Observations of Man (Part 5)

09.14.20 10:27 AM

Comments and remarks on the writings of Adam Smith's Theory of Moral Sentiments

Part 5


Render unto Caesar, it is said, what is Caesar's. The astute might observe in this expression, however, no mention of anything beyond that. It does not suggest that one renders to Caesar what is proper, what is expected, what might earn favor or gratitude, or what might be above or below the rendering of another. Simply, what is Caesar's. The crux of this expression addresses, mostly, the notion of paying one's debts to whom they are owed. But, it also implies another meaning in what it fails to mention. Indeed, paying the debt, as it is listed, frees the debtee from the burden or guilt of owing another (though this is to say nothing of penalties, interest, or other owings). Caesar, then, has no claim to anything beyond his, and cannot reasonably extract it without becoming the object of resentment amid society. Though man, bestowed such an aptitude by nature, seeks first their own happiness, then the happiness of others, may achieve this goal sooner by attempting to render what is not theirs, doing so provokes negative emotions from those he attempts to exact his toll upon, and rightfully so. His fellow-beings, both as expected by him and society, will render unto him what is his, but have no obligation to render anything beyond that.

Defining what is actually the proverbial Caesar's owed renderings, then, must become the primary concern before attempting to extract the debt. If the definition is inexact, and too low, Caesar has not been rendered what is rightfully his, and he will resent the debtee for underpaying. Conversely, if the definition is inexact, and too high, society will see Caesar as rendering more than he is owed, and will earn their resentment for his attempts to further his own happiness at the expense of another. Carefully define therefore, if I may say so, your debts before attempting to collect them. Doing so will make you, in the eyes of both the debtee and society, a fair and impartial debtor who only seeks, like Caesar, to render unto himself what is his.

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