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Final Causes in Adam Smith's TheoryofMoral Sentiments RICHARD A. KLEER 1. INTRODUCTION From its inception and for a long time thereafter, Adam Smith's Theory of Moral Sentimentswas deemed to turn upon the concept of a benevolent divine author of nature. This view was perhaps put most succinctly by Wilhelm Hasbach, who claimed that the point of departure for all of Smith's theoretical investigations was "the tenet of a God whose most outstanding properties were the greatest possible wisdom and beneficence. His highest purpose in the creation of the world was human happiness. For the realization of his final purpose, he made use of mechanics. The Creator is to be compared to a watchmaker, who has so artfully assembled the gears of the world that it produces order, harmony, beauty and happiness without the gears knowing or willing this outcome."' However, in recent decades, the tendency has been to argue that teleological arguments, while present in The Theory of Moral Sentiments, may be excised without impairing the cogency of his analysis. I mention only those who have made that book itself the focus of study (ignoring the larger body of scholars who examined it merely as a stepping stone to the exegesis of The Wealth ofNations). Alec Macfie claimed that, after reading The TheoryofMoral Sentiments"with the sole and explicit aim of noting all the differing passages in which Nature, the Deity, or the invisible hand.., occur," he found it "quite remarkable how little relation they have with the main sympathy-spectator argument. The ' Hasbach, Untersuchungen iiber Adam Smith und die Entwicklung der politischen Okonomie (Leipzig: Duncker & Humblot, 1891), 7: "Ihren Ausgangspunkt bildet die Lehre yon Gott, dessen am meisten hervortretende Eigenschaften gr6gte Weisheit und Giite sind. Sein h6chster Zweck bei der Erschaffung der Welt war die menschliche Glfickseligkeit. Zur Verwiridichung seiner Endzwecke bedient er sich des Mechanisrnus. Der Sch6pfer ist einern Uhrmacher zu vergleichen, welcher die R~ider der Welt so kunstvoil zusammengesetzt hat, dab sie Ordnung, Harmonie, Sch6nheit, Gliickseligkeit auswirken, ohne dab die P-~der es wissen oder wollen." [275] 276 JOURNAL OF THE HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY 33:2 APRIL ~995 latter indeed is self-sufficient on the level of moral philosophy. TM The justification for this assertion was not made explicit but can be gleaned from his account of Smith's moral theory. He sought to overturn the opinion which had prevailed among earlier commentators, that in Smith's view moral distinctions are the result of sympathy or instinct alone.S He asserted, rather, that Smith actually assigns a large role in his theory to human rationality. Specifically , ethical distinctions are formed only through rational reflection upon the feelings experienced by individuals in their social interaction. Moreover, these distinctions evolve into a form suitable to social existence only over a long period of time, in which the process of reflection becomes ever more educated as past experience of feelings is accumulated.4 The key role assigned to human rationality, in Macfie's view, gives Smith's moral theory an "inductive" quality and makes its teleological component dispensable. "In its inductive and descriptive arguments, The Theory of Moral Sentiments did give us a practical principle of moral discrimination, historically and socially as well as individually developed, and backed by the growing traditions of social experience .... It is in this system of inductive theory, not in the invisible hand, that his most valuable and original contribution was made."5 Other scholars have supported a similar conclusion. Hans Medick asserted that even if one conceives the "invisible hand" reference in The Theory of Moral Sentiments as "evidence for the preponderance of an optimistic deism in Smith's basic normative assumptions," one must nevertheless grant that such a concept has "no direct connection with Smith's empirically-founded statements concerning the social and economic actions of mankind." Rather, he claimed, "it symbolizes.., the Smithian view of society as an objective causal nexus and a productive historical force sui generis. This force, on the one hand, generates the artificial needs of mankind and, on the other hand, at once is kept in motion by the dynamic of these needs and directs that dynamic to goals which are not intended by...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1538-4586
Print ISSN
0022-5053
Pages
pp. 275-300
Launched on MUSE
2008-01-01
Open Access
N
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