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Categories:Types, Research, History
Published by: Pablo Paniagua Prieto on Sep 06, 2012
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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Adam Smith, the Professor from Kirkcaldy
The Theory of Moral Sentiments, Moral Society and the Impartial Spectator
Author: Pablo PaniaguaEditor: Victoria Finn
“Smith sought to do for moral philosophy what Isaac Newton had done for natural philosophy: to imagine and represent those invisible connecting principles that determine the course of nature. Newton's natural philosophical realm encompassed all in nature that envelopes humankind. Smith's moral  philosophical realm was humankind 
Jerry Evensky
“Government authority emerges to establish order in society, but government is neither the original source of order nor the locus of control that establishesorder in the ideal state. Order begins and ends with the individual citizen. Inthe beginning, a rude order is established by retribution based on a self-defined sense of justice. In the end, in the limit, a refined order is established by common acceptance of social norms, civic ethics, among citizens with self-command, the self-government, to enforce those norms about them-selves.Between this beginning and this end, in the course of humankind’s evolution from the rude state towards the ideal, the internal and external systems of  governance-norms and positive laws respectively-share one another as systems of justice evolve.” 
Jerry Evensky
“Ambition, avarice, self-love, vanity, friendship, generosity, public spirit;these passions mixed in various degrees, and distributed through society,have been from the beginning of the world and still are the source of all actions and enterprise which have ever been observed among”.
 Adam Smith Adam Smith, an enlightened life in the right place: Scotland:
Probably today in the Western World and also in several ex-Communist countries, everyonehas heard about Adam Smith. The Scottish professor of Moral Philosophy is probably amongthe most cited, known and mentioned Economists in the world. However Adam Smith is alsoprobably one of the least read and one of the most misrepresented, misunderstood andcontroversial figures in economic history. The misconceptions and controversy surroundinghim are due to several poor one-sided interpretations of his work, attributed mostly to anarrow analysis of his political economic publication “
An Inquiry into the Nature and Causesof the Wealth of Nations
(WN). In order to better understand Adam Smith’s economic-socialholistic framework and his final scope as an author, one must first understand his lesser knownfirst book, “
The Theory of Moral Sentiments
(TMS). In this essay I will try to address Smith’scomprehensive view of society, the evolution of consciousness and human behavior throughmy interpretation of the TMS, mostly using the work of more recent scholars who havecontributed to better understanding Smith’s Moral Theory; their novel analyses have situatedAdam Smith in a higher and more humanitarian position, far beyond what had beenimaginable three decades ago.
2Adam Smith (June 5, 1723 – July 17, 1790), was born in the former small port named Kirkcaldy,in Fife, in northern Edinburgh. Surprisingly he did not study at the University of Edinburgh; hisfamily instead decided to send him to Glasgow University. At the time Scotland was one of themost economical, enlightened and vigorous countries in the Western World; it had one of thehighest literacy rates among Europeans countries and boasted 4 of the best universities in theworld: Edinburgh, Glasgow, St. Andrews and Aberdeen. Meanwhile England had only 2 topuniversities: Oxford and Cambridge.Smith’s Scotland was, fortunately for him, the place to be intellectually enlightened. The Actsof Union finalized in 1707 united England and Scotland under a single monarchy andparliament, creating an economic and trading integration between them. This unionestablished a very important trade and commerce network in Northern Europe in thebeginning of the XVIII Century. That permitted the Scottish and English to peacefully trade andexport manufactured products to the rest of Europe. By the 1740s Glasgow and other Scottishports were growing thanks to this trade union pact. Glasgow became the biggest transit port inwhich imported raw materials from America were packaged and manufactured then re-exported, principally to England and to a lesser degree to some other continental Europeancountries.Scotland was a very nurturing and fruitful place in the XVIII century. Glasgow was economicallybooming and intellectual and religious freedoms were rapidly expanding, the middle class wasconsistently growing in measure and wealth. Increased trade, cultural and intellectualeffervescence formed the fertile soil for the Scottish Enlightenment to prosper; names likeFrancis Hutcheson (Irish) and David Hume were soon to appear in the intellectual spectrum.Hutcheson was a professor of Moral Philosophy at Glasgow University from 1730 to 1746,profoundly influencing and mentoring Adam Smith. Professor Hutcheson felt the necessity of creating a moral system which did not require relying on a deity or god as a source of superiormoral entity and human self-control. He wanted establish a social moral framework that couldbe placed outside the religious orthodox system. David Hume following Hutcheson and addedthe reasoning skepticism to this moral system; finally Adam Smith followed and complementedwhat Hutcheson and Hume had started.After completing his degree in culturally booming Glasgow, Adam Smith moved to study atOxford for six years, where (according to Smith) the educational quality was “deplorable”.Smith returned to Edinburgh in 1748 to give private lectures on ‘rhetoric and belles-lettres’,government and the history of science. He moved back to Glasgow as a professor of Logic in1751 then the following year he took Hutcheson’s old chair of Moral Philosophy; during thisappointment, he published his first book (the TMS) in 1759 at 36 years old. He resigned in 1764when he had the opportunity to accompany a young aristocrat, the Duke of Buccleuch, toFrance where he met Voltaire, Quesnay and Turgot; he stayed in France until 1766. After thisadventure, Smith spent the rest of his life moving between Kirkcaldy and Edinburgh. In 1776 hepublished the WN. At the end of his career, Smith was appointed as a Commissioner of Customs for Scotland. In 1787 he succeeded his friend Edmund Burke as Lord Rector of Glasgow University, where he diligently served for the rest of his life.During his lifetime, Smith was mostly famous for the TMS rather than the WN. Unfortunatelyin the following centuries, specifically ever since the XIX Century, the TMS gradually fell into
3intellectual eclipse, creating solely a one-sided interpretation of his work. He was thereafterexclusively analyzed through the lens of his WN work in Political Economy rather than in amore aggregate perspective. This incomplete and predisposed analysis of Adam Smith wascarried all the way through the XIX and the XX centuries, unfortunately bringing negativeresults in understanding his holistic system of necessary social institutions for a prosperoussociety. Smith was side-by-side with Hutcheson and Hume as the pioneers of humanimpartiality applied to Moral Ethics, but was surprisingly ignored in both Philosophy and Ethics.In addition, one of the biggest mistakes in understanding Smith’s philosophy was that mostpeople interested in his work were chiefly economists. They mainly studied, read or quotedonly the WN, creating a sort of philosophic dichotomy and disjunction of Smith’s dual works,generating a misinterpretation of the WN as well as its role within the bigger system. If the WNhad been analyzed and read without acknowledging the first social moral framework alreadydeveloped in the TMS, then the interpretation of WN would have been very limited anddistorted, missing what Smith intended to convey through both books. As Amartya Sen wrotein his introduction in a later TMS version:“The typical understanding of the WN has been constrained to the detriment of economics asa separate subject. The neglect applies, among other issues, to the appreciation of thedemands of rationality, the need for recognizing the plurality of human motivations, the deepconnection between social ethics and economics, and the co-dependent rather than free-standing role of institutions in general free markets in particular towards the functioning of theeconomy.”Here Amartya Sen shed light on what Adam Smith really intended with his lifetime work. Smithhad aimed at a bigger picture, trying also with a third publication on jurisprudence that he didnot finish. He attempted to develop a coherent holistic social system with 3 fundamentalspheres of human social interaction that reinforce each other and found a wealthy and stablesociety. According to Smith, these important spheres were: social traditions and moral rules,the organic institution of justice and common law and the self-interested actions of trade inthe free-market process. If they could have understood his books as coherent parts of a larger,natural social evolutionary system, then they would have emerged as completelycomplementary; they show a very articulated system to understanding human social life in itsentirety. Understanding the TMS and its deep philosophical relationship with the WN helps tobetter understand our human social interactions and the deep relationship between our moralsocial frameworks and the wealth of our nations. If Smith’s social system had been seen as a 3-legged chair which each leg reinforces the others in order to stand, his works would neverhave been considered disassociated with each other, nor considered Smith a “laissez-faire”,individualistic, or narrow-minded advocator.Even though to us this system appears quite complementary, there is extensive literatureregarding this apparent dichotomy between his two books, extensively misrepresented in theso called “
Adam Smith Problem
”. This is the whimsical belief that there is a substantialinconsistence between the moral system presented in the TMS (linked predominantly withsympathy and benevolence) and the opposing one exposed in the WN (related to plainselfishness). This is a completely flawed theory and neglects the fact that Smith mentions andanalyzes different heterogeneous sets of motivations and values in each book, includingbenevolence, sympathy and self-love among the sentiments which conduct human action.

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