Adam Smith by James R. Otteson, John Meadowcroft

By James R. Otteson, John Meadowcroft


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10). This pleasure is heightened, Smith argued, as the number of disparate fields or observations or phenomena that a single principle can explain rises. 67). The PP thus forms an intellectual bridge that Smith, as well as others of the Scottish Enlightenment, saw linking both Newton and themselves to a new, improved, and distinctively modern scientific understanding of the world. In his 1687 Principia, in which he developed his theory of universal gravitation, Newton demonstrated the effects of “gravity” with astonishing success.

The difference between changes in scientific theories and those in the rules of language, however, is that the former are successive attempts to comprehend and describe an external reality, a reality whose nature, it is usually held, does not change. So science is the progressive attempt to develop new or better ways to capture and represent an external reality, and the regularities that scientists describe they have discovered, not invented. 4 The upshot, to return to Smith, is that on his account language is an example of what has come to be called “spontaneous order”: a system of order that is, to paraphrase Smith’s contemporary Adam Ferguson,5 the result of human action but not of human design.

Finally, part seven is a history of ethical theory: Smith discusses the main elements of several important other moral theories and explores the extent to which they do or do not agree with his own. indd 35 10/13/2010 1:47:50 PM 36 Adam Smith TMS is a rich and complex book, filled with striking analyses and claims. We cannot address them all here. So I propose the following: I shall first give an overview of what I believe Smith’s theory is meant to show; then I shall give brief elaborations of several of the main elements of the theory.

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