Selfishness: A Natural Tendency

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According to Adam Smith, it is not greed or selfishness, but the desire for sympathy that motivates human beings both socially and economically. People engage in a societal game of appearance to maximize the amount of sympathy received from others. When a person is perceived to benefit society, they are blessed with the approval or sympathy of those around them. This approval, in turn, makes the individual feel worthy. Smith argues that the desire to have our wealth recognized is not greedy, but a natural tendency. He suggests that this inclination develops the world, and furthers humanity. In the Theory of Moral Sentiments, Smith introduces the idea that wealth not only increases the amount of sympathy a person receives, but benefits the rest of humanity through the invisible hand. In his theory, Smith asserts that the want for wealth is not greedy. He explains that “humanity does not desire to be great, but to be beloved” (115). He continues to explain how people are not born “inherently selfish,” but with a great need to be understood. They want to be sympathized with and admired for the good they do for society. Smith explains that people will naturally sympathize with the respectable and virtuous, and therefore emulate this behavior. He suggests that “the road to virtue and that to fortune” are one in the same; therefore, people view wealth as concrete proof of their character (87). Through wealth and fame, they believe they will be sympathized with and admired. Smith suggests that the “pursuit of wealth and greatness” helps advance society as a whole (120). The expansion of industries, development of communication, and advancement of technology all stem from the human desire to maximize utility. This maximiz... ... middle of paper ... ...ey deserve the sympathy they are receiving. People are motivated to achieve this wealth through fear and a desire for sympathy. This pursuit of wealth advances society, drives the entrepreneurial mind, and creates a more productive environment. The wealth they achieve to gain sympathy helps society through the invisible hand, which allocates resources so that each man has the opportunity to reach his full potential. The man who reaches this full potential, satisfies his innate desire to receive sympathy and ultimately benefits society. Smith emphasizes these things because they encourage progress, increase the standard of living for everyone, and benefit society. That is not selfish, or greedy, that is the driving force of wealth. Works Cited Smith, Adam, Robert L. Heilbroner, and Laurence J. Malone. The Essential Adam Smith. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1986. Print.
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