Adam Smith on heads and hearts

I’ve been reading a fair bit of Adam Smith and stuff on him lately and will probably do some more posts on the great man. But here I just thought I’d note that my reading has enabled me to further uncover the provenance of the phrase that (I think) Alan Blinder used as the title of a 1987 book which was then taken up by the Clinton campaign in 1992 “Hard heads, soft hearts”. The phrase itself was picked up by Peter Dawkins as a tag line for the (now it seems regular) ‘Sustaining Prosperity‘ conferences put on by the Melbourne Institute.

As Dawkins acknowledged the saying was similar to an expression that Marshall had coined “cool heads, warm hearts”. I like the softer more modest sound of Marshall’s expression better.

In any event, here’s Smith defining prudence in his Theory of Moral Sentiments.

Wise and judicious conduct, when directed to greater and
nobler purposes than the care of the health, the fortune, the
rank and reputation of the individual, is frequently and very
properly called prudence. We talk of the prudence of the great
general, of the great statesman, of the great legislator.
Prudence is, in all these cases, combined with many greater and
more splendid virtues, with valour, with extensive and strong
benevolence, with a sacred regard to the rules of justice, and
all these supported by a proper degree of self-command. This
superior prudence, when carried to the highest degree of
perfection, necessarily supposes the art, the talent, and the
habit or disposition of acting with the most perfect propriety in
every possible circumstance and situation. It necessarily
supposes the utmost perfection of all the intellectual and of all
the moral virtues. It is the best head joined to the best heart.

Smith reckoned that what he called the ‘system of natural liberty’, what we now call capitalism was the system most likely to lead towards this kind of prudence. I’m hoping to do a post arguing that he was right.

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2024 years ago

I may have missed something entirely here, but I can’t see how living within a ‘system of natural liberty’ encourages prudence. My initial reaction is that the relationship goes more the other way —