Sunday, October 30, 2005

Impact of Religious Doctrine on 18th century Authors

Professor David R. Keller, Director of the Centre of the Study of Ethics at Utah Valley College, (The Salt Lake Tribune in an article discussing the confusing distinctions between the terms ‘Liberal’ and ‘Conservative’ in the US (not mentioning the confusion caused by these same terms in the UK) makes an aside mentioning Adam Smith:

“And while Jesus berated those who worship money, or mammon, most contemporary "conservatives" embrace free-market capitalism and the accumulation of wealth with almost religious fervor, as if Adam Smith's "invisible hand" is God's hand.”

Not too clear what point I should make about this because there is a debate among Smithian scholars on the alleged religious implications of the metaphor, the invisible hand. For example in his unpublished PhD thesis Andy Denis, 2003 Chapter 4: ‘The invisible hand of God in Adam Smith’, Denis asserts that the metaphor had religious significance (

I am reading currently a new book by Jerry Evensky, “Adam Smith’s Moral Philosophy: a historical and contemporary perspective in markets, law, ethics and culture” Cambridge University Press (ISBN 0-521-85247-1). It is excellent and joins recent books by Sam Fleischacker (Samuel Fleischacker, On Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations: A Philosophical Companion. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2004 (ISBN: 0-691-11502-8) and J. Otteson (“Adam Smith’s Market Place of Life”, Cambridge University Press, 2000 (ISBN: 0521016568) as signs that scholars are questioning accepted views on Adam Smith, and are correcting many of the false interpretations that make up his lost legacy.

Jerry Evensky also enters the debate about the religious influence in Adam Smith’s work, basically saying Smith was a ‘Deist’. While I have not yet completed reading Evensky’s book (I received it only two days ago), I intend to enter the debate from the contrary point of view, partly set out in my Adam Smith’s Lost Legacy, 2005, Palgrave Macmillan, (ISBN 1-4039-4789-9), Chapter 8: “The religious climate” in Smith’s day. I think many scholars underestimate the importance of religious censorship and the persecution by zealots of those deemed to be 'unsound' on Biblical doctrine and their effect on how people expressed themselves.


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