Adam Smith Cared, So Why Can’t Modern Economics?: The Foundations for Care Ethics in Early Economic Theory

  • Andrew Terjesen
Part of the Issues in Business Ethics book series (IBET, volume 34)


In Smith’s Theory of Moral Sentiments Smith lays out a moral theory that has a number of points of connection with care ethics. Among them, he founds his moral theory on sentiment and “sympathy” (what we might nowadays call “empathy”) plays a large role in his theory of moral judgment. The first half of the chapter works how Smith’s moral theory can be viewed as a form of care ethics. It will be demonstrated that not only is it possible to see Smith as a care ethicist, but also the reasons for discounting him would be based on positions he took out of concern for certain possible consequences of his view (for example that it support ethics as objective in the way he thought it needed to be). Those consequences are not ones that would necessarily be shared by a contemporary care ethicist. Moreover, the positions he takes are not central to the overall theory. One could create a care ethics out of the core tenets of Smith’s moral psychology and ethical theory. The second half of the chapter demonstrates that the care ethic derived from Smith’s moral philosophy is relevant to modern economics. A close examination of the Wealth of Nations shows that Smith did not see economic theory as inseparable from moral theory. His discussions of public works show that Smith was very comfortable appealing to normative principles when discussing economic behavior and setting economic policy. Plus, his discussion of self-interest shows that he recognizes that caring cannot be separated from the economic sphere. In fact, many of the issues that have recently been raised about the nature of capitalism are the result of having abandoned the intermingling of economics and ethics that Smith recognized as a necessary part of human existence.


Adam Smith Sympathy Economics Capitalism 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyRhodes CollegeMemphisUSA

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