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Adam Smith: Scottish Moral Philosopher as Political Economist

Donald Winch
The Historical Journal
Vol. 35, No. 1 (Mar., 1992), pp. 91-113
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2639481
Page Count: 23
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Since scans are not currently available to screen readers, please contact JSTOR User Support for access. We'll provide a PDF copy for your screen reader.
Adam Smith: Scottish Moral Philosopher as Political Economist
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Abstract

By contrast with those for whom the Wealth of nations marks the origin of economics as an autonomous science, this article argues that Smith's significance lies in his attempt to repossess political economy by restoring its links with the sciences of morals and natural jurisprudence - those concerns which are characteristic of his writings as a moral philosopher. The case proceeds by re-examining two topics derived from these sciences. The first begins with Smith's ungenerous treatment of his mercantile predecessors as a clue to what he believed was distinctive about his own system. Smith was antagonistic to precisely those rationalist, utilitarian and reductive models of behaviour based on self-interest that he is held to have in common with mercantile writers; he was answering rather than joining those who felt it necessary to isolate and legitimate rational economic self-seeking. The second topic turns on Smith's natural jurisprudence: his application of the criteria of natural justice when criticizing mercantile policies and institutions, where the emphasis falls on the negative injunctions of commutative justice rather than the positive ones of distributive justice. The separation of the ethics of the Theory of moral sentiments from the Wealth of nations, therefore, tells us more about Smith's successors than Smith himself.

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