Sunday, 15 October 2000

From "Economics as Theology: Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations"

By A. M. C. Waterman.

Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations may be read as a work of natural theology similar in general style to Newton's Principia. Smith's ambiguous use of the word "nature" and its cognates implies an intended distinction between a positive sense in which "natural" means "necessary" and a normative sense in which "natural" means "right." The "interest" by which humans are motivated is "natural" in the first sense, but it may not bring about social outcomes that are "natural" in the second sense. It will do so only if the social institutions within which agents seek their own "interest" are well formed. Smith provides a large-scale, quasi-historical account of the way in which well-formed institutions gradually develop as unintended consequences of private "interest." In so doing, he provides a theodicy of economic life that is cognate with St. Augustine's theodicy of the state as remedium peccatorum.

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