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.
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.