Monday, 16 November 2009

Self-interest is not selfishness

This point is made over at the Adam Smith's Lost Legacy blog by Gavin Kennedy with regard to the writings of Adam Smith.
‘Self-interest’ and ‘self-love’ in 18th-century discourse did not mean selfishness and were clearly distinguished.

Bernard Mandeville (1724) celebrated selfishness as a virtue (as did Ayn Rand in the 20th century). Smith regarded Mandeville’s teachings as “licentious” (Moral Sentiments, 1759: TMS VII.ii.4: 306-14)).
But the point is more general. When economists say we are self-interested they do not necessarily mean that we are selfish, as many non-economists seems to think. Selfishness may be sufficient for self-interest, but it is not necessary.

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