“Man naturally desires, not only to be loved, but to be lovely.”

It must be quote week at Borden’s Blog.

Yesterday I wrote about an expression I had never heard of until a few days ago (and actually there was a blog post about that same expression in my email about 10 days ago that I somehow missed).

Today I attended a Villanova School of Business Research Symposium, and one of the presenters used the quote above in her presentation.

The quote is from Adam Smith, the famous Scottish economist (that’s his statue at the top of the blog that I came across in Edinburgh a couple of months ago). Smith is most well-known for his book,  An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations (1776).

However, besides being an economist, Smith was also a philosopher. Drawing on his philosophy background, Smith had earlier in his career written another future classic: The Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759). It is from this book that the quote at the top of this blog is taken.

I have not read this book, and thus was not familiar with the quote. But when I thought about it I realized, much like yesterday’s quote, that it is a simple phrase, but contains a powerful message.

Rather than prove to you my lack of philosophical insight by offering my interpretation of the message, I came across a review of the book from William Irwin at Psychology Today, and here is an excerpt where he examines this quote:

Self-love is not enough. Humans naturally desire to be loved by others, but we don’t need the whole world to love us. We desire happiness, and, as a necessary part of that we, desire to be loved. When Smith speaks of love he intends a broader sense than we may tend to think of it today. It’s not just about romantic or familial love. Smith means we want people to really like us, care about us, and respect us.

We also desire to be lovely, but again in a different sense. By “lovely” he means worthy of being loved. We don’t just want others to love us, but rather we want to have earned that love. As Smith points out, we do not feel at ease in response to an unearned compliment. Nor do we feel happy when our actions are not worthy of the respect of others. 

So what do we need to do to be lovely? Smith thinks we need to cultivate three virtues: prudence, justice, and beneficence.

  • By prudence Smith means taking care of yourself. So don’t eat or drink to excess, and choose wisely in all areas of life. Smith did not think there was much happiness to be found in owning the latest gadgets or achieving fame, and so it would not be prudent to pursue those things.
  • By justice Smith means not harming others. Of course one shouldn’t assault others or steal their property. But lying and even gossiping would be out of bounds too.
  • By beneficence Smith means being good to others. The requirements of beneficence are vague and difficult to determine.

I agree with all that Irwin has to say. I know I want to be loved, and I want to earn that love. To me a key to earning that love is by being kind. I think of “being lovely” as just another way of saying “be kind”.

Smith’s thoughts on man’s desire to be loved and to be lovely were written over 250 years ago. However, such words still have meaning today, and can provide insight into people’s behaviors by making us aware that people’s motivations driven by a desire to be love and to be lovely.

By the way, the presentation at the research conference where I came across this phrase was about food waste, and in particular the key role that frozen vegetables can play in decreasing such waste. I think I’ll be switching to frozen vegetables for my smoothies…

2 thoughts on ““Man naturally desires, not only to be loved, but to be lovely.”

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