Adam Smith om prylnördens estetiska sinne

I Adam Smiths verk The Theory of Moral Sentiments [1759] kan man läsa en rolig beskrivning av människor som gillar funktionella men onödiga prylar av allehanda slag. Stycket finns i en sektion som behandlar just ”the beauty which the appearance of UTILlTY bestows upon all the productions of art”.

How many people ruin themselves by laying out money on trinkets of frivolous utility? What pleases these lovers of toys is not so much the utility, as the aptness of the machines which are fitted to promote it. All their pockets are stuffed with little conveniencies. They contrive new pockets, unknown in the clothes of other people, in order to carry a greater number. They walk about loaded with a multitude of baubles, in weight and sometimes in value not inferior to an ordinary Jew’s-box,[1] some of which may sometimes be of some little use, but all of which might at all times be very well spared, and of which the whole utility is certainly not worth the fatigue of bearing the burden.

[1] [Editor:] Presumably a box of wares carried by a Jewish pedlar.

Adam Smith (1982), The Theory of Moral Sentiments (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund), s. 180.

‘The Theory of Moral Sentiments’ — en bra bok?

När Adam Smith publicerade The Theory of Moral Sentiments så levde han relativt isolerad i Skottland. Således hade han inget begrepp om hur hans bok togs emot av den bildade allmänheten, allra minst hur den togs emot i London. Men i London befann sig David Hume, och han tog sig för att i ett brev rapportera till sin vän. Hume inleder sitt brev med att försiktigt påminna Adam Smith om att alla stora filosofer faktiskt har ansett att den allmänna opinionen är värdelös som mätare av ett verks utsökthet. Varpå han rapporterar följande:

Supposing, therefore, that you have duely prepard yourself for the worst by all these Reflections; I proceed to tell you the melancholy News, that your Book has been very unfortunate: For the Public seem disposed to applaud it extremely. It was looked for by the foolish People with some Impatience; and the Mob of Literati are beginning already to be very loud in its Praises. Three Bishops calld yesterday at Millar’s Shop in order to buy Copies, and to ask Questions about the Author: The Bishop of Peterborough said he had passed the Evening in a Company, where he heard it extolld above all Books in the World. You may conclude what Opinion true Philosophers will entertain of it, when these Retainers of Superstition praise it so highly.

Brev från David Hume till Adam Smith den 12 april 1759. Citerat i Adam Smith (1976) The Theory of Moral Sentiments (Oxford: Oxford University Press), s. 25.