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Of the Nature and State of Man, with Respect to Society

 
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Alan Edward Roberts



Joined: 26 Nov 2008
Posts: 188
Location: Twickenham, London, UK

PostPosted: Tue Oct 01, 2013 8:02 pm    Post subject: Of the Nature and State of Man, with Respect to Society Reply with quote

I have been wondering what Economists might make of the poetry of Alexander Pope.

The third section (or epistle) of his verse Essay on Man concerns "The Nature and State of Man, with Respect to Society".

It begins with the lines:

Here then we rest: "The Universal Cause
Acts to one end, but acts by universal laws".
In all the madness of superfluous health,
The trim of pride, the impudence of wealth,
Let this great truth be present night and day;
But most be present, if we preach of pray.
Look round our world; behold the chain of love
Combining all below and all above.


It ends with these lines:

So two consistent motions act the soul;
And one regards itself, and one the whole.

Thus God and Nature linked the general frame,
And bade self-love and social be the same.


Pope has already stated, at the end of the second section - concerning the Nature and State of Man, with Respect to Himself - of his Essay:

Even mean Self-love becomes, by force divine,
The scale to measure others wants by thine.


Pope's Essay on Man was published in 1733, a quarter of a century ahead of Adam Smith publishing his Theory of Moral Sentiments, which begins with the assertion:

How selfish soever man may be supposed, there are evidently some principles in his nature, which interest him in the fortune of others, and render their happiness necessary to him, though he derives nothing from it, except the pleasure of seeing it. Of this kind is pity of compassion, the emotion which we feel for the misery of others, when we either see it, or are made to conceive it in a very lively manner.

Or as Pope puts it succinctly in the fourth and final section of Essay on Man:

“Never elated while one man’s oppressed,
Never dejected while another’s blessed.”

Among the questions I have are how much Smith owed to his tutor Francis Hutchison; how much Pope derived from the thought of Anthony Ashley-Cooper, the third Earl of Shaftesbury, and how much more ancient or classical traditions are flowing through their works.

This is the full text of Pope's epistle concerning Man and Society:



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Alan Edward Roberts



Joined: 26 Nov 2008
Posts: 188
Location: Twickenham, London, UK

PostPosted: Fri Nov 01, 2013 9:49 am    Post subject: Happiness Reply with quote

The fourth, final and longest section of Alexander Pope's Essay on Man concerns The Nature and State of Man with Respect to Happiness.

Pope's guide to Happiness, posing such questions as "What makes all physical or moral ill?" and setting out such statements as ...

"Honour and shame from no condition rise;
Act well your part, there all the honour lies".


... is attached below.

(More on Pope - including attachments providing sections one and two of the Essay - can be found on the Poetry Forum).



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Brian Chance



Joined: 09 Nov 2008
Posts: 115
Location: Croydon Surrey U.K.

PostPosted: Sat Nov 02, 2013 9:03 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Pope seems to be painting a picture of the ideal man. He speaks powerfully of self-love several times and ends the essay with:-
….[W]hatever is, is right
That reason, passion, answer one great aim;
That true self-love and social are the same;
That virtue only makes our bliss below;
And all our knowledge is, ourselves to know.


Adam Smith, as a moral philosopher would surely have pondered over this essay and then sought in his book The Wealth of Nations to set out the laws which would govern the relations of such men in society.

A frequently quoted statement starts from a simple principle:-
It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer or the baker, that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest. We address ourselves not to their humanity but to their self-love
Is he here raising the economic laws from those commonly associated with the market-place to a level of love that has no limits? This would then be the meaning of what follows:-
Every individual who employs capital and labours, neither intends to promote the public interest nor knows how much he is promoting it…he intends only his own gain and he is in this, as in many other cases, led by an invisible hand to promote an end which was no part of his intention.

If the butcher, the brewer and the baker give full attention to their own work, in the light of true self-love, all else will happen rightly.
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Alan Edward Roberts



Joined: 26 Nov 2008
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Location: Twickenham, London, UK

PostPosted: Mon Nov 04, 2013 12:54 pm    Post subject: Happiness Reply with quote

Thanks Brian. I am sure Smith must have read, and reflected on, Essay on Man.

I enjoyed, and I feel Pope would endorse, your final statement:

“If the butcher, the brewer and the baker give full attention to their work, in the light of true self-love, all else will happen rightly.”

Pope’s work was translated into practically every European language during the eighteenth century, but the more he was translated or his work summarised, the less attention was paid to his original words.

Pope’s own concern with attention, and the world of mind, is shown in lines 35-38 of the second section of the Essay, and a philosophic comment on the mind of Newton:

“Could he, whose rules the rapid comet bind,
Describe of fix one movement of his mind?
Who saw its fires here rise, and there descend,
Explaining his own beginning, or his end?”


This is Pope, a little later (lines 53-80) in the same section, on self-love, reason, and - in passing - attention:

“Two principles in human nature reign;
Self-live, to urge, and reason to restrain;
Nor this a good, nor that a bad we call,
Each works its end, to move or govern all:
And to their proper operation still,
Ascribe all good; to their improper, ill.

Self-love, the spring of motion, acts the soul;
Reason’s comparing balance rules the whole.
Man, but for that, no action could attend,
And, but for this, were active to no end;
Fix’d like a plant on his peculiar spot,
To draw nutrition, propogate and rot;
Or, meteor-like, flame lawless through the void,
Destroying others, by himself destroyed.

Most strength the moving principle requires;
Active its task, it prompts, impels, inspires.
Sedate and quiet the comparing lies,
Formed but to check, deliberate, and advise.
Self-love still stronger, as its objects nigh;
Reason’s at distance, and in prospect lie:
See that immediate good by present sense;
Reason the future and the consequence.
Thicker than arguments, temptations throng,
At best more watchful this, but that more strong.
The action of the stronger to suspend
Reason to use, to reason still attend:
Attention, habit and experience gains,
Each strengthens reason, and self-love restrains”.


I am not sure that I can follow this fully word by word and line by line, but among other things, I get the sense that the poet is saying that self-love invites us to attend to action, and reason asks us to contemplate and question the requirement for (and form of) that action, within the context of the greater or common good. (Raising matters, perhaps, “to a level of love that has no limits”, where the consequence of the action may be fully understood or realised).

I attach the full text of section two, from which these quotations come.



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