Better than a Rope of Sand: cohesion in commercial society

Christopher J Berry



RESEARCH OBJECTIVE: Do Smith, Hume and other Scots have an argument to reject John Brown’s claim in his Estimate that a society based on self-interest lacks cohesion? And can they do so without accepting Hobbes’ argument that the necessary cohesion can only be provided by the threat of coercion from a sovereign?

THE RESEARCH PROBLEM AND METHODS: Problem: The eighteenth century debate on the nature of commercial society. Method: Analysis of key texts in the debate as it occurred in Scotland.

THE PROCESS OF ARGUMENTATION: The Scots argue that a society where everyman lives by exchanging, operating on the assumption of selfinterest, is a more peaceable, more equitable and thus more cohesive than that envisioned by Brown. When reinforced by the rule of law, self-interested behaviour supports mutually supportive behaviour. Ultimately this embodies a constant and universal principle of human nature. Human behaviour is not random or chaotic and a commercial society not only exemplifies that fact but also sustains a form of societal life superior to any that has one before.

RESEARCH RESULTS: Nostalgia for an earlier time is mis-placed. For all its vehemence Brown’s critique is mis-directed and thus unjustified.

CONCLUSION, INNOVATIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS: This selection of the Scots should be widened to investigate whether Ferguson, Kames, Wallace among others have the same resources as Hume and Smith to rebut Brown.


Słowa kluczowe

self-interest; Commerce; Justice; Smith; Hume

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