The agreeable eye

an eudæmonistarchives


Far from being able to satisfy the yearning for immortality by trustfully throwing oneself upon the bosom of the Eternal by an immediate moral and religious act, the individual felt constrained to take a long and circuitous route.

—Jacob Burckhardt (The Age of Constantine the Great, trans. Moses Hadas, p. 154)

My major reading project for the year is more or less to read Marx’s Capital, but in my usual fashion I cannot just sit down and read Capital, I felt I had to read Wealth of Nations first and then some Ricardo (I’ve already had a go at Malthus, so there was no need to add him into the mix at present). I’ve already scribbled sufficient on Smith, and I was hoping that Ricardo would be as interesting (not least because when I opened to a random page of Ricardo’s On the Principles of Political Economy and Taxation, I was met with a long quotation from Adam Smith). I have thus far (after five sections of chapter 1) been disappointed.

Smith uses examples that are chosen to illuminate and possess a specificity and charm that color his argument – one can see the various sorts of pin-makers at work, with their different divisions of labor; when he mentions kelp-gatherers, one can practically smell the sea. Suppose, then, that you have an author,1 who uses one or two examples to provide for the needs of his argument; the amount of labor which he applies is perhaps greater, in that he must first make up the examples from whole cloth, then imagine the simplified details that will make them palatable to his idiot reader. This should, by his own reasoning, make his examples more valuable. Two salmon is equal to one deer or one-half beaver: But if they are imaginary deer and imaginary fish, pursued by supposed hunters and fishers who are paid an imaginary and improbable wage – well, I, for one, would not give a pin for them.

  1. Ricardo, naturally. []


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