Thursday, April 09, 2009

Listen to Weekly Podcast Series on The Theory of Moral Sentiments

EconTalk’s host Russ Roberts, is starting an ambitious podcast series on 15 April about Adam Smith's lesser-known masterpiece, The Theory of Moral Sentiments, on the 250th anniversary of its initial publication under the auspices of the Library of Economics and Liberty (HERE), with Daniel Klein, Professor of Economics at George Mason University, whose teaching focuses on economic principles, public policy issues, and the liberal tradition of Adam Smith and Friedrich Hayek. He is the chief editor of Econ Journal Watch, an online journal dedicated to economic criticism from a Smith-Hayek viewpoint.

Russell Roberts is Professor of Economics and the J. Fish and Lillian F. Smith Distinguished Scholar at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University. He is especially interested in communicating economics to non-economists. He blogs at Cafe Hayek along with Don Boudreaux (HERE

An overview podcast of the upcoming series is available (HERE):

“Klein on The Theory of Moral Sentiments, Episode 1--An Overview.”

Dan Klein, of George Mason University, highlights key passages and concepts of the book including its relation to The Wealth of Nations, Smith's willingness to accept "vague, loose, and indeterminate" rules rather than precise ones for moral behaviour, Smith's criteria for assessing what is moral and what is not, and Smith's conception of justice.

This podcast is part of the EconTalk Book Club on The Theory of Moral Sentiments. It will be followed by four bonus podcasts in the coming weeks going through the book systematically. Interested listeners who wish to do their reading in advance can find the schedule along with more background on the book on the EconTalk book club page, accessible from the EconTalk home page.

I have listened to the initial overview podcast (1hr 23m) and warmly endorse its content and approach, which takes the form of Russ Roberts posing questions and Dan Klein responding, and with both discussing related themes. This approach works well in my view.

I don’t quite agree with everything, though my areas of doubt are minor. I particularly liked the initial statements that Adam Smith’s image is largely a caricature (including the ‘so-called’ invisible hand), and Dan Klein got my attention quickly with his upfront assessment of Smith's alleged religiosity being muted and unclear. Currently, I am working on my paper on “Adam Smith’s Religiosity: a review of the evidence” for the History of Economics Society annual meeting in Denver, Colorado, in June, and found this early assessment encouraging.

The idea is for Professor Klein to deal with Moral Sentiments in parts, with part 1 being covered next Wednesday, 15 April.

Listeners are advised to read The Theory of Moral Sentiments, part 1, which, if you have not got a hard copy to hand, can be downloaded free HERE:
This is the 6th edition, as published in 1790 in London.

You can get a copy of the defintive Glasgow Edition, published by Liberty Fund in 1982, and available in a low-priced edition from Liberty Fund (try Amazon for a really low-price). I saw details of an on-line version of this edition but I have mislaid them – perhaps a more careful reader can provide details for Lost Legacy?

Part 1 is only 66 pages long and gets you into Smith’s theme, ready to hear Professors Klein and Roberts go through its main ideas. I shall probably offer my own comments too...

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1 Comments:

Blogger Philip said...

LibertyFund's reprint of the Glasgow edition can be read online (and even downloaded in PDF format) at the Online Library of Liberty. Here's a link.

1:59 pm  

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