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:
- Adam Smith in Love? (11 October 2020): Why did Smith never marry?
- 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?
- 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?
- 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?
- Malloy’s Adam Smith enigma (28 June 2022): Does Adam Smith’s invisible hand really need an impartial spectator to function properly?
- 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?
- 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?
- 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?
- Adam Smith as a mystery non-fiction author (5 April 2023): Why did Smith never complete his promised book on “law and government”?
- Adam Smith’s enigmas (11 April 2023): Why did Smith waste the last 12 years of his life as a customs commissioner?
- 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?)
- 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”.
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