Portrait of Adam Smith

Adam Smith on the illegitimacy of using force to promote beneficence (1759)

Found in: The Theory of Moral Sentiments and on the Origins of Languages (Stewart ed.)

Adam Smith (1723-1790) argues that force should never be used to make people be beneficent to others:


Beneficence is always free, it cannot be extorted by force, the mere want of it exposes to no punishment; because the mere want of beneficence tends to do no real positive evil. It may disappoint of the good which might reasonably have been expected, and upon that account it may justly excite dislike and disapprobation: it cannot, however, provoke any resentment which mankind will go along with.