'Sympathetic Exchange', Adam Smith, and Punishment

17 Pages Posted: 24 Dec 2007


Adam Smith says relatively little about justice and punishment in the Theory of Moral Sentiments. What he does say is at times cryptic, and even the sections that are relatively clear and well worked out rest on a moral theory which requires us to look at moral action from a number of different perspectives and over a number of different stages. It is not my intention here to derive a theory from his, or even to claim that it is the best theory of its sort. I merely wish to defend the internal coherence and consistency of the theory of punishment, such as it is, from one of its most recent attacks, and in the process to add some new insights, or rather, syntheses of his (and others) ideas.

The idea that Smith viewed morality as dynamic, almost economic exchange helps, not only the operation of sympathy and moral judgment, but allows us to see a much closer link between the Theory of Moral Sentiments and the Wealth of Nations. Much remains to be said about this, as about his theory of justice. However, I do believe that to view Smith's moral theory from an "economic" perspective as a system of "sympathetic exchange" enables a more fruitful and cohesive account to be given of all aspects of his work, moral, economic and jurisprudential.

Keywords: adam smith, punishment, jurisprudence, wealth of nations, theory of moral sentiments

Suggested Citation

Miller, Eric J., 'Sympathetic Exchange', Adam Smith, and Punishment. Ratio Juris, Vol. 9, No. 182, 1996. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1078363

Eric J. Miller (Contact Author)

Loyola Law School Los Angeles ( email )

919 Albany Street
Los Angeles, CA 90015-1211
United States
213-736-1175 (Phone)

HOME PAGE: http://www.lls.edu/aboutus/facultyadministration/faculty/facultylistl-r/millereric/

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