003 has wonderfully showed how mistaken it was to identify Smith with a selfish interpretation of human nature. Many eighteenth-century philosophers, predominantly French, such as D’Holbach, La Rochefoucauld, or Helvétius, were explicitly adopting such a narrow and pessimistic concept of human nature. This view is the result of a lack of knowledge of tms where selfish systems, as we underlined, were harshly criticized.
 
65
See Fleischacker 1999, 155; 2004, 21; and Vivenza 2005, 43.
 
66
See Cropsey’s comment in Griswold 1999, 298.
 
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Metadata
Title
Adam Smith’s Economics and the Lectures on Rhetoric and Belles Lettres: The Language of Commerce
Author
Benoît Walraevens
Copyright Year
2022
DOI
https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-99704-5_6