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

Abstract

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

Paganelli, Maria Pia, The Adam Smith Problem in Reverse: Self-Interest in Wealth of Nations and Theory of Moral Sentiments. History of Political Economy, 40.2, 2008, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1094505

Maria Pia Paganelli (Contact Author)

Trinity University ( email )

Dept. of Economics
One Trinity Place
San Antonio, TX 78212
United States

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