Adam Smith and Immanuel Kant: On markets, duties, and moral sentiments

Forum for Social Economics 39 (1):53-60 (2010)
Abstract
In this essay, I explore the parallels between the two perspectives Smith takes in The Wealth of Nations and The Theory of Moral Sentiments, and two types of duties described in the moral philosophy of Immanuel Kant. Many people who familiar with Kantian ethics know chiefly of the perfect duties which rule out immoral behavior absolutely, and draw the conclusion that his is a formal, demanding, and cold ethical system. The same things have been said about Smith's description of the operation of the market economy and the invisible hand in The Wealth of Nations. While Smith did say that the market economy could operate if all agents were motivated by pure self-interest, that would only be a minimally satisfactory social order, just as if all people followed only Kant's perfect duties. Society would function, to be sure, but no one want to be a part of it. But Kant's imperfect duties mandate that persons adopt certain attitudes toward others-such as helping others when we can-and act in accordance with those attitudes whenever possible. A person who follows Kant's perfect and imperfect duties is therefore not simply abstaining from harming others, but rather he is actively helping them, and thereby contributing to a truly harmonious society in a positive way. I see this as a direct parallel to Smith's discussion of benevolence in The Theory of Moral Sentiments, which is also neglected by those with think of Smith only as the father of economics and a proponent of laissez-faire principles. While Smith held that the economy can function based on self-interest alone, he felt that sympathy for one's fellow human beings, and the benevolent feelings generated thereby, are necessary for society in the broader sense to prosper-in much the same way as Kant's imperfect duties.
Keywords No keywords specified (fix it)
Categories (categorize this paper)
Options
 Save to my reading list
Follow the author(s)
My bibliography
Export citation
Find it on Scholar
Edit this record
Mark as duplicate
Revision history Request removal from index
 
Download options
PhilPapers Archive


Upload a copy of this paper     Check publisher's policy on self-archival     Papers currently archived: 9,360
External links
  •   Try with proxy.
  • Through your library Configure
    References found in this work BETA

    No references found.

    Citations of this work BETA

    No citations found.

    Similar books and articles
    Analytics

    Monthly downloads

    Added to index

    2009-01-28

    Total downloads

    35 ( #41,670 of 1,088,810 )

    Recent downloads (6 months)

    1 ( #69,666 of 1,088,810 )

    How can I increase my downloads?

    My notes
    Sign in to use this feature


    Discussion
    Start a new thread
    Order:
    There  are no threads in this forum
    Nothing in this forum yet.