Signaling Sympathy: Rule-Making as a Discovery Procedure in the Theory of Moral Sentiments

24 Pages Posted: 23 Feb 2018

See all articles by Abigail Devereaux

Abigail Devereaux

George Mason University, Department of Economics

Date Written: February 15, 2018

Abstract

In The Theory of Moral Sentiments, Adam Smith delineates between general rules of conduct and morality that are precise and accurate, and rules that are loose, vague, and indeterminate. In a loose, vague, and indeterminate way, Smith’s characterization of the rules of conduct and morality may have anticipated the Hayekian knowledge problem, and his “undefinability” may have anticipated the idea of undecidability that characterizes Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorem in that Smith anticipates the idea that a complex-enough system cannot be reduced to a simpler model without destroying key characteristics of the system. Thus, any attempt to codify the general rules of conduct and morality will result in a lower level of overall coordination of the social system than allowing the general rules to emerge through a rules-discovery process on the individual level.

Keywords: Adam Smith, complexity, general rules, morality

Suggested Citation

Devereaux, Abigail, Signaling Sympathy: Rule-Making as a Discovery Procedure in the Theory of Moral Sentiments (February 15, 2018). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3124715 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3124715

Abigail Devereaux (Contact Author)

George Mason University, Department of Economics ( email )

Fairfax, VA
United States

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