The Adam Smith Problem in Reverse: Self-Interest in Wealth of Nations and Theory of Moral Sentiments
History of Political Economy, 40.2, 2008
Posted: 19 Feb 2008 Last revised: 17 Dec 2008
Adam Smith wrote two major books - The Theory of Moral Sentiments (TMS) and The Wealth of Nations (WN). Usually WN is described as the book promoting self-interest and TMS as the book promoting benevolence or sympathy, but not self-interest. The two books are generally described as either independent from each other, in contradiction with each other (The Adam Smith Problem), or complementary to each other. Using a close textual analysis of both books, I argue that if there is a tension between the two books, it is because TMS is the book about the beneficial effects of self-interest, while WN is the book that criticizes self-interest.
Keywords: Adam Smith, Self-Interest
JEL Classification: B1
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation