Adam Smith's System of Liberty, Wealth, and Virtue: The Moral and Political Foundations of the Wealth of Nations

Adam Smith's System of Liberty, Wealth, and Virtue: The Moral and Political Foundations of the Wealth of Nations

Adam Smith's System of Liberty, Wealth, and Virtue: The Moral and Political Foundations of the Wealth of Nations

Adam Smith's System of Liberty, Wealth, and Virtue: The Moral and Political Foundations of the Wealth of Nations

Synopsis

This book examines the influence that Adam Smith's philosophy had on his economics, drawing on the neglected parts of Smith's writings to show that the political and economic theories built logically on his morals. It analyses the significance of his stoic beliefs, his notions of art and music, astronomy, philosophy and war, and shows that Smith's invisible hand was part of a `system' that was meant to replace medieval Christianity with an ethic of virtue in this world rather than the next. Smith was motivated primarily by a political ideal, a moral version of liberalism. He rejected the political philosophy of the Greeks and Christians as authoritarian and unworldly, but contrary to what many economists believe, he also rejected the amoral liberalism that was being advocated by his countryman and friend David Hume. Far from being myopic about self-love, Smith arrived at his theories of free trade, economic growth, and alienation via his reinterpretation of Stoic virtue. Athol Fitzgibbons' account is clearly written, and its innovations reveal the hitherto hidden unity in Smith's overarching system of morals, politics and economics.

Excerpt

This book describes how Adam Smith set out to replace the Aristotelian philosophy of Western Europe, which had become a hindrance to liberty and economic growth, with an equally comprehensive but more vital world view. It sketches the great intellectual systems that Smith opposed, explains the significance of his Stoic religion, and shows why his moral philosophy led to a new economic blueprint. It also shows how, in the course of formulating his world view, Smith was misled by the scientific credulity of his age.

I have taken issue with the general assumption that Smith's philosophy reflected that of his friend David Hume, who was a great sceptic and humanist, an apostle of commerce and the benefits of self-love, and a harbinger of positivist science. It will transpire that Smith's main intention was to provide liberalism with a workable moral foundation, and that this was his theme even in The Wealth of Nations. Smith set out to enunciate the values and principles of law that could make inner Goods consistent with the pursuit of liberty and wealth. For, though he was not concerned with the salvation of souls, Smith was very much concerned with the survival of political states; and though he is supposed to have replaced moral and political speculations with economic theory, his economic theories were really intended to advance this fundamentally political objective.

This is a new account of Smith that has to pass the scrutiny of specialists, but it has also been written with a more general reader in mind. Technical terms have been avoided except where it has been necessary to explain some nuances of Smith's language. For clarity, I have also used some terms that Smith himself did not, such as 'liberalism', 'laissez-faire', and 'scientific method'. Some of Smith's writings have been abridged, especially from The Theory of Moral Sentiments, which he evidently wrote when of the opinion that it was better to make a point six times loosely than once with precision.

The brief lines quoted at the beginning of each chapter were written by Smith's older contemporary Alexander Pope, whom Smith once described as 'the most correct, as well as the most . . .

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