Adam Smith's Non-foundationalism

29 Pages Posted: 7 Mar 2016

See all articles by Daniel B. Klein

Daniel B. Klein

George Mason University - Department of Economics; George Mason University - Mercatus Center

Date Written: March 1, 2016


This article is part of a symposium (in Society) on a target article by Amitai Etzioni. Using that article as a point of departure, I take the opportunity to elaborate a reading of Adam Smith’s moral philosophy that sees it as quite non-foundationalist. Whereas foundationalism’s metaphor is a block or pillar, as non-foundationalism’s metaphor I suggest a spiral. I claim that non-foundationalism and Smithian liberalism dovetail.

Keywords: Adam Smith, The Theory of Moral Sentiments, foundationalism, relativism

JEL Classification: A13, B12

Suggested Citation

Klein, Daniel B., Adam Smith's Non-foundationalism (March 1, 2016). GMU Working Paper in Economics No. 16-08, Available at SSRN: or

Daniel B. Klein (Contact Author)

George Mason University - Department of Economics ( email )

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Fairfax, VA 22030
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George Mason University - Mercatus Center ( email )

3434 Washington Blvd., 4th Floor
Arlington, VA 22201
United States

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