Monday, June 15, 2009

Promising Abstract on Adam Smith's Stance on Religion

Ross B. Emmett (James Madison College), write in First Amendment Scholarship Update HERE: in Man and Society in Adam Smith’s Natural Morality: The Impartial Spectator, the Man of System, and the Invisible Hand .

An abstract states (in part):

One often hears the argument that Adam Smith’s Theory of Moral Sentiments provides a basis for the construction of a morality independent of a religion based on revelation. Central to this argument is Smith’s impartial spectator, whose study of human motivation through observation of the diversity of our actions shapes our capacity to both judge the motives of our present actions and inform our future ones. To the extent that one’s moral imagination attends to the impartial spectator, one’s judgment of actions will conform to a moral standard founded on human experience rather religious revelation.”

Comment
I picked out this paragraph (ignoring for this purpose some other remarks in the abstract on an ‘invisible hand’, having said plenty about The Metaphor recently) because it states something with which I completely agree.

It is absolutely right in my view that “in Adam Smith’s Theory of Moral Sentiments provides a basis for the construction of a morality independent of a religion based on revelation”.

Smith is clear that experience is the forming force of infants learning about appropriate moral behaviour – defined as those behaviours acceptable to others – and that such learning is not ‘innate’ in a God- implanted moral faculty (Francis Hutcheson).

A society of thieves and murderer refrain from stealing for or murdering each other; a society of Jews follows the Mosaic code; Mormons follow Joseph Smith’s code and Presbyterians follow their code (similarly with Muslims, Hindu's, and so on).

It is not clear if Ross agrees with this notion from his opening words: “One often hears the argument”, which usually is a prelude to disagreeing with the statement that follows.

It is also a phraseology similar to that used by Adam Smith throughout Moral Sentiments when he makes statements about religious doctrine and beliefs to the effect that he dilutes their religious undertones.

Ross’s statement that “one’s judgment of actions will conform to a moral standard founded on human experience rather religious revelation” is similar to that which I noted from my reading of Moral Sentiments for my paper: ‘The Hidden Adam Smith in his Alleged Religiosity’, available from the address at the head of this page.

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