Tuesday, August 15, 2006

The Invisible Hand and the Golden Rule

One of the books I read this summer is The Great Transformation: The Beginning of Our Religious Traditions by Karen Armstrong. If you're not familiar with the book, it examines the development of several great philosophical/religious traditions through a period beginning about 900 B.C.E. and ending, roughly with the rise of Rome. Specifically it looks at the rise of Daoism and Confucianism in China, Hinduism and Buddhism in India, monotheism (specifically Judaism) in the Middle East, and philosophical rationalism in Greece.

Of particular interest was common evolution toward an "other" based view that occurred in each of these areas. In each case, the philosophy evolved toward the idea of concern for others as a part of living a good life. Armstrong makes mention of the "Golden Rule" (doing unto others, etc...) evolving in each region. As this was repeated, I found myself thinking of the similarity between the Golden Rule and some of Adam Smith's ideas. I found some interesting parallels between them.

Indeed, I see Smith's philosophy (as put forth in The Theory of Moral Sentiments) and his political economy (An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations) as longer discussions along the same lines. Smith's focus on others and their perceptions as motivators and beneficiaries of moral and economic actions speaks to the heart of the Golden Rule. We benefit when we act in a way that benefits others; and others, in turn, can benefit as we benefit. What parallels, if any, do you see between Smith and the idea of the Golden Rule? Is this an idea that can be used to raise student interest when we teach?

I look forward to your response.

Posted by TSchilling at 8:24 PM Comments (0)

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