The Hidden Adam Smith in His Alleged Theology

25 Pages Posted: 21 Jan 2010

Date Written: December 16, 2009


Adam Smith’s views on religion in Moral Sentiments are generally regarded as consistent with, variously, Christianity, Protestantism, Deism, Providentialism or some version of Natural Religion. This paper examines the evidence from his earliest essay, known as The History of Astronomy (posthumous, 1795) and his major work, The Theory of Moral Sentiments, through editions 1 to 6, 1759-1790, and locates his hidden views within his known biographical details, the censorious religious environment of 18th-century Scotland, his and relationships with colleagues within the Scottish Enlightenment. His alleged religious views have relevance for modern perceptions of Adam Smith’s Wealth Of Nations in respect of his alleged implied attachment to divinely-inspired harmony in economic affairs (noticeably in the alleged divine ‘hand of God’ meaning of “an invisible hand”) and to modern assertions that Smith believed that self-interest, whether motivated by benign or selfish intentions, always leads to unintentional public benefits and the promotion of economic growth. From the evidence of his biography and his writings, Smith’s alleged theological beliefs are shown to be unsound, undermining such modern assertions. Part I discusses material relevant to Smith’s scholarship from a new perspective, which shows his drift away from Christianity from 1744 and over the rest of his life. Smith was under social pressure not to openly challenge the dominant religious sentiments of 18th-century Scotland and also under personal pressure to avoid upsetting the religious sensitivities of his beloved mother. Part II examines a selection of the evidence in Moral Sentiments in the earlier editions, while his mother was alive (d. 1784), through to his significant evasions and partly hidden challenges to prescribed theology, which he inserted into his 6th and final edition.

Keywords: History of Astronomy, Moral Sentiments, Scottish Enlightenment, Adam Smith

JEL Classification: A1, B0, B1, B3

Suggested Citation

Kennedy, Gavin, The Hidden Adam Smith in His Alleged Theology (December 16, 2009). Available at SSRN: or

Gavin Kennedy (Contact Author)

Heriot-Watt University ( email )

Edinburgh EH14 4AS, Scotland EH14 1AS
United Kingdom

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