A Dialectical Reading of Adam Smith on Wealth and Happiness
37 Pages Posted: 5 Nov 2018 Last revised: 20 Mar 2020
Date Written: October 25, 2019
In this essay I consider the relationship between wealth and happiness in Adam Smith by a close reading of a famous section of The Theory of Moral Sentiments (TMS IV.i.8-10). I interpret Smith as presenting an open-ended dialectic between the pursuit of wealth and the pursuit of happiness with the goal of contributing to his readers’ moral education. Within the dialectic Smith places some important social-scientific analysis, which he uses to stimulate reflection and synthesis. Upon reflection and observation of the tensions within the passages and the larger scope of his works, Smith pushes the reader to confront a question: given the knowledge—knowledge that one acquires upon reading TMS IV.i.8-10—that (1) people tend to be deceived into thinking that pursuing and acquiring wealth will make them happy, and that (2) acting on their deception has beneficial unintended consequences, how should one proceed in one’s own pursuit of wealth and happiness?
Keywords: Adam Smith, happiness, wealth, moral education, prudence
JEL Classification: B12, B31, D01
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation