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September 26, 2007

Mystery Quote for the Day

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

Care to venture a guess as to who wrote the following passage?

"The man whose life is spent in performing a few simple operations has no occasion to exert his understanding, or to exercise his invention in finding out expedients for removing difficulties which never occur. He naturally loses, therefore, the habit of such exertions, and generally becomes as stupid and ignorant as it is possible for a human creature to become. The torpor of his mind renders him not only incapable of relishing or bearing a part in any rational conversation, but of conceiving any generous, noble, or tender sentiment."

No Googling, please. I'll supply the answer in a couple of hours. It may come as a surprise. Well, I'm hoping it will anyway.



posted by Michael at September 26, 2007


Adam Smith I believe.

Posted by: Luke Lea on September 26, 2007 1:05 PM

Yes, it was Smith. I think he was yammering about pins at the time.

Posted by: Sluggo on September 26, 2007 1:49 PM

Yeah, Smith. I remember this one from grad school. His remedy, I believe, was education, in what Karl Marx referred to as "homeopathic" doses. But maybe Marx was unfair: the Workers' Institutes of a century or so later were admirable.

Posted by: Intellectual Pariah on September 26, 2007 1:50 PM

I'm going to wildly guess Karl Marx.

Though it could be any of many, many Western thinkers. It could be Aristotle.

Posted by: BP on September 26, 2007 2:50 PM

I believe Mr. Lea is right, but I'll go with Thoreau, supposing one of his musings on Walden Pond when performing a daily tedious bit of work inspired him to take a particular item and then globalize it to a generality.

The quote does sound Economic though, doesn't it?

Posted by: DarkoV on September 26, 2007 3:06 PM

I'm going with Adam Smith too

Posted by: Alan Little on September 26, 2007 3:21 PM

My first thought was Marx - "the idiocy of rural life" - and I'm stickin' to it (which may be idiotic). ;^)

Posted by: ricpic on September 26, 2007 4:01 PM

A lot of you are too smart, darn it: Adam Smith is the right answer, from "The Wealth of Nations." (I think I'd have guessed Marx myself.) Smith doesn't get enough credit -- IMHO, of course -- for being as clear-eyed and even critical about capitalism, industrial life, economic development, trade, etc, as he actually was. When I read him I find him as incisive in his critiques as Marx, if a lot less ponderous, relentless, and Old Testamentish. Despite his rah-rah-capitalism rep, Smith didn't present the world of capitalism and/or free trade as one where all was always for the best in the best of all possible worlds. He was an amazingly nuanced thinker.

I don't why I've been thinking about this today, but there you have it ...

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on September 26, 2007 4:17 PM

Smith was writing for the free market against royal monopolies and mercantilism. Also remember that his vision of the free market involved many buyers and sellers. I'm not sure what he would have made of today's megacorps.

Posted by: SFG on September 26, 2007 8:48 PM

Okay, so I cheated and googled it. What I came up with, however, was by no means Adam Smith, but rather, the Buddha:

Abandoning sloth and torpor, he abides free from sloth and torpor, percipient of light, mindful and fully aware, he purifies his mind from sloth and torpor.

Not two thinkers I would ordinarily bracket, but perhaps I need rethink my intellectual history!

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on September 26, 2007 10:34 PM

Damn, I thought it was Laura Bush.

Posted by: sN on September 26, 2007 10:54 PM

Obviously Smith (but then I do write for the Adam Smith Inst). But be careful about "capitalism". The word wasn't even invented until decades after his death.
He's very much a realist as well (sorry, was). Not a Rah Rah! supporter of business by any means.

Posted by: Tim Worstall on September 27, 2007 5:40 AM

Michael- There is no doubt about Smith being an "amazingly nuanced thinker".

i would recommend you put Smith's "Theory of Moral Sentiments" on your list. Many consider it to be Smith's preeminent work.

Posted by: mark on September 27, 2007 10:45 AM

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