Theory of Moral Sentiments, standing on one foot

Will Wilkinson cuts through the book’s odd organization:

To be happy is to be loved and praised. Also, to be happy is stoic
indifference to love and praise. The love of high relative standing is
based on misery-making self-deception. And this self-deception turns
the wheels of industry, which produces wealth, and leaves even those of
low relative position in a good absolute position. Which is all you
really need to be happy! That is, as long as you are stoically
indifferent to love and praise, to relative position. Which, really,
none of us are, because, OMG, we really really want other
people to think highly of us. And, hey, again, that’s a pretty good
thing when you think about it, otherwise none of us would be
self-deceived enough to do all the crazy hard work that creates the
wealth that leaves us all in a good absolute material position. So, you
personally should probably worry about becoming actually praiseworthy,
instead of just seeking to receive praise, because you’ll be happier if
you deserve it, whether or not you get it. Unless everyone is doing
this. In which case we’ll all just be poor, which isn’t good at all.

You’ll find the other foot at the link.  The book is arguably a comic tragedy and you could write a third foot about the role of fortune in the argument.  Will is maybe reading a bit backwards from Wealth of Nations, but for a Platonist (I’m not saying Will is one) this should be allowed.


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