Invisible Hand

  • Karen I. Vaughn
Part of the The New Palgrave book series (NPA)


‘The invisible hand’ was a metaphor used by Adam Smith to describe the principle by which a beneficient social order emerged as the unintended consequences of individual human actions. Although Smith used the specific term ‘invisible hand’ in this sense only twice in his writings, once in the Theory of Moral Sentiments and once in The Wealth of Nations, the idea the metaphor connotes permeates all of his social and moral theories. Indeed, it was the notion of the invisible hand that enabled Smith to develop the first comprehensive theory of the economy as an interrelated social system. It is not much of an exaggeration to say that the invisible hand made theoretical social science itself possible.


Unintended Consequence Invisible Hand Moral Sentiment Spontaneous Order Unintended Result 
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© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 1989

Authors and Affiliations

  • Karen I. Vaughn

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