Many know Adam Smith as the father of modern economics. His work, The Wealth of Nations, provides a solid foundation for capitalist economy by means of division of labour and market allocation. His work on economics sparked the Industrial Revolution.
If you were to choose between saving your little finger or saving thousands of lives in a faraway country, am I right to assume that you would sacrifice thousands of lives, just to save your little finger?
Little do we know that he was also a moral philosopher. He told a thought-provoking story in his work in moral philosophy, The Theory of Moral Sentiments, and it goes like this.
If I tell you that tomorrow, in a faraway country, thousands of people will die, how would you feel? You have not met or seen any of these people. They are people no less, yet they are people you do not know of by names but only of existence. Knowing their tragic death you will be sad for sure. It is unlikely however that you will be startled.
But if I tell you that tomorrow, you will lose your little finger. Now that is rather disturbing. You probably cannot stop thinking about why and how it would happen. You probably cannot stop thinking about how your life would be without one little finger. You will probably be missing your little finger already.
These are our passive feelings. They are selfish no doubt. But they are also very honest. Following these feelings, if you were to choose between saving your little finger or saving thousands of lives in a faraway country, am I right to assume that you would sacrifice thousands of lives, just to save your little finger?
Our passive feelings maybe selfish. But our reason, our principle, our conscience, or as Adam put it ‘the man within’, are not.
Adam is a great guy. And I would, and so would he, give up one little finger to save thousands of lives.