The Invisible Hand of Dharma Part 3: The Chessboard of Society

In the previous post, we took apart Smith’s invisible hand explanation in The Theory of Moral Sentiments (TMS) and The Wealth of Nations (WN) and then colored, optimized*, reconciled, and merged them into a single, lean, packaged compound idea to make it easier to understand and to be more conclusive.

*In software development, this is similar to code refactoring where complex code is assigned colors and simplified without changing its end results, but I rather call it 'doing a Hume' to look for 'bugs', sophistry, or fishy things in philosophies or complex ideas, just as code reviews aim to debug code to create better systems.

We revealed that the invisible hand in WN and TMS both lead to security or peace of mind (as the beggar and the domestic-industry-supporter who are either secure or intending only their own security). This ultimate end goal is actually the foundation of our ‘metaphysical’ explanation and definition of the invisible hand in Part 5 or so later.  However, as shown in the graphic as a question mark, the following are not clear:

  1. How each person pursuing his own interest would lead to an inclusive system of societal welfare
  2. How the humans with resources share theirs with everyone

invisible - New Page (2)

To answer these, we look for the missing pieces in TMS and WN.

The Chessboard of Society, Moved by the Invisible Hand from within

Unknown to many, Smith’s works have a few more metaphors for abstract phenomena which curiously have not been discussed as much as the invisible hand, such as society being a machine and a nation as a body with trade as its lifeblood. The metaphor directly related to the invisible hand is the chessboard of society. As this metaphor is not our main topic, we do not need to break it down, though we color-code it as before:

The man of system is apt to be very wise in his own conceit. He is often so enamoured with.. his own ideal plan of government.. He establishes it completely without any regard to the great interests or strong prejudices which may oppose it. He imagines that he can arrange the members of a great society with as much ease as the hand arranges the different pieces on a chess-board. He does not consider that the pieces on the chess-board have no other principle of motion besides that which the hand impresses upon themBut that, in the great chess-board of human society, every single piece has a principle of motion of its own, altogether different from that which the legislature might choose to impress on it. If those two principles coincide and act in the same direction, the game of human society will go on easily and harmoniously, and is very likely to be happy and successful. If they are opposite or different, the game will go on miserably, and the society must be at all times in the highest degree of disorder. (Simple TMS, Part 6, Chap. 2, emphasis added)

Here we introduce a new idea-group in olive:

Olive: Everyone has a principle of motion of his own. If these motions coincide, then society will be happy. If they oppose, society will be miserable. 

We emphasize the principle of self-motion as we will raise it as a new abstract sub-idea under the invisible hand later, that will be the foundation of socioeconomic freedom, as opposed to wanton freedom. The statement shows that humans are moved not by an external hand representing other people, but by an internal invisible hand representing some internal natural human principle. People move themselves naturally-inherently/commonly*  towards their own goals, without anyone telling them. A person who wants to sing would naturally want to be a singer and a person who likes programming would want to be a programmer without anyone telling them. A programmer forced to be a singer and a singer forced to code will likely be miserable and have very unsatisfactory output. When applied in economics, this leads to people employing their capital in the best way the see fit, and matches the supporting statement 2B in WN in the previous post.

* The word 'natural' has many meanings, so we include the exact idea carried by the word 'nature' or 'natural' to be clear and unambiguous, as enumerated by Hume: natural-non-miraculous, natural-inherent, natural-common, natural-non-man-made (We can add more if needed.)

When this abstract idea is applied in the real world, the metaphor of society being a great machine, which runs smoothly with the polish of virtue and without the rust of vice, kicks in, and instead of being chess pieces, each human becomes a part, essential to the machine of human society.  In this way, everyone finding his proper role or part in society contributes to the whole by higher quality and quantity of output. This answers the first question. This paragraph below, found in the same chapter, explains this internal natural human principle a bit more, and like the Invisible Hand in TMS Part 4 pointing to Providence not forgetting the poor, it points to the Contriver of human affections and nature, as intending it:

That wisdom which contrived the system of human affections and that of every other part of nature, seems to have judged that the interest of the great society of mankind would be best promoted by directing the principal attention of each individual to that particular portion of it, which was most within the sphere of his abilities and understanding. (Simple TMS)

To permanently connect the Invisible Hand with the Divine and to put it beyond all doubt, we use Hume, the ‘atheist’*, to merge both ideas and cast it in stone.

The order of the universe proves an omnipotent mind. That mind has a will which is constantly attended with the obedience of every creature and being. Nothing more is needed to give a foundation to all the articles of religion. It is unnecessary that we should form a distinct idea of the force and energy of the supreme Being. (Simple Treatise, Sec 14)

* How can an atheist believe in a Supreme Being? This is because the compound idea of idea of God, as defined by Christianity, is different from that of the Supreme Being defined by enlightened minds.

Having proven that the Invisible Hand is from the Supreme Being (which may or may not be different from God, depending on one’s definition) we will answer the second question, of how resources are shared, in the next post.


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