Love and Liberty Redux

Why did Adam Smith remain a bachelor his entire life? Did he at least have any love affairs? Here is a catalogue of my three most recent “Adam Smith in Love” blog posts:

  1. Love and Liberty
  2. Adam Smith “on” Love
  3. Adam Smith et l’affaire du Chevalier de la Barre

(Also, here is a complete catalogue of my first set of “Adam Smith in Love” blog posts.)

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Ten-Year Challenge

I am sooo late to this party, but here it goes. On the left: Sydjia and I in July 2011 in Amsterdam. On the right: us in July 2020 in Tarpon Springs, Fla.

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North American States and Provinces with More Cattle than People

Hat tip: @pickover

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Preview of Class #9: The Promise Principle

My next “advanced topics in law” lecture will explore what Harvard Law Professor Charles Fried (pictured below) refers to as “the promise principle.”[1] In brief, the proposition that “promises ought to be kept”[2] is one of the most important normative ideals or value judgements in daily life.[3] The promise principle is so pervasive that it informs such diverse domains as business deals,[4] politics,[5] and personal relationships.[6] But why?

Broadly speaking, there are three major theories of promising. Autonomy-based or “normative power” or “will” theories of promises are premised on the idea that promises are self-imposed obligations. Broadly, speaking, all these variants of the will theory of promises generally focus on the promisor’s subjective intentions when she make a promise. Although no one is required to make a promise, once you do, you are under a self-imposed obligation to keep your word. The main problem with the will theory, however, is that it is self-refuting. If the source of a promissory obligation is the promisor’s sincere intention or will to make a binding promise on herself, then the promisor’s subsequent intention to break her promise should have the effect of producing a self-release from her original promissory obligation. That is, if one can will into existence a binding promise on oneself, then one should be able to undo a promise via one’s will as well.

Since the will theory is self-refuting, some scholars have embraced an alternative “expectations” theory of promissory obligations. In brief, this theory views the making of promises as an “expectation-producing mechanism.” That is, when a person (the promisor) makes a promise, he is making a promise to another person (the promisee), and by making a promise, the promisor is creating an expectation in the promisee that he (the promisor) will not later break his promise. To break a promise, then, is to deceive the promisee.[7] The problem with this theory, however, is that it is open to exploitation and manipulation by the promisee. (Can you see why, or do I have to spell it out for you?)

Yet another theory is the consequentialist view of promissory obligations. Generally speaking, consequentialist or pragmatic theories take a forward-looking or probabilistic view towards promises: when deciding whether to keep or break a promise, what matters are the probable consequences of one’s promise-keeping or promise-breaking behavior.[8] In other words, the goodness or badness of a given promise (e.g. a promise to do X) depends entirely on the consequences resulting from keeping or breaking the promise to do X. Alas, it is the forward-looking nature of consequentialist theories that prove to be their ultimate undoing, for how does one go about figuring out or guessing what these probable promissory consequences will be?[9] At the “micro” level or in the aggregate?[10]

The common law, however, takes a different approach to the promise principle. As I shall explain in my next lecture, only a small subset of promises are legally enforceable–namely, those backed by “bargained-for consideration” …

Charles Fried addresses Trump administration's 'contempt for the rule of  law' - Harvard Law Today
Prof. Charles Fried

[1] See Charles Fried, Contract as Promise (Harvard Univ. Press, 1981).

[2] See, e.g., Book 3, Part 2, §5 of David Hume, A Treatise on Human Nature (David Fate Norton & Mary J. Norton, eds.) (Oxford Univ. Press, 2000). See also Allen Habib, Promises, in Edward N. Zalta, ed., The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (2018).

[2] Cf. Mary Midgley, “The Game Game,” Philosophy, Vol. 49 (1974), p. 235 (“[P]romising is everywhere a kingpin of human culture.”).

[4] See, e.g., Stewart Macaulay, “Non-contractual Relations in Business: A Preliminary Study,” American Sociological Review, Vol. 28 (1963), p. 58 (“Businessmen often prefer to rely on ‘a man’s word’ in a brief letter, a handshake, or ‘common honesty and decency’–even when the transaction involves exposure to serious risks.”).

[5] See, e.g., Ed Kilgore, “2020 Candidates Begin Signing Unity Pledge, with Sanders Taking the Lead,” New York Magazine (Apr. 26, 2019). See also Gregory Krieg, GOP Candidates Back Off Pledge to Support Nominee, CNN (Mar. 30, 2016).

[6] See, e.g., Johanna Peetz & Lara Kammrath, “Only Because I Love You: Why People Make and Why They Break Promises in Romantic Relationships,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol. 100 (2011).

[7] See, e.g., Páll S. Ardal, “And that’s a Promise,” Philosophical Quarterly, Vol. 18 (1968), p. 234.

[8] See, e.g., Simon Blackburn, Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy, pp. 74-75 (Oxford Univ. Press, 2d ed., 2005).

[9] There is also the problem of “utility monsters,” i.e. individuals who derive large amounts of utility from their bad acts. See Robert Nozick, Anarchy, State, and Utopia, p. 41 (Basic Books, 1974). That is, consequentialist theories (both micro and macro) are problematic to the extent they are unable to provide an agreed-upon or universal definition of “utility” or offer guidance on how to measure such “utility.”

[10] For reference, the “micro” approach is usually referred to as act utilitarianism. By contrast, the aggregate or “macro” approach is generally referred to as rule utilitarianism or indirect utilitarianism.

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Adam Smith et l’affaire du Chevalier de la Barre

Note: This blog post/installment is based on my most recent work-in-progress “A Short History of Adam Smith in Love.”

When Adam Smith first arrived in Paris in early 1764, little did he know that a tumultuous and world-changing Revolution would sweep over the City of Lights in just a few years. The Kingdom of France that Smith visited and lived in for two years–from February 1764 through October 1766–was the France of the Ancien Régime, an Old World domain in which Catholicism was the official state religion, a feudal and autocratic kingdom composed of three great estates–the clergy, the nobility, and the common people.

The main outline of Adam Smith’s travels in France is well known by now. After arriving in Paris on 13 February 1764, Smith and his charge, the Third Duke of Buccleuch, travelled to Toulouse, where they lived for many months. Smith and the Duke eventually returned to the City of Lights in February of 1766, where they resided until the month of October of that same year. During their extended sojourn in Paris (Feb. to Oct. 1766), Smith visited the town of Abbeville, about a 12-hour journey from Paris by horse and carriage. It’s unclear how much time Smith spent in Abbeville or exactly when he stayed there, but Smith’s sojourn in Abbeville was a significant one for several reasons. Abbeville is the place where Smith is said to have fallen “deeply in love with an English lady” (see here), a woman who Ian Simpson Ross would later identify by name as one “Mrs. Nicol.” (Note that the honorific “Mrs.” in the early modern era stood for “Mistress” and implied social rank or caste status, not marital status. See Leneman & Mitchison, 1988, p. 497, n. 18.)

But Smith’s stay in Abbeville would be significant for another reason. It was in Abbeville that a young nobleman, François-Jean Lefebvre de la Barre–also known as the Chevalier de La Barre, was unjustly tortured, beheaded, and burned at the stake on 1 July 1766. At the time, the Case of the Chevalierde La Barre attracted attention across France. Even the great Voltaire got involved in this notorious case, writing not one but two accounts of the Chevalier’s unjust prosecution and sentence. Indeed, this case has become so central to the identity and history of France that several monuments were subsequently erected in the Chevalier de la Barre’s honor, including a statue (pictured below) standing at the gates of the famous Sacred Heart Cathedral in the beautiful Montmarte neighborhood of Paris.

Although the facts of this case are murky, this deadly prosecution was set in motion when a cherished wooden crucifix on a bridge in Abbeville was found mutilated under mysterious circumstances. To this day, the identity of the original vandal or vandals is unknown, but after a lengthy investigation several young noblemen–including one Saveuse de Belleval, the son of the lead judge/investigator in the case–were accused of committing numerous acts of blasphemy and anti-Catholic vandalism. During the investigation, a search of the Chevalier de La Barre’s bedroom led to the discovery of more incriminating evidence, including pornographic books as well as a copy of Voltaire’s Philosophical Dictionary. Although the other suspects somehow managed to flee or elude justice, the unlucky Chevalier de la Barre was apprehended and put on trial in February of 1766. He was adjudged guilty and sentenced to death on 20 February. A few months later (4 June 1766), the Parlement of Paris confirmed the sentence on appeal, and the unfortunate Chevalier de la Barre was burned at the stake, along with his copy of Voltaire’s Philosophical Dictionary, in Abbeville’s town square on 1 July 1766.

Although to my knowledge there is no mention of this cause célèbre in any of Smith’s surviving papers and correspondence, how could Adam Smith have not taken notice of this notorious case? After all, Smith had travelled to the scene of the crime, so to speak, that same year (1766), and he also considered himself not only an admirer but also a friend of Voltaire. I therefore offer the following French conjecture: Adam Smith must have at some point in time heard about the case of the Chevalier de la Barre. Further, though more a matter of speculation, if Smith did fall “deeply in love with an English lady” in Abbeville, Smith view of individual liberty may have encompassed both intellectual liberty as well as the freedom to love …

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Adam Smith on Love

I have been researching and writing about Adam Smith’s enigmatic love life and have thus titled my latest work-in-progress “Adam Smith in Love.” But Adam Smith also wrote about love. In fact, Smith made several philosophical observations about love and romance in his first major published work The Theory of Moral Sentiments, an intellectual masterpiece that deserves a place of honor in our Western philosophical canon, along with the works of Plato and Aristotle, Hume and Kant. By way of background, Smith first presents his now-influential theory of virtue, a theory based on the notion of “mutual sympathy” or fellow feeling. (See summary, bottom left.) To see the spirit of Smith’s moral theory, there is no better place to begin than with the famous opening sentence of The Theory of Moral Sentiments (hereinafter “TMS“), which begins as follows: 

“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 [the happiness of others] necessary to him, though he deserves nothing from it except the pleasure of seeing it.” 
(Book 1, Section 1, Chapter 1 of TMS)

For Smith, then, our ability to feel “mutual sympathy” with others–i.e., feelings of anger, happiness, gratitude, pain, etc. depending on the circumstances–is the source of morality. For example, in the first paragraph of the TMS chapter titled “Of the Passions which take their origin from the body,” Smith illustrates his theory of mutual sympathy with the following graphic illustration of physical pain:

“There is, however, a good deal of sympathy even with bodily pain. If … I see a [whip] aimed, and just ready to fall upon the leg, or arm, of another person, I naturally shrink and draw back my own leg, or my own arm: and when it does fall, I feel it in some measure, and am hurt by it as well as the sufferer.”
(Book I, Section II, Chapter 1 of TMS)

But then, in the very next paragraph, Smith proceeds to compare and contrast “passions which take their origin from the body” (such as physical pain) with “those passions which take their origin from the imagination” (such as love). More to the point, in what could be described as a tender and auto-biographical reference to his first failed love affair–i.e. the early romantic liaison described by Smith’s first biographer Dugald Stewart in Note K; see here for more details–, Smith observes that “[a] disappointment in love, or ambition, will, upon this account, call forth more sympathy than the greatest bodily evil.” Below is the complete quote for the reader’s reference. After describing the sympathy elicited by physical pain, Smith specifically states:

“It is quite otherwise with those passions which take their origin from the imagination. The frame of my body can be but little affected by the alterations which are brought about upon that of my companion: but my imagination is more ductile, and more readily assumes, if I may say so, the shape and configuration of the imaginations of those with whom I am familiar. A disappointment in love, or ambition, will, upon this account, call forth more sympathy than the greatest bodily evil.”
(Book I, Section II, Chapter 1 of TMS)

Smith even goes onto say: 

“The loss of a leg may generally be regarded as a more real calamity than the loss of a mistress. It would be a ridiculous tragedy, however, of which the catastrophe was to turn upon a loss of that kind. A misfortune of the other kind, how frivolous soever it may appear to be, has given occasion to many a fine one.”

What is Adam Smith trying to tell us with these passages about disappointed love and lost mistresses? Specifically, when Smith is writing about a “disappointment in love” or the “loss of a mistress,” is he referring to his own lost love–i.e. to the “Fife lady whom he had loved very much,” to the “young lady of great beauty and accomplishment” to whom Adam Smith was “for several years attached.” (Stewart, Note K.) Yet, Smith himself will conclude that romantic love is a “ridiculous” passion. We will see why soon …

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My 2020 Summer Anthem

I will resume my series on “Adam Smith in Love” soon; in the meantime, here is Bailey Sok’s stupefying choreography of one my favorite English-language songs of 2020. Added bonus: here is Miss Sok’s Instagram.

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The Feds finally come after Google

Where is the consumer harm, y’all? I finally got around to reading the Government’s official Complaint against Google. (You can read it for yourself here.) In summary, the Feds are alleging that Google’s agreements and exclusive deals with Apple are somehow anti-competitive and that Google has shut down search-engine competition on the open-source Android platform. For my part, based on my initial reading of the Government’s Complaint, I am totally unpersuaded that any of Google’s agreements or policies are illegal. To win an anti-trust case, it is simply not enough to show that a business firm has monopoly power in a given market; the government must also show that the firm has used its dominant position in such a way as to harm consumers. Here, the Government specifically alleges that “Google’s conduct has harmed consumers by reducing the quality of general search services (including dimensions such as privacy, data protection, and use of consumer data), lessening choice in general search services, and impeding innovation.” But this key allegation is buried in Paragraph 167 of the Government’s Complaint, and it remains to be seen whether there is any merit to this allegation. For now, my money is on Google, not the Feds. Bonus material: Here is a helpful thread containing Sam Bowman’s economic analysis of the Google case.

prior probability

Talk about an October surprise; this is a huge development! Is Facebook next? We’ll update this post in the hours ahead ….

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The Feds finally come after Google

Talk about an October surprise; this is a huge development! Is Facebook next? We’ll update this post in the hours ahead ….

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Love and Liberty

Note: This blog post is based on my most recent work-in-progress “A Short History of Adam Smith in Love.”

Perhaps the most neglected aspect of Adam Smith’s biography is the pervasive role religion played in Scottish life. More to the point, the most regulated aspect of Scottish life by far in Adam Smith’s time was not the economy; it was people’s sex lives. Every parish in Scotland had its own ecclesiastic or church court. These parish courts or “kirk sessions” (as they were called) had jurisdiction over every parish member’s private and public conduct, including over all matters of sexual morality.

According to extensive historical research by Rosalind Mitchison and Leah Leneman, the great majority of these church cases consisted of sexual matters. (Mitchison & Leneman, 2001, surveys over 8,000 church court records spread across 78 Scottish parishes from the mid-17th to mid-18th Century.) Leneman and Mitchison (1988, p. 483, emphasis added) have also painted a detailed picture of the repressive nature of Adam Smith’s world and of the roving jurisdiction of Church courts over sex: “In the early modern period every parish in Scotland had its own church court (the kirk session) dealing with matters of conduct and morality. Drunkenness, sabbath breaking, slander, riotous behavior–all these came under the aegis of the session. However, partly through a sharper defining line between the roles of lay and of ecclesiastical jurisdictions, by the mid-eighteenth century the great majority of cases were of a sexual nature ….” In addition, Leneman and Mitchison emphasize “[t]he thoroughness with which these cases were pursued.” Specifically:

“The usual train of events was for an unmarried girl to be reported as ‘with child’ at a meeting of the kirk session and to be cited to appear at the next meeting. At that time she would be asked to name the man who had been guilty with her, and that man would in turn be cited to appear at a forthcoming meeting. Unless a case were in some way unusual, for instance if the man denied fornication with the woman, further enquiry would not normally be made into the circumstances surrounding the act. However, for some unknown reason, certain parishes in the Western Highlands and certain parishes in Fife often went on to ask where, when and how often intercourse had taken place.”
(Leneman & Mitchison, 1988, p. 483)

Even pre-marital sex or “ante-nuptial fornication” was a sin. According to Leneman and Mitchison (1988, p. 484), for example, most of these cases would came to light when a woman gave birth to a child less than nine months after being married. (According to scholars, there was a disconnect between official Church doctrine and informal social norms on the matter of pre-marital sex. For ordinary people, betrothal was a part of marriage, and as such made sexual intercourse permissible. Church elders, however, generally did not approve of such “irregular” marriage. For the Church, a marriage required the public exchange of promises in the presence of the parish minister. See generally Hardy, 1978; see also Gillis, 1985, pp. 52-54.)

We can thus make two Smithian conjectures given this repressive state of affairs in early modern Scotland. One conjecture is that the Adam Smith must have been very careful in his private life. Although the penalties for fornication, adultery, and other such moral offenses consisted of shaming penalties, or “penance on the pillar” to quote Leneman and Mitchison (1988, p. 495), a cautious and careful scholar of Adam Smith’s stature would not have wanted to incur such penalties as they would have derailed his prestigious academic career and lucrative private tutoring opportunities. The other conjecture I wish to make here is far more provocative and tentative. Given that there is evidence that Adam Smith did fall in love multiple times during his life, did Adam Smith not resent these religious restrictions? Were these religious restrictions on his love life perhaps the genesis of Adam Smith’s life-long love and defense of liberty?

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