In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Hume Studies Volume 30, Number 2, November 2004, pp. 419-422 JAMES R. OTTESON, Adam Smith's Marketplace of Life. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002. Pp. xiii + 338. ISBN O 521 81625 4, cloth, $70.00/£55.00; ISBN 0-521-01656-8, paper, $26.00/£19.99. James R. Otteson's Adam Smith's Marketplace of Life is a wide-ranging examination of Smith's moral philosophy which closely analyzes the notions of sentiment, sympathy, general rules, the impartial spectator, and other related topics. Otteson assesses Smith's account of moral development and considers the extent to which Smith's moral sentimentalism is both descriptive and prescriptive. He also discusses Smith's views on the relationship between unintended order (the "invisible hand") and final causes. Finally, Otteson finds contemporary support for some of Smith's claims about human nature in the work of sociologist James Q. Wilson. Although much in Otteson's rich book invites comment, I will limit myself, for reasons of space, to outlining and briefly considering two of its main theses: (1) According to Adam Smith, moral standards have emerged, and continue to emerge, from a market-like exchange of sentiments among mutually sympathizing actors; (2) We can reconcile Smith's claim, in The Theory of Moral Sentiments, that benevolence as an important human motive, with the discussion in The Wealth of Nations, which seemingly reduces all behavior to self-interest. Otteson begins by elaborating the implications of Smith's view that our desire for the sympathy of others brings us to moderate our sentiments. Others sympathize with us only if they can "go along" with these sentiments and this happens only if we adjust our sentiments to an acceptable pitch. They must do the same if, in turn, they are to gain our sympathy. Mutual sympathy is possible, however, only if each imaginatively "steps into the shoes of the other," thereby adopting the other's perspective, and thus his sentiments. Thus an exchange of sentiments takes place. Otteson argues that this reciprocal process exhibits the dynamic of a marketplace. Just as in an economic marketplace, people freely exchange material goods (or services), so in a moral marketplace, people freely exchange sentiments. Furthermore, just as a continuous exchange between buyers and sellers moves the price of commodities towards their selling price, so the continuous exchange of sympathetic perspectives converges on an impartial standpoint, thereby erecting an objective standard of moral evaluation. Finally, just as a selling price results unintentionally from a multitude of uncoordinated trades, so an objective standard of moral evaluation emerges unintentionally from individual efforts of sympathetic transposition. In this way, a community-embracing moral standard grows out of the unconscious, yet fortuitous, collaboration of every member of society. Hume Studies 420 Book Reviews When discussing the genesis of morality, Otteson makes an interesting comparison between Smith and David Hume. According to Hume, moral judgments reflect considerations of utility: we morally approve of certain character traits, and of actions which express these traits, because they contribute to the good of either the moral agent himself or of others. The good of others matters to us because, as spectators, we sympathize with their feelings of joy and sorrow, with their happiness and unhappiness. Consequently, we approve of behavior which furthers their happiness and disapprove of behavior which makes them unhappy. Smith disagrees with this account of the origin of moral approval. Although he admits that the utility of an action plays some role in winning our approval, he asserts that this role is minor when compared to that played by an action's propriety. An action is proper, and thus praiseworthy, simply because it fits the circumstances in which it performed: it is the behavior that we have come to expect. Its utility is of secondary importance in determining its moral value. But although the utility of particular actions is not what recommends them, morally speaking, to the judging spectator, Otteson argues that utility does have an important function in Smith's moral theory. Utility "selects" between different possible standards (or frameworks) of moral judgment. In elaborating the mechanism that selects the "winner," Smith seems to have taken a hint from Hume. In A Treatise...


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 419-422
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.