The “Adam Smith problem” and the retreat of sentimental virtue from the world

PEACE, Mary (2018). The “Adam Smith problem” and the retreat of sentimental virtue from the world. In: ADELMAN, Richard and PACKHAM, Catherine, (eds.) Political economy, literature & the formation of knowledge, 1720-1850. Routledge Studies in Eighteenth-Century Literature (16). New York, Routledge, 159-182.

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It is now a “truth universally acknowledged” that the “Adam Smith problem” that exercised cultural theorists and historians from the nineteenth century onwards was the product of misreading. Richard Adelman and Catherine Packham define the “Adam Smith problem” in the introduction to this volume as “the apparent conundrum surrounding how…the moral philosopher who wrote The Theory of Moral Sentiments in 1759, could also write The Wealth of Nations (WN) in 1776". 1 How could the author of The Theory of Moral Sentiments(hereafter TMS), who “considers human nature as universally sympathetic, other-orientated, social and thus moral” have written the latter, which “treats human behavior as almost always self-interested and calculating”? 2 This essay will not seek to rekindle an “Adam Smith problem” but will argue that we can reach a better understanding of the origins of this misreading if we map Smith’s works against the history of the evolution of sentimental ideas across literature and political economic discourse in the third quarter of the eighteenth century.

Item Type: Book Section
Research Institute, Centre or Group - Does NOT include content added after October 2018: Humanities Research Centre
Page Range: 159-182
Depositing User: Carmel House
Date Deposited: 05 Jun 2018 09:56
Last Modified: 17 Mar 2021 17:00

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