Baffled

Anyone who fully reads Smith’s works would see the immense influence of David Hume in it. In fact, only Hume and John Locke are the notable authors mentioned in both the Theory of Moral Sentiments and The Wealth of Nations. In latter work, Smith pointed out Locke’s mistakes, and this leaves Hume as the only author that has a mind fully in line with that of Smith. This in turn has led me to base Smith’s political economy or Wealth of Nations on Hume’s metaphysics or Science of Man. Since the basic idea of economics comes from societal resource allocation*, the knowledge of human society and human nature will be essential in Socioeconomic science.

 

* In essence, economics is a science of resource allocation for the sake of society. Comprehended within 'resources' are work, knowledge, and supplies for needs (necessaries) and wants (conveniences and luxuries). This is seen in the first detailed explanations of 'oeconomy': "the Proprietor of a great Estate.. will employ Slaves or free men to work upon it. If he has many Slaves he must have Overseers to keep them at work: he must likewise have Slave craftsmen to supply the needs and conveniencies.. for himself and his workers, and must have trades taught to others in order to carry on the work. In this oeconomy he must allow his Labouring Slaves their subsistence and wherewithal to bring up their Children." (Cantillon, Essay 1, 7). Take note how the ability of raising children was an essential part of the old oeconomy, but is now nowhere to be found, proven by the prevalence of mass layoffs which of course render the raising of children more difficult.

 

So aside from the mastery of Smith’s two works, Hume’s Treatise of Human Nature also needs to be known inside out, word by word, from first page to last page. Never mind that there are typos in the online versions or that there are old or foreign words that are difficult to define, such as a ‘scritoire’. My main difficulty has been some of Hume’s paragraphs themselves, namely this one:

 

Secondly, We find by experience, that two bodies, which are so placed as to affect the senses in the same manner with two others, that have a certain extent of visible objects interposed betwixt them, are capable of receiving the same extent, without any sensible impulse or penetration, and without any change on that angle, under which they appear to the senses. In like manner, where there is one object, which we cannot feel after another without an interval, and the perceiving of that sensation we call motion in our hand or organ of sensation; experience shews us, that it is possible the same object may be felt with the same sensation of motion, along with the interposed impression of solid and tangible objects, attending the sensation. That is, in other words, an invisible and intangible distance may be converted into a visible and tangible one, without any change on the distant objects. (Treatise, Book 1 Part 2 Sec 5)

 

Say what?! I’ve tried to simplify and clarify it last night as below, but it still doesn’t make sense:

  1. Two bodies, placed to affect the senses in the same way as two other bodies that have a certain extent of visible objects between them, are capable of receiving the same extent without any:
    • sensible impulse or penetration
    • change on their angle.
  • Similarly, when there is an object which we cannot feel after another object without an interval and our hand motion, it is possible for the same object to be felt with the same sensation of motion with the impression of solid objects.
    • In other words, an invisible and intangible distance may be converted into a visible and tangible one without any change on the distant objects.

I decided to sleep over it and figure it out this morning, but I still couldn’t make an accurate and easy-to-understand simplification. My only consolation is that this paragraph and its section is about our perception of space and distance, which has no direct use in socioeconomics.

However, the importance of this part is that it shows Hume’s ability, persistence or method to chase down ideas to their root causes or basic components. This ability, in turn, is useful in socioeocnomics as it makes it sophistry-proof, by granting it the ability, persistence, or method to chase down the basic ideas and not-so-obvious errors behind economic beliefs such as private utility, profit maximization, quantitative easing, and general equilibrium, among others, and communist beliefs such as dialectical materialism and labour theory of value.

 

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