While reading Henry Kissinger's book, Diplomacy, I came across several examples of thinkers conveniently, but constructively (meaning with good intentions), equating one concept with another. The quotes are below.

Adam Smith, in The Wealth of Nations, maintained that an "invisible hand" would distill general economic well-being out of selfish individual economic actions. (p.21)

In The Federalist Papers, Madison argued that, in a large enough republic, the various political "factions" selfishly pursuing their own interests would, by a kind of automatic mechanism, forge a proper domestic harmony. (p.21)

The same principles were applied to international affairs. By pursuing its own selfish interests, each state was presumed to... [guarantee] that freedom of choice for each state assured well-being for all. (p.22)

In foreign policy, Great Britain has always tended to practice a convenient form of ethical egoism: what was good for Great Britain was considered good for the rest of the world as well. (p.598)

The third quote is in reference to balance-of-power politics.

I have a couple of questions about this kind of dogmatic thinking where two different ideas are, potentially incorrectly, equated:

  1. Is there a term for equating two ideas in this way? I was thinking of Orwell's doublespeak, but that seemed inappropriate since the quoted ideas were thought to be for betterment of life, whereas doublespeak was constructed in the story for perpetuating an authoritarian regime.
  2. Would you to be able to provide any other examples or references for studying this phenomenon of equating two ideas?

EDIT: while reading over what I wrote, I realized that the first three examples, and possible the fourth too, are not actually equalities, but rather implications. So answers about fallacious implications would be fine.

  • 1
    I don't see how the examples you gave are examples of a thinker equating two different ideas. What are the ideas being equated, and who is doing the equating?
    – causative
    Commented Dec 27, 2021 at 6:09
  • 1
    This is called analogy, and yes, political and social studies are full of loose analogies. Considering the complexity of matters there, and intractability of exact modeling, it is not a bad heuristic for guessing what might work to look at what works in analogous situations where it is known. Analogies always limp, of course, but they are better than nothing. Your examples are heuristic arguments of this sort, and there is nothing wrong with them as such. Of course, the plausibility of conclusions depends on how far the analogy actually holds, but that may not be discernible from the outset.
    – Conifold
    Commented Dec 27, 2021 at 8:40
  • @Conifold I thought about it and realized that what strikes me about these examples is that they give one an excuse to pursue one's own self-interest on the basis of it serving a greater purpose. I looked up the term Kissinger uses "ethical egoism" and it seems to be a special case of your word "analogy": plato.stanford.edu/entries/egoism/#EthiEgoi . "Ethical egoism claims that I morally ought to perform some action if and only if, and because, performing that action maximizes my self-interest."
    – Favst
    Commented Dec 27, 2021 at 13:37
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    I can't follow your point. The four examples are simply proposed sociopolitical mechanisms for social outcomes--and those proposed mechanisms may or may not be correct. I don't understand what you mean by "Equating one concept with another" or "fallacious implications." As it stands, the question should be closed as it's too unclear what is being asked.
    – Chelonian
    Commented Dec 27, 2021 at 18:44
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    Then really your question should be removed and replaced with something like "Is there a general term for the school(s) of thought in political philosophy that individually optimal actions result in collectively optimal outcomes, as these four quotes propose?" And hat tip to @Conifold for that phrasing.
    – Chelonian
    Commented Dec 28, 2021 at 5:39


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