The Centrality of the Invisible Hand in Smith’s Books: Using a Metaphor as an Antidote to 'Tiresome' and 'Less Pleasant' Narrative Styles
19 Pages Posted: 8 Apr 2010
Date Written: April 7, 2010
Abstract: Daniel Klein and Brandon Lucas’s highly original article (from a suggestion by Peter Minowitz), “In a word or Two, Placed in the Middle: the invisible hand in Smith’s Tomes” (October, 2009) is discussed. This paper presents an alternative account of the role of the metaphor in Adam Smith’s thought. Part 1 (‘Centrality of Smith’s Invisible Hand metaphor’) acknowledges the persuasive evidence from Klein and Lucas for the physical centrality of the metaphor in Smith’s two books. In support of centrality, details are provided of his close involvement in the print production of his books. Part 2 (‘Smith on metaphors’) considers Smith’s teachings on the use of metaphors. Part 3 (‘Significance of the invisible-hand for Smith’) discusses the two cases where Smith used the invisible hand as an antidote to ‘tiresome and less pleasant’ narrative styles by showing that a metaphor represents in a ‘more striking and interesting manner’ their objects, using the examples of how ‘rich landlords’ and some ‘merchants’ acted in conformity with the absolute necessity of their circumstances, with unintended consequences. Misleading explanations by Paul Samuelson and others derived since the late 1940s of Smith’s use of the invisible-hand metaphor are challenged.
Keywords: Adam Smith, invisible hand metaphor, centrality, necessity, metaphorical objects
JEL Classification: A13, B, B1
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation