Commutative, Distributive, and Estimative Justice In Adam Smith
Adam Smith Review (Vol. 12), Forthcoming
21 Pages Posted: 10 Mar 2017 Last revised: 28 Mar 2022
Date Written: March 10, 2017
In Smith there is something of a contrariety, or double doctrine, on justice: Much of his writing leaves us with the impression that we should use justice and its cognates to mean commutative justice, and only that. But much also authorizes the conclusion that we should embrace and talk of three different senses of justice. I exposit the three senses of justice, but leave aside Smith’s intentions in leaving us with such diverging impressions. In The Theory of Moral Sentiments, he distinguishes and describes commutative justice, distributive justice, and a third justice a name for which he does not give but is here called estimative. Smith shows that commutative justice is very special, yet he affirmed and abundantly practiced justice talk beyond commutative justice. On my tri-layered interpretation, estimative justice looms large in matters determined by the jural “superior,” that is, the governor. I suggest that Smith would denominate such matters, not in terms of distributive justice, but rather in terms of estimative justice (as well as commutative justice).
Keywords: Commutative justice, distributive justice, estimative justice, social justice, Adam Smith
JEL Classification: A13, B12
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation