BOOK REVIEW – Adam Smith,
“The Theory of Moral Sentiments”
Edited by D.D. Raphael and A. L. Macfie Liberty Fund, 1982
By Patrick Van Schie
The Theory of Moral Sentiments is not Adam Smith’s best-known work among the general public – that, of course, would be his economic analysis, The Wealth of Nations, whose (abbreviated) title many know, even if they are unfamiliar with its contents – but it is certainly a standard liberal work. Although Smith owes his enduring fame to The Wealth of Nations – it is thanks to this book that he is considered the founder of (classical liberal) economics – he considered The Theory of Moral Sentiments to be his best work. The irony goes even further: Smith is remembered as an important economist, which he certainly was, but his bread and butter was moral philosophy.
The Theory of Moral Sentiments and The Wealth of Nations are the first two instalments of a trilogy that Smith had intended to publish. In the first part – The Theory of Moral Sentiments – he laid down the foundation of his vision of humanity and society. In the second – The Wealth of Nations – he elaborated on the virtue of prudence, which for him meant the relations between people in the private sphere of the economy. It was his plan to further elaborate on the virtue of justice in the third book.