By Jerry Evensky

Adam Smith's Moral Philosophy

Adam Smith is the best known among economists for his book, The Wealth of Nations, often viewed as the keystone of modern economic thought. For many he has become associated with a quasi-libertarian laissez-faire philosophy. Others, often heterodox economists and social philosophers, on the contrary, focus on Smith's The Theory of Moral Sentiments, and explore his moral theory. There has been a long debate about the relationship or lack thereof between these, his two great works. Adam Smith's Moral Philosophy treats these dimensions of Smith's work as elements in a seamless moral philosophical vision, demonstrating the integrated nature of these works and Smith's other writings. This book weaves Smith into a constructive critique of modern economic analysis (engaging along the way the work of Nobel Laureates Gary Becker, Amarty Sen, Douglass North, and James Buchanan) and builds bridges between that discourse and the other social sciences.

Excerpt:

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Reviews:Francis Woehrling on Journal of Markets and Morality wrote:

"Evensky’s book is a milestone in the contemporary recovery of the bases of our economic paradigm. Most economists trace their scientific corpus back to Adam Smith. However, since the rise of neoclassicism in the late nineteenth century, they have increasingly and almost unconsciously lost contact with Adam Smith’s “vision.” This process has reached an apex during the last forty years, during which economics has been turned into a set of very specialized fields. Furthermore, the partly ideological fight against Soviet Communism and Western state bureaucracies has been conducted under the banner of Adam Smith, the advocate of individualism and free markets. Yet, parallel to these developments, and unnoticed by the economic profession, a new field of intellectual history and philosophical research has rediscovered a historical Adam Smith who created economics as an integral part of moral philosophy.
[...] Evensky’s account is deficient in at least two ways. For one, the invisible hand is presented at working purely through the internal current (and past) evolution of a given society. No explicit account is taken of exogenous injections of ideas and messages, à la Max Weber. The role of the human person—personal initiative and responsibility—is also nowhere explicitly mentioned. The entrepreneur has no place in the vision. As a result of these implicit assumptions, Evensky is bound to turn exclusively to the abstract process of information as the ultimate factor of the invisible hand, that is, the global change of society and information. As a result, the faith that underlies the vision is thus never challenged, and the system can go on forever in its closed coevolution."


About Jerry Evensky

Jerry EvenskyJerry Evensky is Associate Professor of Economics and Laura J. and L. Douglas Meredith Professor for Teaching Excellence at Syracuse University. He coedited Adam Smith and the Philosophy of Law and Economics (1994) with Robin Malloy and is the author of the textbook Economics: The Ideas, the Issues. Professor Evensky serves on the editorial board of The Journal of the History of Economic Thought and served on the Executive Committee of the History of Economics Society from 1997 to 2000. He has published articles in the Journal of Economic Perspectives, History of Political Economy, Southern Economic Journal, American Journal of Economics and Sociology, Scottish Journal of Political Economy, and Research in the History of Economic Thought and Methodology.

Table of Contents

Adam Smith's Moral Philosophy

Part One - On Adam Smith's Moral Philosophical Vision

  1. Adam Smith's Vision
  2. On Human Nature, Social Norms, Co-Evolution, Natural Selection, an the Human Prospect
  3. On the Role of Positive Law in Humankind's Evolution
  4. On the Role of Religion in Humankind's Evolution

Part Two - On the Place of the Wealth of Nations in Adam Smith's Moral Philosophical Vision

  1. On the Progress of Opulence, Setting the Scene in Book I of The Wealth of Nations
  2. The Role of Capital in the Progress of Opulence: The Analysis of Book II of The Wealth of Nations
  3. An Unnatural Path to Natural Progress: Smith Represents the Power of His Principles in Book III of The Wealth of Nations
  4. Smith on the Mercantile system and the Evolution of His Voice: Book IV of The Wealth of Nations and Part VI of The Theory of Moral Sentiments
  5. On the Role of Government: Book V of The Wealth of Nations

Part Three - On Adam Smith's Moral Philosophical Vision and the Modern Discourse

  1. "Chicago Smith" versus "Kirkaldy Smith"
  2. Toward a Dynamic Three-Dimensial Analysis
  3. The Liberal Plan and the Quandary of Capital
  4. Epilogue: On the Human Prospect