Quotations by Smith, Adam


The man of system, on the contrary, is apt to be very wise in his own conceit; and is often so enamoured with the supposed beauty of his own ideal plan of government, that he cannot suffer the smallest deviation from any part of it. He goes on to establish it completely and in all its parts, without any regard either to the great interests, or to the strong prejudices which may oppose it. He seems to imagine that he can arrange the different members of a great society with as much ease as the hand arranges the different pieces upon a chess-board. He does not consider that the pieces upon the chess-board have no other principle of motion besides that which the hand impresses upon them; but that, in the great chess-board of human society, every single piece has a principle of motion of its own, altogether different from that which the legislature might choose to impress upon it.

If those two principles coincide and act in the same direction, the game of human society will go on easily and harmoniously, and is very likely to be happy and successful. If they are opposite or different, the game will go on miserably, and the society must be at all times in the highest degree of disorder.

Adam Smith (1723-1790) Scottish economist
The Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759)
Added on 12-Sep-08 | Last updated 12-Sep-08
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Let us suppose that the great empire of China, with all its myriads of inhabitants, was suddenly swallowed up by an earthquake, and let us consider how a man of humanity in Europe, who had no sort of connection with that part of the world, would be affected upon receiving intelligence of this dreadful calamity. He would, I imagine, first of all, express very strongly his sorrow for the misfortune of that unhappy people, he would make many melancholy reflections upon the precariousness of human life, and the vanity of all the labours of man, which could thus be annihilated in a moment. He would too, perhaps, if he was a man of speculation, enter into many reasonings concerning the effects which this disaster might produce upon the commerce of Europe, and the trade and business of the world in general.

And when all this fine philosophy was over, when all these humane sentiments had been once fairly expressed, he would pursue his business or his pleasure, take his repose or his diversion, with the same ease and tranquillity, as if no such accident had happened. The most frivolous disaster which could befall himself would occasion a more real disturbance. If he was to lose his little finger to-morrow, he would not sleep to-night; but, provided he never saw them, he will snore with the most profound security over the ruin of a hundred millions of his brethren, and the destruction of that immense multitude seems plainly an object less interesting to him, than this paltry misfortune of his own.

Adam Smith (1723-1790) Scottish economist
The Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759)
Added on 10-Oct-08 | Last updated 10-Oct-08
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As we have no immediate experience of what other men feel, we can form no idea of the manner in which they are affected, but by conceiving what we ourselves should feel in the like situation. Though our brother is on the rack, as long as we ourselves are at our ease, our senses will never inform us of what he suffers. They never did, and never can, carry us beyond our own person, and it is by the imagination only that we can form any conception of what are his sensations. Neither can that faculty help us to this any other way, than by representing to us what would be our own, if we were in his case. It is the impressions of our own senses only, not those of his, which our imaginations copy. By the imagination, we place ourselves in his situation.

Adam Smith (1723-1790) Scottish economist
The Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759)
Added on 24-Oct-08 | Last updated 24-Oct-08
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A stranger to human nature, who saw the indifference of men about the misery of their inferiors, and the regret and indignation which they feel for the misfortunes and sufferings of those above them, would be apt to imagine that pain must be more agonizing, and the convulsions of death more terrible, to people of higher rank than to those of meaner stations.

Adam Smith (1723-1790) Scottish economist
The Theory of Moral Sentiments, 1.3.2 (1759)
Added on 14-Sep-16 | Last updated 14-Sep-16
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That wealth and greatness are often regarded with the respect and admiration which are due only to wisdom and virtue; and that the contempt, of which vice and folly are the only proper objects, is often most unjustly bestowed upon poverty and weakness, has been the complaint of moralists in all ages.

Adam Smith (1723-1790) Scottish economist
The Theory of Moral Sentiments, 1.3.3 (1759)
Added on 21-May-13 | Last updated 21-May-13
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To seem to not be affected by the joy of our companions is but want of politeness; but to not wear a serious countentance when they tell us their afflictions, is real and gross inhumanity.

Adam Smith (1723-1790) Scottish economist
The Theory of Moral Sentiments, Part I, sec. 1, ch. ii (1759)
Added on 16-Sep-08 | Last updated 16-Sep-08
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You are confounded at my violence and passion, and I am enraged at your cold insensibility and want of feelings.

Adam Smith (1723-1790) Scottish economist
The Theory of Moral Sentiments, Part I, sec. 1, ch. iv (1759)
Added on 3-Sep-08 | Last updated 3-Sep-08
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The real price of everything, what everything really costs to the man who wants to acquire it, is the toil and trouble of acquiring it.

Adam Smith (1723-1790) Scottish economist
The Wealth of Nations
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 1-Feb-04
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Virtue is more to be feared than vice, because its excesses are not subject to the regulation of conscience.

Adam Smith (1723-1790) Scottish economist
The Wealth of Nations Introduction (1776)
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 1-Feb-04
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People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the confversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices.

Adam Smith (1723-1790) Scottish economist
The Wealth of Nations, 1.10.2 (1776)
Added on 17-Aug-11 | Last updated 17-Aug-11
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With the greater part of rich people, the chief enjoyment of riches consists in the parade of riches, which in their eye is never so complete as when they appear to possess those decisive marks of opulence which nobody can possess but themselves.

Adam Smith (1723-1790) Scottish economist
The Wealth of Nations, 1.11.2 (1776)
Added on 30-Jan-14 | Last updated 30-Jan-14
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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 interests. We address ourselves, not to their humanity but to their self-love, and never talk to them of our own necessities but of their advantage. Nobody but a beggar chooses to depend chiefly upon the benevolence of his fellow-citizens. Even a beggar does not depend upon it entirely.

Adam Smith (1723-1790) Scottish economist
The Wealth of Nations, 1.2 (1776)
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We address ourselves, not to their humanity but to their self-love, and never talk to them of our necessities but of their advantages.

Adam Smith (1723-1790) Scottish economist
The Wealth of Nations, 1.2 (1776)
Added on 13-Aug-15 | Last updated 13-Aug-15
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No society can surely be flourishing and happy, of which the far greater part of the members are poor and miserable.

Adam Smith (1723-1790) Scottish economist
The Wealth of Nations, 1.8 (1776)
Added on 15-Aug-12 | Last updated 15-Aug-12
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Money, says the proverb, makes money. When you have got a little, it is often easy to get more. The great difficulty is to get that little.

Adam Smith (1723-1790) Scottish economist
The Wealth of Nations, 1.9 (1776)
Added on 16-Mar-12 | Last updated 16-Mar-12
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But man has almost constant occasion for the help of his brethren, and it is in vain for him to expect it from their benevolence only. He will be more likely to prevail if he can interest their self-love in his favour, and shew them that it is for their own advantage to do for him what he requires of them. Whoever offers to another a bargain of any kind, proposes to do this. Give me that which I want, and you shall have this which you want, is the meaning of every such offer; and it is in this manner that we obtain from one another the far greater part of those good offices which we stand in need of. 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, and never talk to them of our own necessities, but of their advantages.

Adam Smith (1723-1790) Scottish economist
The Wealth of Nations, Book I, ch. ii, sec. 2 (1776)
Added on 5-Sep-08 | Last updated 5-Sep-08
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What improves the circumstances of the greater part can never be regarded as an inconvenience to the whole. No society can be flourishing and happy if the greater part of the members are poor and miserable.

Adam Smith (1723-1790) Scottish economist
The Wealth of Nations, Book I, ch. viii (1776)
Added on 19-Sep-08 | Last updated 19-Sep-08
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The proposal of any new law or regulation which comes from [businessmen], ought always to be listened to with great precaution, and ought never to be adopted till after having been long and carefully examined, not only with the most scrupulous, but with the most suspicious attention. It comes from an order of men, whose interest is never exactly the same with that of the public, who have generally an interest to deceive and even to oppress the public, and who accordingly have, upon many occasions, both deceived and oppressed it.

Adam Smith (1723-1790) Scottish economist
The Wealth of Nations, Book I, ch. xi (conclusion) (1776)
Added on 26-Aug-08 | Last updated 26-Aug-08
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It is the highest impertinence and presumption, therefore, in kings and ministers to pretend to watch over the economy of private people, and to restrain their expense, either by sumptuary laws, or by prohibiting the importation of foreign luxuries. They are themselves always, and without any exception, the greatest spendthrifts in the society. Let them look well after their own expense, and they may safely trust private people with theirs. If their own extravagance does not ruin the state, that of the subject never will.

Adam Smith (1723-1790) Scottish economist
The Wealth of Nations, Book II, ch. iii, sec. 36 (1776)
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All for ourselves, and nothing for other people, seems, in every age of the world, to have been the vile maxim of the masters of mankind.

Adam Smith (1723-1790) Scottish economist
The Wealth of Nations, Book III, ch. iv, sec. 10 (1776)
Added on 29-Aug-08 | Last updated 29-Aug-08
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According to the system of natural liberty, the sovereign has only three duties to attend to … first, the duty of protecting the society from the violence and invasion of other independent societies; secondly, the duty of protecting, so far as possible, every member of the society from the injustice or oppression of every other member of it, or the duty of establishing an exact administration of justice, and thirdly, the duty of erecting and maintaining certain public works and certain public institutions, which it can never be for the interest of any individual, or small number of individuals, to erect and maintain …

Adam Smith (1723-1790) Scottish economist
The Wealth of Nations, Book IV, ch. ix (1776)
Added on 3-Oct-08 | Last updated 3-Oct-08
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Be assured, my young friend, that there is a great deal of ruin in a nation.

Adam Smith (1723-1790) Scottish economist
Letter to Sir John Sinclair of Ulbster

When Sinclair had written him, after the Battle of Saratoga (Oct 1777), "If we go on at this rate, the nation must be ruined." In The Correspondence of Sir John Sinclair, Bt (1831).
Added on 26-Mar-15 | Last updated 26-Mar-15
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