Advertisement

Adam Smith on the Greatest Wealth of Nations: How Progress Depends on Virtuous Citizenship

  • Jerry EvenskyEmail author
Living reference work entry

Abstract

Adam Smith believed that there is an absolute standard of virtue, that acting by this standard represented the perfection of moral character, and that a community of individuals who achieved this ideal would enjoy the greatest possible Wealth of Nations.

However, Smith did not believe we can know this standard, and in any case he did not believe any human has the self-command to achieve this standard, so as a practical matter he did not believe that the greatest Wealth of Nations is achievable.

But, Smith believed that we can develop an informed image of the ideal by culling from the lessons of history the principles that lead to progress and thus inform that ideal. For Smith the ideal is a limit, not achievable but approachable. The raison d’être of his moral philosophy was to imagine the contours of the ideal of virtue and to advocate for institutions that nurtured a continuous approximation of that ideal in individuals so that humankind could progress toward that limiting case: The greatest Wealth of Nations and secure tranquility for each individual.

Keywords

Sentiments Character Citizen Ethics Values Security Transaction costs 

References

  1. Evensky J (2005) Adam Smith’s moral philosophy: a historical and contemporary perspective on markets, law, ethics, and culture. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  2. Pocock JGA (1983) Cambridge paradigms and Scotch philosophers: a study of the relations between civic humanist and the civil jurisprudential interpretation of eighteenth-century social thought. In: Hont I, Ignatieff M (eds) Wealth and virtue. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  3. Smith A (1976a) Theory of moral sentiments. In: Raphael DD, Macfie AL (eds), Raphael DD, Skinner A (eds) The Glasgow edition of the works and correspondence of Adam Smith. Clarendon, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  4. Smith A (1976b) An inquiry into the nature and causes of the wealth of nations. In: Campbell RH, Skinner A, Todd WB (eds), Raphael DD, Skinner A (eds) The Glasgow edition of the works and correspondence of Adam Smith. Clarendon, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  5. Smith A (1977) The correspondence of Adam Smith. In: Mossner EC, Ross IS (eds), Raphael DD, Skinner A (eds) The Glasgow edition of the works and correspondence of Adam Smith. Clarendon, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  6. Smith A (1980) Essays on philosophical subjects. In: Wightman WPD, Bryce JC (eds), Raphael DD, Skinner A (eds) The Glasgow edition of the works and correspondence of Adam Smith. Clarendon, OxfordGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public AffairsSyracuse UniversitySyracuseUSA

Personalised recommendations