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Love the One You’re With?

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Love the One You’re With?

David White took this lovely photo in Jerusalem on February 9.  Have you ever seen a happier donkey? Yes, it is scraggly and looks goofy with its ears all askew, but it feels loved.  (Or, it has a full tummy. Or, it just passed gas. I prefer to think it feels love, or what passes for love.)

Adam Smith thought that affection arose when people interacted regularly and experienced habitual sympathy: Among well-disposed people, the necessity or conveniency of mutual accommodation, very frequently produces a friendship not unlike that which takes place among those who are born to live in the same family.

Colleagues in office, partners in trade, call one another brothers; and frequently feel towards one another as if they really were so…. This natural disposition to accommodate and to assimilate, as much as we can, our own sentiments, principles, and feelings, to those which we see fixed and rooted in the persons whom we are obliged to live and converse a great deal with, is the cause of the contagious effects of both good and bad company (TMS, 1982: 223-224, emphasis added).

Here the donkey and its owner are “partners in trade.” The owner caresses it and talks to it, and experiences habitual sympathy—or, genuine affection. One of the problems with neoclassical economics is that it is hard to shoe-horn affection into a utility function. Smith argued that our feelings are experienced so instantaneously that they are not part of a rational calculation of interest; true affection is not rooted in computations of costs and benefits.

Author: Dr. Jonathan Wight
Professor at the University of Richmond, Virginia, USA.

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