The power of reasoning allows limitless inquiry into the nature of all things. Adam Smith an “enlightened” thinker utilizes reasoning to examine the wealth of nations, but in acting on this reasoning is he forcing his own sentiments into his argument, or is the reasoning creating the sentiments? Smith offers an exposition for his vision of a laissez faire economy, that is, capitalism in the modern sense. In a wider scope, Smith's account reveals his views on the nature of the human condition, and not a single theme is surveyed without an observation being made upon human tendencies and decisions. Arguably, these observations are shaped by his own sentiments.
Smith makes about three claims about human nature. Primarily, Smith assumes that self-interest is inherent in all human beings. One particular point stands out when Smith states the human “will be more likely to prevail if he can interest others’ self-love in his favor, and show them that it is for their own advantage to do for him what he requires of them.” Later, Smith depends on this “self-love” to ground his arguments on the steady base of human nature. Significantly less obvious, the “faculties of reason and speech” play a critical part in Smith’s treatment of human behavior. Although he never openly lists these “faculties” as essential to human nature, his argument relies on this assumption. This reliance on assumption is demonstrative of Smith’s relationship between reason and sentiment. Whereas, he uses reasoning to form sentiment, yet much of his sentiments stem from broad assumptions.
The step from having some goods and needing others to trading with those who have the needed goods and want the overabundant ones cannot be understood or warranted without the presumption of a rational actor. Smith does not blatantly state this and on occasion refers to the development of capitalism as guided by an “invisible hand.” Yet, every development towards improved efficiency, if these are anything more guided than random evolutionary steps, require such an actor to instigate it. More so Smith is suggesting that human reason is the catalyst for trade. The ability to reason is the singular factor that allows for the development of a free market system.
The divisions of labor must be controlled by a rational actor; such notions are arguably the mechanisms’ of “self love” acts as an actor which drives the capitalist machinery. The example of the pin maker illustrates this point. Lastly, Smith instills “a certain propensity in human nature; the propensity to truck, barter, and exchange one thing for another.” This, he suggests, may simply be an extension of reason. It is this final, and most specific, penchant of human nature that ensures a vague sense of self interest, coupled with reason and speech; produce a very particular kind of capitalist economic system, which he describes in the rest of the book. In speaking about labor, Smith characterizes it in a negative light. He observes the...