In a Word or Two, Placed in the Middle: The Invisible Hand in Smith’s Tomes
32 Pages Posted: 29 Oct 2009 Last revised: 3 Oct 2022
Date Written: May 12, 2010
We explore the conjecture, first hinted at by Peter Minowitz, that Smith deliberately placed his central idea, as represented by the phrase “led by an invisible hand,” at the physical center of his masterworks. The four most significant points developed are as follows: (1) The physical evidence: The expression “led by an invisible hand” occurs pretty much dead center of the 1st and 2nd editions of The Wealth of Nations, and of the final edition of the tomes containing The Theory of Moral Sentiments. (Such physical centrality in the original tomes has gone unnoticed because it has been so long since TMS has been published with Smith’s language essay appended.) The expression in WN drifted only a bit from the center, only about 5 percent from the center in the final edition, and even less if the index is excluded. (2) The rhetoric lectures show that Smith not only was conscious of deliberate placement of potent words at the center, but thought it significant enough to remark on to his pupils, noting that Thucydides “often expresses all that he labours so much in a word or two, sometimes placed in the middle of the narration.” (3) The invisible hand paragraphs in TMS and WN both contend with Rousseau and hearken back to the Rousseau passages that Smith had translated and provided in his 1756 article on literature. (4) There are numerous and rich ways in which centrality and middle-ness hold special and positive significance in Smith’s thought.
Keywords: Adam Smith, invisible hand, Wealth of Nations, Theory of Moral Sentiments, middle, center
JEL Classification: A13, B0, B1
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation