Derek Sivers

How Adam Smith Can Change Your Life - by Russ Roberts

How Adam Smith Can Change Your Life - by Russ Roberts

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Adam Smith wrote “Theory of Moral Sentiments” in the 1700s. Now Russ puts it into modern language and times. Main point is that our morality comes from imagining being judged by our fellow man.

my notes

Once you start to think about human motivation itself, it’s hard to think about anything else. Trying to understand your neighbor and, in turn, yourself really doesn’t get old. There’s a brand-new set of data every day to chew on and explore if you’re interested - all those interactions with friends, family, colleagues, and strangers.

Economics is the study of how to get the most out of life. Choosing wisely and well. Aware of how my choices interact with the choices of others.

We feel much worse about the prospect of losing our little finger than we do about the death of a multitude of strangers far away. Yet no civilized person would consider saving their little finger by letting a few million strangers perish.

Yes, you are profoundly self-interested. But for some reason, you do not always act in what appears to be your self-interest.

It's not that feeble spark of benevolence. Our behavior is driven by an imaginary interaction with an impartial, objective figure who sees the morality of our actions clearly. It is this figure we answer to when we consider what is moral or right. We imagine being judged not by God, and not by our principles, but by a fellow human being who is looking over our shoulder.

It’s rational to steal or sin because no one is watching. The whole idea of God is that He’s always watching. Smith’s point is that you are always watching! Even if no one knows you’re stealing, you know. And as you contemplate committing the act, you imagine how an outsider would react to your moral failure.

Our moral sense comes from experiencing approval and disapproval from others.

A powerful tool for self-improvement: Imagining an impartial spectator encourages us to view ourselves as others see us.

Paying attention instead of drifting through life oblivious to your flaws and habits.

Had there been an actual spectator - a friend riding in the backseat, say - there’s no way I’d have acted as poorly as I did.

Warren’s son Peter Buffett actually took a chance on the music; he dropped out of Stanford at nineteen, sold the stock his father had given him, ended up with a successful career as a musician, Did he make the right choice? Peter Buffett, the man who ended up selling his Berkshire Hathaway stock for $90,000 and giving up the $100 million he could have had in order to pursue a career as a musician. In his memoir, Life Is What You Make It. He claims to have no regrets. What could he have with the extra millions?

Man naturally desires, not only to be loved, but to be “lovely”. (Adam Smith's word that really means respectable, honorable, etc.)

Human happiness arises from the consciousness of being beloved.

When we earn the admiration of others honestly by being respectable, honorable, blameless, generous, and kind, the end result is true happiness.

It is an end in and of itself. Because that’s the right thing to do.

Ideal is achieved when your inner self mirrors your outer self.

Undeserved praise is a reprimand - a reminder of what I could be.

It’s our own praise that’s hardest to reject. We can convince ourselves of our loveliness when the reality is otherwise.

Life is punctuated by choices between what is easy and convenient, and a chance to help those around you

The “smaller decisions,” are really not so small. Day by day, they add up to a life.

Our urges can easily overwhelm our judgment.

Rather than see ourselves as we truly are, we see ourselves as we would like to be. Self-deception can be more comforting than self-knowledge.

Confronting our frailty and our failings can be too painful.

If we saw ourselves in the light in which others would see us if they knew all, a reformation would generally be unavoidable. We could not otherwise endure the sight.

We notice the flaws in those around us to remind us of our own flaws and to spur us to self-improvement.

Social norms coach us as to what is admirable and what is not.

Our behavior sometimes falls short of our ideals not because we’re bad people and not because our self-interest outweighs our benevolence, but because we don’t realize we’re not living up to our ideals.

Seek out a mentor or a truly impartial real-life spectator who can help you see through the haze of self-love that so often blinds us.

Confirmation bias happens when we filter reality through our biases, ignoring evidence that challenges or refutes what we believe and eagerly accepting evidence that confirms what we believe.

“The sea gets deeper as you go further into it.” The more you know, the more you realize how much there is to know.

What can be added to the happiness of the man who is in health, who is out of debt, and has a clear conscience?

He complains about the stresses of his life and asks for my advice. Quit your job, I tell him. I can’t, he says. Next year I’ll quit and slow down. Just one more year. Then he’ll have enough, he says. The bar with the permanent sign - free beer tomorrow.

“Millions?” replied the Mexican. “Then what?” The American said, “Then you would retire. Move to a small coastal fishing village where you would sleep late…” We haven’t absorbed its lessons despite all the retellings.

We often care more about the elegance of the device than for what it can achieve. He bought the better watch simply because it is a superior gadget, not be any more punctual.

We want the latest, hippest, shiniest phone, car, and toy. It’s a way to signal to the world who we are.

The great source of both the misery and disorders of human life, seems to arise from over-rating the difference between one permanent situation and another.

Prudence: the virtue of taking care of oneself using both foresight - looking down the road to assess the consequences of our action - and self-control, the ability to give up something today in return for a greater gain in the future.

We are capable of discerning the remote consequences of all our actions, and of foreseeing the advantage or detriment which is likely to result from them. This is Prudence, of all the virtues that which is most useful.

Fame and riches? It’s not unpleasant. It just shouldn’t be pursued for its own sake.

Meeting expectations of what is proper allows those around us to interact with us effectively and, more than that, with grace and style and pleasure. Propriety is about playing your part in the human symphony. Propriety is about matching our responses to those around us.

The comfort we receive from a friend comes from experiencing our pain through the friend’s eyes. Because the friend is less pained than we can be, we are less pained. We expect less sympathy from a common acquaintance than from a friend. We expect still less sympathy from an assembly of strangers, and we assume, therefore, still more tranquillity before them, and always endeavour to bring down our passion to that pitch.

Because strangers feel our pain less intensely than an acquaintance who in turn feels our pain less intensely than a friend or loved one, being around strangers helps us regain our emotional equilibrium even more effectively than being with a friend.

When we pull ourselves together in front of a group of strangers we’re not just putting up a brave front. We actually feel better.

Hold your anger for a day before you think of acting on it.

We have just the right amount of concern for others. If we had more, we would find life difficult to bear. Less, and we would be unable to comfort our friends.

The modern prudent man foregoes the potential of a large upside to avoid the downside. He would prefer the undisturbed enjoyment of secure tranquillity to the real and solid glory of performing the greatest and most magnanimous actions.

Hard-and-fast rules are easier to keep than rules that are slightly relaxed.

Virtuous behavior is like good writing. We know it when we see it, but it is not easily taught or described.

Better to have a rule like “Always hold your kids’ hands when offered” or “Always give your kids your full attention,” even if they’re not really universal rules and even if you know you can’t keep them with the “greatest exactness.” Those unrealistic, unkeepable rules remind you to watch out for your self-centeredness and keep in mind what the impartial spectator might think of you if he saw you watching the game or mindlessly surfing the Internet.

Kant's categorical imperative says that when you are trying to decide on a course of action or when you face a moral dilemma, you should consider what the impact would be, and not just of your own action, but what the world would be like if everyone behaved that way.