Adam Smith's treatment of the Greeks in The theory of moral sentiments: the case of Aristotle

Edited book (chapter)


Temple-Smith, Richard. 2007. "Adam Smith's treatment of the Greeks in The theory of moral sentiments: the case of Aristotle." Cockfield, Geoff, Firth, Ann and Laurent, John (ed.) New perspectives on Adam Smith's The theory of moral sentiments. Cheltenham, United Kingdom. Edward Elgar Publishing. pp. 29-46
Chapter Title

Adam Smith's treatment of the Greeks in The theory of moral sentiments: the case of Aristotle

Book Chapter CategoryEdited book (chapter)
ERA Publisher ID1811
Book TitleNew perspectives on Adam Smith's The theory of moral sentiments
Authors
AuthorTemple-Smith, Richard
EditorsCockfield, Geoff, Firth, Ann and Laurent, John
Page Range29-46
Number of Pages21
Year2007
PublisherEdward Elgar Publishing
Place of PublicationCheltenham, United Kingdom
ISBN9781845424800
Abstract

To question the role of nature and virtue in The Theory of Moral Sentiments is to question Adam Smith's reliance on the classical authors who integrated a concept of nature into their teaching on moral virtue. Given that Smith was
well versed in the classics and was a scholar of both Greek and Latin (Stewart, [1793] 1982, p. 10; Smith, [1759] 1984, Introduction, p. 5; Foley, 1974, p. 220; Vivenza, 2001, p. 36), it is not surprising that he refers to Plato, Aristotle and the Stoics in The Theory of Moral Sentiments. What is surprising is the quite brief treatment that he gives to them; in particular to Aristotle, whose doctrine
of moral and intellectual virtue depends upon definitive concepts of nature and human nature. Why does Smith treat Aristotle in this manner? Is his reference to Aristotle's doctrine a means to an end, a device chosen to lend authority to his own (McNamara, 2004, p. 185)? Is it an example of the 'indirect' influence of the classics on Smith (Vivenza, 2001, p. 2)? Could it be that Smith is presenting a radical theory with no foundation in a theory of human nature (Rothschild, 2004, p. 116)? Finally, could it be that Smith, as he asserts, adopts wholly, or in part, Aristotle's concept of nature and thereby implies correspondence of his teaching with it? The purpose of this chapter is to seek answers to such questions by comparing the relationship between nature and virtue in The Theory of Moral Sentiments with that evident in Aristotle. While important, Smith's treatment of Plato and the Stoics is not addressed.

KeywordsAdam Smith, Aristotle, moral sense
ANZSRC Field of Research 2020500399. Philosophy not elsewhere classified
500207. History of ideas
440811. Political theory and political philosophy
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Byline AffiliationsUniversity of Southern Queensland
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