Anniversary: Smith’s Theory of Moral Sentiments

Lynne Kiesling

I am on a plane all day today, flying to England for a few days of holiday before proceeding to Stockholm for the Mont Pelerin Society annual meeting. My main activity for the flight is to work on my course prep for my new freshman seminar this fall, entitled “Adam Smith and the Scottish Enlightenment”. I have a pretty good idea of the schedule, now I just have to plan each class … which means I’ll be spending most of the flight with Smith’s Theory of Moral Sentiments.

2009 is the 250th anniversary of the publication of TOMS, which I count as one of the most influential works in the social science canon. It truly is impossible to think about questions of how individuals live together in civil society without making great use of Smith’s insights in this work. If you haven’t read TOMS yet, now is a good time, particularly in light of what has happened in the past year and the current federal policy debates surrounding climate change legislation and health care legislation. Much of that policy direction does not draw on Smith’s insights in TOMS, to our great detriment.

At The Technology Liberation Front, Adam Thierer has an outstanding post reflecting on the 250th anniversary of TOMS and the great relevance of Smith’s ideas today. He even excerpts the wonderful “man of system” passage from TOMS, which is even more relevant and urgent to consider today than it was when I wrote these earlier KP posts on the “man of system”.

5 thoughts on “Anniversary: Smith’s Theory of Moral Sentiments

  1. Lynne,
    Sorry to stalk you on the website, but hope to ensure my note (regarding transactive energy smart market grid) from a few weeks back made it through your spam filters.
    Wanted also to send you my book, Heart of Dryness: How the Last Bushmen Can Help Us Endure the Coming Age of Permanent Drought, published today, that contrasts the Kalahari Khoisan’s approach to water and energy (including trading, in an exchange Smith would have approved of) against the Botswana government’s command and control central regulatory monopoly.
    I can be reached at 415 728 3494. Will also be in Stockholm next week, but for water confab.

  2. I, too, was going to mention the Klein/Roberts series if nobody else did. I have them all loaded up, but have listened to only the first one so far. It’s a great conversation. [In fact, a lot of those EconTalk podcasts are great conversations.]

  3. Thanks for the links, F.M.
    I wish I had the time to sit in on the freshman seminar (as well as time for the commute – only 13 hrs one way!), and I hope the young minds in your class are receptive to Mr. Smith’s reasoning. If you have the time you might challenge them to how this book can help us understand how we should allocate scarce resources (energy/peak oil) in the future. Is it solely a market decision?

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