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New Essays on Adam Smith’s Moral Philosophy

Wade Robison, David B. Suits

Publication Year: 2012

Published by: RIT Press

Title Page

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pp. 1-12

Adam Smith’s The Theory of Moral Sentiments (TMS)1 was published in 1759, and although it was not the instant success of The Wealth of Nations (WN), it was well received. Hume wrote that “the Public seem disposed to applaud it extremely”. Yet those familiar only with WN would no doubt be surprised by some of Smith’s sentiments...

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1. Smith on Taste and Criticism: Texts and Contexts

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pp. 13-34

By describing the contexts Smith inhabited I want to illustrate how very different they were from ours. This forces us to ask whether we can bridge the gap: can we “project ourselves imaginatively”—as the claim goes—into such an alien world? What are...

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2: Theory of Moral Sentiments 1759 vs. Theory of Moral Sentiments 1790: A Change of Mind or a Change in Constraint

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pp. 35-44

The name of Adam Smith is more often than not associated with The Wealth of Nations (WN). But his first book was The Theory of Moral Sentiments (TMS). The place TMS holds in the literature on Smith is problematic. When it was first published, TMS was...

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3: The “Adam Smith Problem” and Adam Smith’s Utopia

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pp. 45-70

The Adam Smith Problem concerns the relationship between Smith’s two major works, (TMS) and An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations (WN).2 Two passages in particular, one in TMS and the other in WN, triggered off the whole debate some 150 years ago. In TMS, Smith asserts...

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4. Modern Natural Law Meets the Market: The Case of Adam Smith1

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pp. 71-94

“In The Wealth of Nations the impartial spectator puts in no appearance, unless perhaps Smith cast himself in that role” (Bitterman, “Adam Smith’s Empiricism”, 520).2 Much has changed in the scholarship on Adam Smith since Henry Bittermann has made this observation in 1940 echoing the long-debated “Adam Smith problem”: a...

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5. Revisiting Sentimentalism: A Smithian Normative Moral Theory

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pp. 95-114

Recently philosophers have found a renewed interest in the sentiments. Robert Solomon, perhaps their biggest advocate, declares that “when being ‘reasonable’ means repressing, ignoring, or denigrating feeling, then philosophy has gone too far and, so far as most people are concerned, rendered itself irrelevant...

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6. The Theory of Moral Sentiments and Smith’s Account of Sympathy

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pp. 115-136

The philosophical importance of Adam Smith’s appeal to the notion of sympathy in his Theory of Moral Sentiments (TMS) is widely recognised. It has, indeed, been suggested that sympathy provides the central unifying theme or foundation of Smith’s...

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7. “The most cruel misfortune”: Suffering Innocence in The Theory of Moral Sentiments

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pp. 137-150

In The Theory of Moral Sentiments1 (TMS), Part III, Chapter 2, Adam Smith describes an “innocent man, brought to the scaffold by the false imputation of an infamous or odious crime”. Smith does not equivocate on the significance of this situation. Such a...

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8. Taming Resentment

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pp. 151-172

Eighteenth-century Scotland’s three most renowned philosophers, David Hume, Adam Smith, and Thomas Reid, were familiar with and admired the work of their English predecessor Joseph Butler. Smith and Reid made explicit use of Butler’s account...

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9. Skepticism and Imagination: Smith’s Response to Hume’s Dialogues

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pp. 173-194

The otherwise unblemished friendship of David Hume and Adam Smith was marred by one significant incident. Prior to his death in 1776, Hume named Smith his literary executor and requested that he see to press his Dialogues Concerning Natural...

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10. Hume’s Death and Smith’s Philosophy 

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pp. 195-210

When Smith’s “Letter to Strahan” was published, it predictably drew fire for its blatant comparison of Hume to Socrates. Hume, Smith said, “approached the ideal of a perfectly wise and virtuous man, as perhaps the nature of human frailty will permit”. The letter to Strahan bears the weight of the comparison to Plato’s masterwork, the...

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11. “A Delicate and an Accurate Pencil”: Adam Smith, Description, and Philosophy as Moral Pedagogy

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pp. 211-228

In the mid-18th century, Scottish aristocrats, intellectuals, and members of the professional classes were focused on removing remnants of their nation’s cultural, intellectual, moral, and economic backwardness. These elites thought of themselves, as Phillipson puts it, “as agents of improvement who would modernise their province...


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pp. 229-244


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pp. 245-246

E-ISBN-13: 9781933360676
Print-ISBN-13: 9781933360638

Publication Year: 2012

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Subject Headings

  • Smith, Adam, 1723-1790. Theory of moral sentiments.
  • Ethics -- Early works to 1800.
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