Carl JungThe Blog’s “natural philosophy” of human evolution has many intellectual patrons.

First is Carl Jung, whose studies of dreams and symbols revealed our collective unconscious. The Blog considers Jung’s collective unconscious in modern humans to be the submerged continent of the consciousness that for six-million years constituted the entire consciousness of our noble hominin ancestors.

Sigmund FreudSecond is Sigmund Freud with his observation that the mind is divided into a segment representing society he called the superego, the function of which is to regulate and suppress the other segment which contains the strivings for dominance inherited from our ancestral apes (and primates). In addition, Freud identified that the superego functions by means of the aversive, painful emotions of fear and anxiety. The Blog holds that this basic Freudian 15wils_650model of the mind has distinguished hominins right from the very beginning, six million years ago.

I also include here Edward O. Wilson, as he established the field of sociobiology, which is the biology of social interaction.

Adam SmithHowever, I have not before explained the enormous influence of one of the greatest of all thinkers, Adam Smith. This Scotsman, a contemporary of compatriot David Hume, is the source of two pillars of the Blog’s evolutionary narrative. The first of his contributions is his celebrated deduction that all wealth results from the division of labor. The Blog considers that the coordination of divided labor has been the primary adaptation of hominins since the very beginning six million years ago.

Some quotes from Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations

On the division of labor:

Labour was the first price, the original purchase – money that was paid for all things. It was not by gold or by silver, but by labour, that all wealth of the world was originally purchased.

Adam Smith and human evolutionThe greatest improvement in the productive powers of labour, and the greater part of the skill, dexterity, and judgment with which it is anywhere directed, or applied, seem to have been the effects of the division of labour.”

The division of labour, however, so far as it can be introduced, occasions, in every art, a proportionable increase of the productive powers of labour.

Equally important is Adam Smith’s contribution contained in his other magnum opus The Theory of Moral Sentiments. In this lesser known work, he singles out JUSTICE from all other moral sentiments in ways consistent with the Blog’s narrative of human evolution. The following was obtained from an article written by David Lieberman at U.C.Berkley Law School in 1999 entitled “Adam Smith on Justice, Rights, and Law.” http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=215213

On Justice:

The Spirit of Justice
……………….THE AUTHORITY OF JUSTICE
1. Passivity

First, he points out the emphasis in justice on not engaging in certain kinds of behavior. In contrast to the frequently open-ended and active performances associated with the fulfillment of other social virtues, the virtue of justice is conspicuous for its largely “negative” orientation. “We may often fulfill all the rules of justice by sitting still and doing nothing.”

2. Indispensability

Then he points out the categorical necessity of justice for human society to function: “Justice is further distinguished on account of its unique societal impacts. Whereas some form of society might exist in the absence of the practice of other moral virtues, no society could ‘subsist among those who are at all times ready to hurt and injure one another.’ On this basis, justice is displayed as ‘the main pillar’ supporting social life. Remove justice, Smith maintained, and ‘the immense fabric of human society … must in a moment crumble into atoms'”

3. Universality and possibility of general rules of justice

Then he starts discussing the universal nature of justice and thus the possibility of having “natural” laws.

Since what is required by justice in a given situation can be identified with unique precision and specificity, it is possible to formulate the requirements of justice as a body of “general rules” whose operation admitted few “exceptions or modifications.” In contrast, the “general rules” of all other virtues – in the case (say) “ prudence, charity, generosity, gratitude, friendship” – necessarily would “admit of many exceptions, and require so many modifications,” as to make it impossible to regulate moral conduct in this way

Smith condemned the tradition of Christian casuistry for its effort “to lay down exact and precise rules for the direction of every circumstance of our behaviour.” The approach rested on the foundational error of treating the whole of morality in terms of those kinds of general rules which could successfully regulate moral practice only in the case of the virtue of justice. There are many versions of the rules of justice contained in actual systems of positive law. But, in its most ambitious and systematic form, this branch of moral philosophy aims to construct “what might properly be called natural jurisprudence, or a theory of the general principles which ought to run through and be the foundation of the laws of all nations.”

Here Smith is in effect saying that justice is an innate, naturally evolved instinct. Indeed the idea of natural selection has the power to integrate Adam Smith’s two most important ideas into a narrative of human evolution:

1) The imposition of justice is necessary for the evolved benefits of divided labor to flourish.

Adam Smaith and Human EvolutionThose associations of hominins that just happened to impose the rules of justice were naturally selected because the division of labor thereby produced resulted in an increase in productive fertility.

2) Instincts for morality were thus secondarily selected by the imposition of justice generation after generation (selected on account of the fertility enabled by the division of labor). So morality is the result of the mutually reinforcing evolutionary interaction between justice and the division of labor.

So Adam Smith’s “invisible hand” that transforms self-interest into the common good turns out to be the unique form of group-selection by means of which we humans have been naturally evolving for six-million years.

 

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2 Comments on “ADAM SMITH AND HUMAN EVOLUTION”

  1. A thrilling post, drawing together profound thinkers and showing how their most powerful thoughts point toward a great truth. Love the emphasis on justice; it makes so much intuitive sense.

    1. Thanks Richard. Everyone knows about Wealth of Nations (1776), but it was philosophically based on his prior thinking in The Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759), which deals as the Blog does with emotions, motivations and human nature.

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