Chapter 5b

How Nature balances the distribution of prosperity

September 4, 2015 by Adam Smith

108 The general rules which distribute prosperity and adversity are perfectly suited to mankind’s situation. Yet they are not suited to some of our natural feelings.

We naturally love some virtues so much that we want to give them honours. On the contrary, we detest some vices so much that we want to give them every disgrace. Magnanimity, generosity, and justice, command so much admiration.

We want to see them crowned with wealth, power, and honours. Those rewards are the natural consequences of prudence, industry, and application. Prudence, industry, and application are separable from wealth, power, and honours. On the other hand, fraud, falsehood, brutality, and violence excite such scorn and abhorrence.

Our indignation against them increases whenever we see them gain advantages that come from diligence and industry.

The industrious knave cultivates the soil. The indolent good man leaves it uncultivated. Who should reap the harvest? Who should starve? Who should live in plenty? Nature decides it in favour of the knave. Mankind’s natural feelings favours the man of virtue.

Man judges that:

  • the knave’s good qualities are greatly over-recompensed by the advantages he gets.
  • the indolent man’s shortcomings are too severely punished by the distress those shortcomings bring on him.

Human laws are the consequences of human feelings.

They forfeit the life and the estate of the industrious and cautious traitor. They reward the fidelity and public spirit of the improvident and careless good citizen, by extraordinary recompenses. Thus, man is by Nature directed to correct that distribution of things which she herself would otherwise have made.

The rules which she prompts him to follow for this purpose are different from the rules which she herself observes. She bestows a reward on every virtue to encourage it. She bestows a punishment on every vice to restrain it. She is directed by this sole consideration. She pays little regard to merit and demerit bestowed by people’s feelings. On the contrary, man pays regard to merit and demerit only.

He would try to: render the state of every virtue precisely proportional to that degree of love and esteem, and render the state of every vice proportional to that degree of contempt and abhorrence he conceives for it. The rules which Nature follows are fit for her. Those which man follows are fit for him. But both are calculated to promote the same great end: the order of the world, and the perfection and happiness of human nature.

Humans should always make a moral effort to correc the mistakes of Nature which disregards merit and demerit

109 Man is thus employed to change that distribution of things which natural events would make if left to themselves.

Like the gods of the poets, he is perpetually extraordinarily interposing:

  • in favour of virtue, and
  • in opposition to vice.

Like them, he tries to turn away the arrow aimed at the head of the righteous. He tries to accelerate the sword of destruction against the wicked.

Yet he is unable to render the fortune of either quite suitable to his own sentiments and wishes. The natural course of things cannot be entirely controlled by the impotent endeavours of man.

The current is too rapid and too strong for him to stop it. The rules which direct it appear to have been established for the wisest and best purposes. But they sometimes produce effects which shock all his natural sentiments. The following rule seems necessary and unavoidable in itself.

It is even useful and proper for rousing mankind’s industry and attention: that a great combination of men should prevail over a small one, and that those who engage in an enterprise with forethought and all necessary preparation should prevail over those who oppose them without any. that every end should be acquired only by those means only which Nature has established for acquiring it.

Yet when because of this rule, violence and artifice prevail over sincerity and justice, it excites:

  • indignation in the breast of every human spectator
  • sorrow and compassion for the innocent’s sufferings
  • furious resentment against the oppressor’s success

We are equally grieved and enraged at the wrong that is done. We are often powerless to redress it. We despair of finding any force on earth which can check the triumph of injustice so we naturally appeal to heaven.

We hope that the great Author of our nature will himself:

  • execute what all the principles, which he has given us to guide our conduct, prompt us to attempt, and
  • complete the plan which he himself has taught us to begin.

We hope that he will give everyone the works they have performed in this world, in a life to come.

Thus we are led to the belief of a future state by human nature’s:

  • weaknesses,
  • hopes and fears, and
  • noblest principles:
    • the love of virtue, and
    • the abhorrence of vice and injustice.

110 Jean-Baptiste Massillon was the philosophical bishop of Clermont

He says passionately: ‘Does it suit God’s greatness to leave his created world in so universal a disorder?

To see:

  • the wicked prevail almost always over the just,
  • the innocent dethroned by the usurper,
  • the father become the victim of an unnatural son’s ambition,
  • the husband dying under the stroke of a barbarous and faithless wife?

Should God behold those sad events as a fantastical amusement?

Because he is great, should he be weak, unjust, or barbarous?

Because men are little, should they to be allowed to:

  • be dissolute without punishment, or
  • be virtuous without reward?

O God! if this is the character of your Supreme Being, If it is you whom we adore under such dreadful ideas, then I can no longer acknowledge you: for my father for my protector, for the comforter of my sorrow, for the support of my weakness, and for the rewarder of my fidelity. You would then be no more than an indolent and fantastical tyrant, who: sacrifices mankind to his insolent vanity, and has brought them out of nothing, only to make them serve for the sport of his leisure and caprice.’

111 The All-powerful Being:

  • watches over our conduct
  • will reward the observance of his laws in a life to come
  • punish their breach

When the general rules are regarded as the laws of an All-powerful Being, they necessarily acquire a new sacredness.

Anyone who believes in an All-powerful Being cannot doubt that our regard to the Deity’s will should be the supreme rule of our conduct. The very thought of disobedience would create the most shocking impropriety. How vain, absurd would it be for man to oppose the commands from Infinite Wisdom and Power! How unnatural, impiously ungrateful would it be not to revere the precepts prescribed to him by the infinite goodness of his Creator, even though no punishment was to follow their violation.

The sense of propriety here is supported by the strongest motives of self-interest.

However, we may escape men’s observations or be placed beyond the reach of human punishment, we are always acting under God’s eye and exposed to his punishment.

This motive can restrain the most headstrong passions in people who have constantly reflected and become familiar to them.

112 This is how religion enforces the natural sense of duty.

Hence, mankind generally places great confidence in the probity of religious people. They imagine that the religious act under an additional tie, besides those which regulate the conduct of other men.

The following are motives which they suppose have the same influence over the religious man, as over the worldly man:

  • the regard to:
  • the propriety of action and reputation, and
  • the applause of his own breast and those of others.

But the religious man lies under another restraint.

He only acts in the presence of that Great Superior who will finally recompense him according to his deeds.

Thus, a greater trust is reposed in his conduct’s regularity and exactness.

The world undoubtedly judges right.

It justly places a double confidence in the rectitude of the religious man’s behaviour: wherever the natural principles of religion are not corrupted by the factious and party zeal of some worthless cabal, wherever the first duty required by religion is to fulfill all the obligations of morality, and wherever men are not taught to: regard frivolous observances as more immediate duties of religion, than acts of justice and beneficence imagine they can bargain with the Deity for fraud, and perfidy, and violence through:

  • sacrifices
  • ceremonies
  • vain supplications

Latest Articles

How to Fix Ukraine
How to Fix Ukraine
The Age of the Universe
The Age of the Universe
Material Superphysics
The End of Capitalism (and Marxism)
The End of Capitalism (and Marxism)
The Elastic Theory of Gravity
The Elastic Theory of Gravity
Material Superphysics

Latest Simplifications

Nova Organum by Francis Bacon
Nova Organum by Francis Bacon
The Analects by Confucius
The Analects by Confucius
The Quran by The Prophet Mohammad
The Quran by The Prophet Mohammad

All Superphysics principles in our books

The Simplified Series

Developing a new science and the systems that use that science isn't easy. Please help Superphysics develop its theories and systems faster by donating via GCash