The Future Hope in Adam Smith’s System

Studies in Christian Ethics 24 (3):329-349 (2011)
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Abstract

Many of the contemporary global challenges we face involve economics, and theologians serving the contemporary church cannot escape an engagement with economics. This paper explores the place of future hope in economics through an examination of Adam Smith’s treatment of the topic. It begins by outlining the eighteenth-century theological background of Smith’s work, including Stoicism, the Newtonian tradition of natural theology, and the Calvinism of the Scottish Enlightenment moderates. It argues that the future hope plays an important (and neglected) role in Smith’s system. Future rewards and punishments are never invoked in a utilitarian manner; instead judgment and future life operate as a court of appeal where wrongs on this world are righted. The justice of this divine court of appeal is continuous with and reinforces the natural sense of justice we have in this present life. There can be no conflict between the two because, as Smith affirms, the same ‘great Director of nature’ is at work in both. For Smith the future state also operates as imaginative space where morality can be considered and renegotiated. Moving from the eighteenth to the twenty-first century, some comments are offered on hope and contemporary economics, particularly how they might be brought together again to more fruitfully engage with the global challenges we face

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