Die Adam Smith Probleme: a comprehensive recap

Alternative title: Beyond invisible hands and impartial spectators

In economics, philosophy, and the history of ideas, Das Adam Smith Problem refers to a possible paradox involving Adam Smith the political economist and Adam Smith the moral philosopher, or more specifically, to a deep internal contradiction in his two great works: (1) the invisible hand of The Wealth of Nations, where Smith develops a simple but testable theory of political economy based on self-interest and “self-regarding” behavior, and (2) the impartial spectator of The Theory of Moral Sentiments, where the Scottish philosopher develops a more complex and convoluted but pro-social theory of ethics based on sympathy and “other-regarding” behavior. Although Adam Smith scholars continue to debate whether “Das Adam Smith Problem” is a real problem or not (at the very least, the literature on this topic has already reached Borgesian proportions; see here, for example), I will withhold judgment for now and refrain from joining this scholarly fray.

Instead, I will share 12 of my previous blog posts (in chronological order) in which I point out many other additional “Adam Smith Problems” based on my own researches of the Scottish philospher’s life and work:

  1. Adam Smith in Love? (11 October 2020): Why did Smith never marry?
  2. Smith in the City: Colbert de Castle-Hill (4 June 2022): Who are “Madam Nicol” and the “lady of Fife”, i.e. two of the ladies that Abbé Colbert refers to in a private September 1766 letter addressed to Smith?
  3. Metaphors, markets, and morality (part 2): some questions about Adam Smith’s impartial spectator (22 June 2022): Why didn’t Smith identify or at least think through the many possible objections to his theory of impartial spectators?
  4. Adam Smith’s blind spot? (27 June 2022): Why does Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations fail to anticipate one of the most important sources of economic growth, such as entrepreneurs and inventors?
  5. Malloy’s Adam Smith enigma (28 June 2022): Does Adam Smith’s invisible hand really need an impartial spectator to function properly?
  6. Balliol College and the road to Adam Smith’s Damascus (30 March 2023): Why did Smith give up his religious vocation during his studies at Balliol College?
  7. Another surprise twist on the road to Smith’s Damascus (4 April 2023): Why did Smith agree to become a travelling tutor to a future duke he had never met?
  8. Quesnay’s contradiction (5 April 2023): How does Smith resolve what I like to call “Quesnay’s contradiction”, i.e. the desirability of free markets without political freedom?
  9. Adam Smith as a mystery non-fiction author (5 April 2023): Why did Smith never complete his promised book on “law and government”?
  10. Adam Smith’s enigmas (11 April 2023): Why did Smith waste the last 12 years of his life as a customs commissioner?
  11. Another Adam Smith Enigma (12 April 2023): Why did Smith instruct his literary executors to destroy most of his unpublished works upon his death? (i.e. what did Smith have to hide?)
  12. And last but not least Additional Adam Smith enigmas (13 April 2023): A list of eight more “Adam Smith problems”.

To conclude: the plural of Das Adam Smith Problem is “Die Adam Smith Probleme”.

Adam Smith - Revolutionary economist or a moral philosopher?

About F. E. Guerra-Pujol

When I’m not blogging, I am a business law professor at the University of Central Florida.
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1 Response to Die Adam Smith Probleme: a comprehensive recap

  1. Pingback: Why did Adam Smith ditch Oxford in 1746? | prior probability

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