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The Adam Smith Problem in Reverse: Self-Interest in Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations and Theory of Moral Sentiments
History Of Political Economy
  • Maria Pia Paganelli, Trinity University
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In identifying the tensions between the two treatises that Adam Smith (1723-90) published during his lifetime' - The Theory of Moral Sentiments' (1759) and 'The Wealth of Nations(1776) - 'it can be seen that the first is more favorable to self-interest. The author presents the effects of self-interest under ideal conditions, examines some of the abuses of self-interest, and describes how Smith deals with abuses of self-interest. Smith's first, lesser known treatise paints a picture of self-interest that more closely resembles that portrayed in modern economics: both the individual and society are better off when individuals pursue self-interest. In fact, there are both positive and negative accounts of self-interest, in addition to the remedies available against its excesses. Thus, a specific situation or set of circumstances may apply with cogency to the butcher, the baker, and the brewer, but the same does not necessarily hold true for merchants or manufacturers.
Citation Information
Paganelli, M. P. (2008). The Adam Smith Problem in Reverse: Self-Interest in The Wealth of Nations and The Theory of Moral Sentiments. History Of Political Economy, 40(2), 365-382.