In Adam Smith’s Own Words: The Role of Virtues in the Relationship Between Free Market Economies and Societal Flourishing, A Semantic Network Data-Mining Approach

Journal of Business Ethics 2020 (1):31-42 (2020)
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Among business ethicists, Adam Smith is widely viewed as the defender of an amoral if not anti-moral economics in which individuals’ pursuit of their private self-interest is converted by an ‘invisible hand’ into shared economic prosperity. This is often justified by reference to a select few quotations from The Wealth of Nations. We use new empirical methods to investigate what Smith actually had to say, firstly about the relationship between free market institutions and individuals’ moral virtues, and secondly about the further relationship between virtues and societal flourishing. We show with more quantitative precision than traditional scholarship that the invisible hand reading dramatically misrepresents both the nuance and the sum of Smith’s analysis. Smith paid a great deal of attention to a flourishing society’s dependence on virtues, including the non-self-regarding virtues of justice and benevolence, and he worried also about their fragility in the face of the changed incentives and social conditions of commercial society.



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Author Profiles

J. J. Graafland
Tilburg University
Thomas R. Wells
Leiden University

References found in this work

Virtue Ethics.Rosalind Hursthouse & Glen Pettigrove - 2022 - Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
After Virtue.A. MacIntyre - 1981 - Tijdschrift Voor Filosofie 46 (1):169-171.
Business ethics: managing corporate citizenship and sustainability in the age of globalization.Andrew Crane - 2007 - New York: Oxford University Press. Edited by Dirk Matten & Andrew Crane.

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