Please turn on JavaScript

Brooks Wilson's Economics Blog: Defining Unintentionally Beneficial Actions

Friday, August 27, 2010

Defining Unintentionally Beneficial Actions

Conflict of Visions by Thomas Sowell is full of insights into how social philosophers view the nature of man, the acquisition of knowledge, and social decision making, and I will have more to write on that in a future post, but first I will reproduce a table Sowell reproduces from William Godwin’s Enquiry Concerning Political Justice

  Beneficial Harmful
Intentional Virtue Vice
Unintentional   Negligence

Godwin uses a table to categorize a person’s actions as based on outcomes.  Actions are either “Intentional” and “Unintentional,” and outcomes, “Beneficial” and “Harmful.”  Intentional actions that are beneficial circumscribe virtue and intentionally harmful actions, vice.  Unintentional harmful actions are defined as vice.  Godwin did not define actions that are unintentionally beneficial and I believe that many others would have similar difficulty but Adam Smith did not when he penned the words describing the social outcome of self-interest in a market economy in An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of The Wealth of Nations.

It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest. 

The poor are fed, the naked, dressed and the lame, healed by self-interest.  I am not sure at what point self-interest turns to greed; the terms are often used interchangeably.  But it is interesting that the same motivation, greed, which may damn a soul to hell, may not be so bad when constrained by market forces.

1 comment:

  1. Sabine Wohlschlag4/9/10 12:51 PM

    Self-interest is a major factor in any economy. People wouldn't spend there time making products for others unless they get something in return. Likewise people wouldn't spend there money on consumer goods unless it is something that they need or desire. Self-interest is the driving force behind suply and demand. When people are negligent in society it is usually do to a lack of self-interest in an issue.