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Adam Smith's Pluralism

Adam Smith's Pluralism: Rationality, Education, and the Moral Sentiments

Jack Russell Weinstein
Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 448
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  • Book Info
    Adam Smith's Pluralism
    Book Description:

    In this thought-provoking study, Jack Russell Weinstein suggests the foundations of liberalism can be found in the writings of Adam Smith (1723-1790), a pioneer of modern economic theory and a major figure in the Scottish Enlightenment. While offering an interpretive methodology for approaching Smith's two major works,The Theory of Moral SentimentsandThe Wealth of Nations, Weinstein argues against the libertarian interpretation of Smith, emphasizing his philosophies of education and rationality. Weinstein also demonstrates that Smith should be recognized for a prescient theory of pluralism that prefigures current theories of cultural diversity.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-16375-9
    Subjects: Philosophy, Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xvi)
  4. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. xvii-xviii)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-18)

    When Adam Smith was three years old he was kidnapped by Gypsies. As a biographical event this is interesting. As a metaphor it is synecdochic. In this particular allegory the past holds the future hostage, the emotional takes control of the rational, the capitalist gets commodified, and the thief violates fair exchange.

    There is no way to know how much truth there is to the story. There are several accounts of young Adam’s recovery and two traditions regarding where the kidnapping took place.¹ More insidiously, stigmatization of the Roma permeated Europe. The myth of child stealing was pervasive, and anti-Rom...

  6. Part One What Rationality Is

    • 1 Mediating Terminology and Textual Complexity
      (pp. 21-39)

      In this chapter I focus on the literary complexity in both my project and Smith’s. In the first section I address the difficulties of using the contemporary language of pluralism to analyze an eighteenth-century text. I investigate the manner in which Smith might be said to postulate pluralism and begin to unravel its centuries-old relationship to rationality. In the second I show that such literary tensions were not uncommon in Smith’s times. The Scottish Enlightenment thinkers were unified in their opposition to Bernard Mandeville’sFable of the Bees, but, as I illustrate, that book is itself a mixture of philosophical...

    • 2 One System, Many Motivations
      (pp. 40-67)

      I have argued for two claims so far. First, that Smith’s books are related in a very specific way:TMSrejects Mandeville’s argument that virtues are discovered through vice, whileWNaccepts but tempers Mandeville’s claim that vice leads to public benefits.¹ Their relationship is one of compatible difference, not contradiction, a conceptualization that flies in the face of the Adam Smith Problem. Second, I have shown that Mandeville, while moving past a binary notion of rational adjudication is, in some sense, struggling to free himself from Hobbesian linear rationality. Smith, learning from Mandeville but needing more thanThe Fable...

    • 3 Education as Acculturation
      (pp. 68-81)

      Independent of the methodological considerations involved in reading Smith’s corpus, the previous chapters concerned themselves with the preliminaries of moral behavior. Identifying the plurality of motivations that influences moral agents, they described the relationship betweenTMSandWNbut also led to unanswered questions: given that there are multiple motivations at play, where do they come from and how are they to be adjudicated? Are our motivations innate or learned, individual or social, or some combination thereof? How much do they differ among actors and cultures, and how strongly can they be influenced? These questions are all the purview of...

    • 4 Education and Social Unity
      (pp. 82-108)

      As I argued in the previous chapter, sympathy is built upon the imagination, which, in turn, is cultivated by education. In this chapter I begin to parse what Smith means by education, with special attention to the passive cultural elements that inform self-identity and awareness of others. I begin the process of accounting for the rational process by which a moral spectator enters into the persona of another, particularly those with whom he or she does not share cultural or political commonalities.

      The term ‘education’ is more ambiguous than is often allowed. It encompasses socialization and acculturation as well as...

    • 5 Finding Rationality in Reason
      (pp. 109-128)

      Over the past four chapters I have examined Smith’s account of the human experience that creates a framework for rationality. As we have seen, individuals have multiple motivations and must manage any conflicts that result from this plurality. They also have passions that cannot be easily communicated but have a moral agency that necessitates entering into others’ perspectives. Finally, individuals are educated to learn about themselves and others as a means of fostering mutual understanding, but the more passive elements of institutional and social education both impair and cultivate this process. In this chapter, I investigate Smith’s theory of rationality....

    • 6 Reason and the Sentiments
      (pp. 129-146)

      In the last chapter I showed how the eighteenth century withdrew from Aristotelian formal logic and illustrated the difficulties in using rationality-based language for thinkers who did not have as nuanced a vocabulary as our contemporaries. I concluded that Smith required something to replace the Aristotelian model of reasoning, especially since Hobbesian linear rationality was inadequate for his needs. In this chapter I examine his alternative, arguing not simply that rhetoric plays an important role in Smithian deliberation but that rhetoric is in itself a component of reason.

      In hisLectures on Rhetoric,¹ Smith identifies four kinds of communication—instruction,...

    • 7 Normative Argumentation
      (pp. 147-166)

      Over the last two chapters I have shown how Smith moves from Aristotelian and analytic models of logic and reasoning to a more rhetorical approach. I have argued that sympathy is itself a rational process by which individuals create a soothing narrative that helps define justified inference. What might this kind of argument look like? In this chapter I offer two examples. The first shows how the impartial spectator and Smith’s theory of price encapsulate normative judgment. The second modernizes Smith’s language to show that this approach prefigures and fits well into contemporary debates about the nature of argumentation, informal...

  7. Part Two Improving Rational Judgment

    • 8 Education Foundations
      (pp. 169-184)

      I have been examining the mechanics of rationality. For Smith, individuals have primitive experiences that result in multiple motivations for multiple desires. They form perceptions of the world and cultivate, then modify, sentiments. The ability to judge the propriety of these sentiments is fostered by community standards, practices, and traditions and is both advanced and hindered by differences in experiences, outlooks, and ways of life among individuals and groups. Such judgments are made possible by the inborn faculty of reason. Moral actors use their imaginations to enter into the perspectives of others, reason instrumentally, make moral judgments, and create narratives...

    • 9 Formal Education
      (pp. 185-218)

      We have seen how sympathy is built on education, how education can overcome group and individual difference, and how learning is connected to the foundation of human experience. It remains to be seen how these concerns are institutionalized in society.

      Until now, and following the pattern set forth in chapter 3, my discussion has emphasized education in its widest sense. I have been following Smith’s tendency, particularly inTMS, to use education as a synonym for the process of lifelong learning, distinguishing whenever useful between socialization and education. In this chapter, I shift the focus to formal education. This involves...

    • 10 History and Normativity
      (pp. 219-238)

      Previous chapters have focused on education and rationality on the micro level. In contrast, this chapter examines macro processes, investigating the concept of progress through Smith’s philosophy of history and explicating the role of historical inquiry in discovering normative claims.¹ I argue that, as in the case of his moral and economic theory, Smith’s philosophy of history relies on dialectic interplay between discovery of the ideal and of the actual, in this case historiography and historicity, respectively. My discussion includes an investigation of evidence in historical analysis, the viability of particular narratives connecting this evidence, and the role of these...

    • 11 Progress or Postmodernism?
      (pp. 239-263)

      Adam Smith was a man of his time, an Enlightenment scholar with the optimism that came from a scientific belief in progress and moral betterment. He lived among literati committed to a philosophical ideal of cosmopolitanism and role-model cultures. To him and those around him, Europe and the British Empire spoke of success, inevitability, and the refined manners of the sophisticated, although he was critical of empire on commercial grounds. This is a worldview now discredited by many, frequently described as a culture of bigotry that made voices of dissent invisible, as a time of aristocratic white men who told...

  8. Conclusion: A Smithian Liberalism
    (pp. 264-270)

    I have been defining ‘pluralism’ as the political situation in which peoples of different fundamental beliefs and histories share equally in common governance, and live within common borders. Under this system, it is to be the prerogative of the citizen to choose his or her social priorities, and, in turn, the citizen is thought to be an unfettered agent who can participate in governance. In return, the sovereign accepts responsibility for maintaining pluralism, for respecting and cultivating difference, and for making space for citizen participation.

    Following Sen, I have been defining ‘rationality’ as “the discipline of subjecting one’s choices—of...

  9. Notes
    (pp. 271-310)
  10. Works Cited
    (pp. 311-328)
  11. Index
    (pp. 329-341)