Books you ought to read about the Adam and smith of modern economics and for that matter modern social sciences …

Andreas Ortmann
22 min readAug 29, 2023

Presented by yours truly in the order of the time you have.

This is a work in progress that I will update as time allows. The current version is dated 29 August 2023. If you have books that you want me to comment on, please mention them in the comments. I am pretty sure I know most (English-language) books on Smith so if your book of choice is not listed here, it probably is for a reason.

If you have time for only one book, then I strongly recommend:

Nicholas Phillipson’s Adam Smith: An Enlightened Life (Yale U Press 2010). My frequent co-author in matters Smithian, Benoit Walraevens and I, reviewed this book for the History of Economic Ideas in 2012. Say we:

Phillipson’s book … does provide a balanced, overall account of Smith’s economics and wider thought and traces its origins and evolution. It is a very fine read indeed.

1. Phillipson’s intellectual biography of Smith

Says Phillipson, «I wanted to write about Smith’s life and works in a way which would throw light on the development of an extraordinary mind and an extraordinarily approachable philosophy at a remarkable moment in the history of Scotland and of the Enlightenment.» (p. xiii). We are happy to confirm that this game plan panned out to quite some extent. It is indeed one of the appealing features of Phillipson’s narrative that he manages to embed the man and his thinking, and the evolution of his thinking, in an unusually rich tapestry of which significant parts were not known to us although we have read each and every book on Adam Smith’s life that is out there. Phillipson’s previous studies (broadly of various aspects of the history, politics and culture of Scotland around that time) come in handy to contextualize Smith appropriately.

Phillipson refers to the standard sources — e.g., Stewart, Rae, Scott, Ross (the first edition), and the editors of the Glasgow/Liberty editions of Smith’s œuvre, all of which are duly acknowledged, and — in succinct «Notes on Sources» in the «Notes and Sources» appendix — judged for their usefulness. It becomes quickly clear that Stewart is Phillipson’s most trusted source, not only quantitatively.

But Phillipson goes significantly beyond (selective) reliance of standard sources. He connects, for example, the geography of key places that Smith lived in — at the beginning of the book shown through maps of Kirkcaldy, Glasgow, Edinburgh — with the political and social circumstances in which he lived, and then with the emergence of Smith ideas about our capacity for sociability. For example, he argues that it was most likely that young Adam crossed on his way to and from school the local market;

Smith would have grown used to watching what he famously called the ‘higgling and bargaining of the market’ that was to seem to him as natural a form of social inter course as ordinary conversation and one of the forms of social exchange on which sociability and social exchange depended. (P-17)

Likewise, the Kirkcaldy Burgh School’s headmaster and his novel curriculum are soundly embedded in the political and social winds of change that blew through Scotland in the middle of the 18th century and that gave young Adam plenty of food for thought. In fact Phillipson makes the case that it was at Kirkcaldy Burgh School where Smith became acquainted with classical Greek and Latin texts, ethical treatises and theater pieces, all of which had a lasting influence on his philosophical enquiries (pp. 20–22).

2. Smith’s life as conjectural history

All of this, almost inevitably, requires conjectures and inferences and Phillipson is not shy about rationalizing that strategy. Says he, «biographers must be prepared to conjecture if they are to have any hope of providing a coherent account of their subjects’ lives and the development of their thought and if they are to generate fresh thinking on important biographical matters.» (p. 296; see also his reflections on the art of biography on pp. 4–8 where he argues the relative lack of hard facts about significant stretches of Smith’s life invites «first and foremost, an intellectual biography»: p. 6). The clever title of chapter 5 — «Smith’s Edinburgh Lectures: a Conjectural History» — also makes Phillipson’s modus operandi quite clear.

Adam Smith — so we have reason to conjecture — would have appreciated, and approved of, that modus operandi and its rationale. <snip>

5. Smith and Asperger’s syndrome: a conjecture missed

It remains an interesting puzzle why a person who was well known for this frequent absent-mindedness and social awkwardness was to become so public a person and man of the world. Vernon L. Smith, in his magnificent autobiography (Smith 2008, ch. 9, in particular p. 190), has suggested that Adam Smith might have been afflicted by Asperger’s syndrome, a form of «high functioning autism» that comes with symptoms that could be construed as absent-mindedness and might come across as social awkwardness. We feel that Phillipson missed some important conjectural history in this respect and would urge him to investigate this conjecture in a second edition (which, we have little doubt, will be forthcoming soon).

Overall, Phillipson’s book is a very fine read indeed. Quite possibly it is the most insightful book yet on Smith’s life and work. It is a must-read for Smith scholars.

Unfortunately, Nick did not manage to publish a second edition. He died in Edinburgh’s New Royal Infirmary on 24 January 2018, in the 81st year of his life.

I did share our review with him and he responded …

Nicholas Phillipson <>

To: Andreas Ortmann

Fri 9/03/2012 3:50 AM

Many thanks for such an informative and perceptive review!

Nick Phillipson

Quoting Andreas Ortmann <> on Sat, 4 Feb 2012
01:01:30 +0000:

> Dear Nicholas Phillipson,
> Attached please find our review of your book which has been accepted
> by HEI and is forthcoming in 1/2012. Kudos on an intriguing read.
> Kind regards,
> AO

We had earlier sent him a draft and, apart from generously helping us avoid a couple of embarrassing typos, he responded:

Nicholas Phillipson <>

To: Andreas Ortmann Cc:

Mon 6/02/2012 10:29 PM

Dear Professor Ortmann

Many thanks to you and Professor Walraevens for letting me see your
review of my book. It’s the fullest and most analytical review yet, and
I’m delighted you both enjoyed it. I didn’t take up the conjecture
that Smith might have had Asperger’s because it had never occurred to
me, not having read Vern Smith’s Autobiography. I was fortunate enough
to meet him at a Colloquium in Genoa a couple of months ago and we
spent an excellent hour discussing it. My instinct is to discount
because I feel that the symptoms would have been noticed by someone
and although there are several comments about eccentricity and
absentmindedness, they don’t come over to me as comments on classic
Aspergers symptoms. But I may be wrong. I just don’t know!


With best wishes
Nick Phillipson

Side remark: I have since followed up on the conjecture in a piece available on ssrn that got recently rejected by History of Political Economy, based on two referee reports:

Ref 1: “This article poses an interesting question, but I’m afraid that it fails to answer it in a convincing fashion.”
Ref 2: “The evidence presented for the proposition … , using the method outlined, is convincing.”

Two referees, same manuscript or not? Class, discuss! ;-)

In passing I note that Samuel Fleischacker (whose own book is number 3 on my list, see below) also wrote a very positive review of Nick’s book.

If you have time for two books, then I recommend as the 2nd read:

Gavin Kennedy’s Adam Smith’s Lost Legacy (palgrave 2005)

I reviewed this book for History of Political Economy in 2007 (together with another book about which the less is said the better). Said I:

Kennedy … is very likely an unknown. His previous academic work dealt with defense economics and finance. After the collapse of the Warsaw Pact, “he took the ‘peace dividend’” (see and lectured on negotiation techniques, apparently mostly to nontraditional students (business leaders, managers). Some of the books pertaining to these topics, as well as his book on Captain Bligh, are generously referenced in the select bibliography of the book under review here, which otherwise does not demonstrate any previous Smith scholarship.

Kennedy, it seems fair to say, comes to the party as a surprise guest — and ultimately a welcome one. It is noteworthy, yet in light of their contexts and histories perhaps not surprising, that the authors’ rhetorical strategies differ significantly. Evensky lives up to expectations by writing an academic book that features many footnotes and a number of skirmishes with people who, in his opinion, got it wrong. In parts 1 (chapters 1–4) and 2 (chapters 5–9) of his book he covers roughly the same ground that he covered in his articles. Indeed, significant parts of the manuscript draw closely on his previous work, and I will therefore not comment on it. Part 3 (chapters 10–12) refl ects Evensky’s ambition to steer the modern economics discourse in what he considers the right direction, and I will have more to say on that attempt below.

Kennedy, in contrast, has written — on the surface — a book more discursive and speculative, without argumentative and lengthy footnotes (footnotes are used simply for specific references), and consisting of fifty-seven little vignettes that have titles such as “Professor Smith!” or “What Industrial Revolution?”; these vignettes hardly warrant the word chapter.

Notwithstanding their different rhetorical strategies, both authors aim to kill off for good “Chicago Smith,” as allegedly conceived in the work of Gary Becker (1976), and to make the case for a Smith who conceptualizes humans by a multiplicity of motives, who understands the value of observations and induction, and who understands the importance of getting the institutional, or constitutional, framework right. In other words, both authors aim to reclaim “Kirkaldy Smith,” thus reiterating essentially the case that was made persuasively by the editors of the Glasgow edition of Smith’s oeuvre decades ago.

Jonathan Wight (2002) has provided evidence that indeed there has been a significant resurrection of Smith scholarship as well as a remarkable reorientation (to which the Liberty Fund softcover version of the Glasgow edition has contributed substantially). Modern economics discourse (e.g., Binmore 1994, 1997) had long established that seemingly nonselfish behavior (altruism, etc.) could well exist even under the assumption of self-interested agents, that modern economics had long acknowledged the value of thinking about the relation of the deductive and inductive approaches to economics, and that modern economics was all about getting the incentive structures (institutions) right that harness people’s self-interests in the presence of pervasive informational asymmetries: The influence of beliefs on behavior has by no means been confined to discussions over coffee. Conjectural equilibria, broadly construed, are the heart and soul of modern economics discourse, and so is the design of appropriate mechanisms to get people to do what a mechanism designer wants them to do. At least, I thought these were the ideas and issues today.

According to Evensky, however, modern economics, and modern economics’ view of Smith, is represented by Becker (1976). Says Evensky, “Using Gary Becker’s work as representative . . . for the economic approach based on the standard economic assumption that we are constrained utility maximizing beings, homo economicus, I will make the case that there is no cohesive force in such a theory sufficient to hold society together in the face of the destructive power of rent-seeking. I then turn to Amartya Sen and James Buchanan. Like Becker, Sen and Buchanan are Nobel Prize– winning economists. Unlike Becker, Sen and Buchanan see the centrality of the liberal quandary and they each address this issue in thoughtful, detailed analysis” (248). The liberal quandary is that laissez-faire leads to an accumulation of capital in too few hands, especially across generations, and ultimately destroys the social fabric. The solution? It’s all in Smith, says Evensky (276). The Theory of Moral Sentiments (TMS) “provides the ethical foundation necessary for a liberal order.” The Lectures on Jurisprudence (LJ) describes how systems of positive law “co-evolved with citizens’ ethics in ways that sustain a liberal order.” The Wealth of Nations (WN) “explains how the progress of opulence unfolds as the social, political, and economic dimensions of society simultaneously evolve toward a system consistent with the liberal plan.”

I am to some extent sympathetic to these statements, but I do differ in my reading of the generating process of the ethical foundation of a liberal order that — in parallel to Binmore’s (1994, 1997) interpretation of Hume’s work — I see as the equilibrium outcome of the repeated interactions of self-interested agents who are duly constrained by incentive-compatible arrangements where necessary. And I do believe — while acknowledging that Smith anticipated much of what modern reputational theories of firms and societies elaborate on (Ortmann 1999) — that, after Smith, the Toulouse school of modern economics and the various schools that the Nobel Prize winners of 1994, 2001, 2002, and 2005 represent, are still very much needed. I say so as someone who for the last six years has observed close-up what it takes for “emerging liberal experiments” (Evensky, 277–78) to succeed, and what brings them to the brink of failure. Making Becker into the representative of modern economics, and critiquing him as such, is not a constructive contribution to modern economics discourse, and it does not build any bridges. It simply reinforces the polemical stereotypes of what constitutes modern economics.

Kennedy also aims to reclaim Smith. Reading the last of the fifty-seven vignettes (titled “Reclaiming Smith’s Legacy”) first, I was — because of the dubious rhetorical tricks in that chapter and the almost missionary zeal that the author displayed — initially apprehensive. It was, however, enjoyable reading from there. Kennedy relies heavily on the Glasgow edition of Smith’s oeuvre and well-known references such as Rae and Ross, all of which he skillfully samples to construct his narrative. Like Evensky, Kennedy draws on TMS, LJ, and WN, which he cleverly identifies with the search for the impartial spectator, impartial justice, and impartial competition (xv), respectively, with liberal quotations from the Correspondence volume of the Glasgow edition thrown in for good measure.

A major theme running through Kennedy’s book is the contextualization of what Smith said. Again and again, he impresses on the reader the particular places (markets, roads), times (e.g., the mores that Smith faced and was, contrary to Hume, smart enough not to take on), and issues. Kennedy does so often to very good effect (e.g., in chapters 41 and 42 on “Smithian” markets and commercial revival, in his discussion of the markets that Smith experienced and wrote about, and in chapter 53 on Smith’s “immodest proposals” for public expenditures). Kennedy often makes, in a very Smithian manner, use of theoretical or conjectural history. In doing so, he makes a number of interesting points about the real Smith — according to Kennedy, someone who understood and worked the system to his own advantage (e.g., chapters 5, 6, and 7), someone who didn’t publish certain things because he feared religious and other forms of persecution (e.g., chapters 3 and 31), and someone who understood, most of all, that one had to watch out for both market failures and government failures (e.g., chapters 40 and 56). Chapters 22 through 25 have an intriguing discussion of the oft-cited butcher-brewer-baker quotation. Kennedy points out, in my view correctly, that this Smithian propensity was seen by many only from a single person’s viewpoint when in fact it is about the reciprocity of services. Unfortunately, Kennedy reveals en passant that his knowledge of game theory is imperfect: it is hardly a zero-sum game if a plunderer kills the victim (102) and, contrary to the statements about Nash equilibria on pages 106 and 110, Nash had a lot to say about the process of negotiation, both theoretically and experimentally, as documented in Kuhn et al. 1994.

These minor criticisms aside, I enjoyed reading this unpretentious little book. It helped that Kennedy, apart from his reader-friendly use of brief vignettes to construct his narrative, has a remarkable way with words and knows how to make a point.

Not everyone agrees with my assessment of Gavin’s book; here is a more skeptical reading of it (which I think misses the point). As to the reviewer’s remarks about Kennedy’s weak case for Smith’s (undeclared) fading religiosity, I refer to Kennedy’s chapter in Berry et al. (2016) which is probably the most succinct and persuasive summary of his view on this issue.

Subsequently, Gavin Kennedy published two more books on Smith’s oeuvre;

first, Adam Smith, A Moral Philosopher and His Political Economy (palgrave 2008/second edition 2010) which was part of the Great Thinkers in Economics series.

second, An Authentic Account of Adam Smith (palgrave 2017) which elaborate on the themes of the 2008/10 book.

In the same piece where we reviewed Phillipson’s book, Benoit Walraevens and I also reviewed Kennedy’s 2008/10 book albeit only briefly. Say we:

One of us has previously reviewed Kennedy’s earlier book on Adam Smith and has done so favorably (Ortmann 2007). Providing a minimum set of biographical details, Kennedy’s new book is explicitly an attempt of sense-making of what Smith actually wrote. The basic message of this sense-making exercise is that Smith is not to be interpreted as the father of laissez-faire economics, and as the inspiration of modern model builders, but as someone who was trained broadly, read broadly and ferociously, and wrote broadly and deeply: «Smith at tempted to root his theories on the mixture of human motivations within their historical and contemporary context, while modern economists built their models on the dominant simplicity of utility maximization and the single dimension of the ‘granite of self-interest’» (Kennedy 2008, 262). That is a fairly silly view of what modern economics, and even today’s model builders, are all about. A toast for experimental and/or behavioral economics anyone? A toast for theories of social preferences anyone?

A previous reviewer of Kennedy’s book (Aspromourgos 2009), who also took issues with some of Kennedy’s interpretation of Smith’s economic theories (especially as discussed in chs 6, and 8–10 of his book), has noted that Kennedy’s book was published in the Great Thinkers in Economics series and — while trying to reflect on the protagonists and their work, against the backdrop of their times — was written in style designed to please, no less, professional economists, students, and interested lay people, and all of that with in apparently tight page limits. Something has to give under these circumstances. Kennedy’s latest book, in our reading, is unlikely to be of interest to Smith scholars.

Aspromourgos mentions that an economist colleague of his, with no professional interest in the history of the discipline, asked him to recommend

a single book that best provides a balanced, overall account of Smith’s economics and wider thought. …Skinner (1996) seemed to me the best work to fill that bill, even though it is not exactly a singular, unified monograph. …It would be unfair to employ that book as a benchmark for Kennedy’s: Skinner is couched at a much higher level of scholarship. But does the book under review meet that kind of purpose at a more accessible, introductory level? Much of the book is a reasonable and accessible account of the main themes and issues in the thoughts or texts of the great man. But the accounts of income distribution and prices, and of productive labor and growth, are very unsatisfactory. (P- 396)

We agree. In contrast, Phillipson’s book may well be the book that Aspromourgos’s colleague was looking for. …

Gavin Kennedy died in 2019 and was struggling with his health the last couple of years (personal communication). His 2017 book, while containing flashes of brilliance, shows some of the strains of the life that was his last few years (repetitions of whole sentences etc.)

If you have time for three books, then I recommend as the 3rd read:

Samuel Fleischacker Adam Smith (Routledge 2021). I just finished a second reading of the book and it is growing on me. This book, too, is part of series meant to cater to “those new to philosophy” while also being “essential reading for those interested in the subject at any level.” Dah. It’s a little bit like squaring the circle. It is almost impossible to do. But somehow Fleischacker (also the author of an excellent book on Smith’s Wealth of Nations almost twenty years back) manages to do so.

There are two important ingredients that make Fleischacker’s latest book such a must-read. First, his outstanding ability to synthesize complicated issues (such as what distinguishes Smith’s and Hume’s theories of self-command) in language accessible to smart and/or motivated laypeople. Second, his outstanding scholarship. Fleischacker really knows his stuff and that is reflected in the richness of the footnotes that comes with each of the chapters. Many of them are little gems and literature reviews of consistently high quality.

One thing he gets wrong IMHO is Smith’s take on religion and Smith’s fading religiosity (and why Smith was not open about it); specifically it is deplorable that in chapter 8, Fleischacker does not engage at all with Gavin Kennedy’s arguments which he knows — see fn 36 and the reference to Kennedy’s chapter in The Oxford Handbook of Adam Smith (Berry et al. 2016)

[I might in due course write a longer review of this book. Stay tuned.]

If you have time for four books, then I recommend as the 4th read:

Jim Otteson’s Adam Smith’s Marketplace of Life (Cambridge U Press 2002). In Ortmann & Walraevens (2022, pp. 18–19) we say this, 2002a being the book:

Otteson (2002a, 2002b, 2002c) argues that Smith applied the same
“market model” to explain the formation and evolution of moral,
economic, and linguistic customs, rules and norms, building upon the
idea that these institutions are “spontaneous orders.” He identifies on
pages 286–287 [2002], 80 [2002a], and 206–207 [2002b] respectively,
the motivating desire, rules developed, currency, and resulting “unin-
tended system of order” across TMS, WN , and Considerations . This is
very much in the spirit of, for example, Bryce (1985) and Ortmann &
Meardon (1995) but as Berry (2003, p. 186) has also noted, there is considerable handwaving here in the details of Otteson’s “single-project”
interpretation. In terms of the reasoning routines that we will propose in
our chapter 7, Otteson’s focus is on the third that we identify and he more
or less ignores what we identify as the second one and there in particular situations of information asymmetry that in our view are extremely
important for an understanding of persuasion and self-command. While
Otteson’s Marketplace of Life and the related spinoffs offer ideas that
go in similar directions (e.g., the “equilibrating” feature of the impar-
tial spectator), he misses the principal-agent aspect which differentiates
the processes of the formation of languages and moral sentiments, for
example, from the price discovery process.

Kennedy (2010 [2008], specifically chapter 3) has summarized
Otteson’s work insightfully and quite reasonably and more generally
suggests that Smith’s underlying model, more fundamentally, is one of

If you have time for five books, then I recommend as the 5th read:

E.G. West’s Adam Smith. The Man and his Works (Liberty Press 1976) In Ortmann & Walraevens (2022, pp. 18–19) we say this, in a footnote reviewing at length West (1990, Adam Smith and Modern Economics. From Market Behavior to Public Choice, Elgar) which seems out of print:

This is the appropriate place to mention that West (1976) is equally excellent. We find it puzzling that many alleged Smith scholars either ignore, or really do not know, the book which provides a very good discussion of Smith last but not least because West traces — somewhat similar to what the equally outstanding Nicholson and Kennedy have done — some of Smith’s ideas to specific phases in Smith’s life (e.g., the Canal du Midi discussion; see West 1976, pp. 156–158)

If you have time for six books, then I recommend as the 6th read:

Ryan Hanley (editor), Adam Smith. His Life, Thought and Legacy (Princeton University Press 2016)

[Review in the works]


Christopher J Berry, Maria Pia Paganelli, & Craig Smith (editors), The Oxford Handbook of Adam Smith (Oxford University Press 2014). Benoit Walraevens and a mysterious Andreas Ormann ;-) reviewed the book as follows:

This handbook follows on from a conference organised for the 250th anniversary of the publication of Smith’s Theory of Moral Sentiments (TMS) although, as the editors emphasise, this is not a proceedings volume. The book is in seven parts, each part featuring four chapters. Berry provides an introductory outline of life, times, and legacy, providing a succinct overview.

In Chapter 1 Nicholas Phillipson presents some key insights that emerged from his work on Smith’s biography. He argues that ‘Smith needs to be thought of as philosopher who published less than he promised’ (p. 24), so that notes taken by students attending his lectures become more important as a source than they would otherwise be. Following this, Leonidas Montes sums up previous research on Smith, Newton, and Newtonianism, drawing heavily on his previous published work. Dennis C. Rasmussen explores ‘Adam Smith and Rousseau: Enlightenment and Counter-Enlightenment’, while Berry presents Adam Smith and Early-Modern Thought’, parading most of the usual suspects (Descartes, Bacon, Hobbes, Locke, Pufendorf, Harrington, Shaftesbury, Mandeville, and Hutcheson). The inclusion of some of these (e.g., Descartes or Bacon or Pufendorf or Harrington) seems curious; the treatments of others (e.g., Shaftesbury and Mandeville) seems perfunctory.

In the second part, Catherine Labio shows convincingly how aesthetics pervades all of Smith’s oeuvre and provides an alternative to the dominant Kantian model in focusing on the socially and culturally determined nature of standards of taste. James Chandler then highlights a previously unnoticed analogy between mimesis or imitation in the Essay on the Imitative Arts and in TMS, and draws an interesting parallel between Smith and Rousseau on imitative arts, showing how it illuminates their different conceptions of pity and sympathy. Michael C. Amrozowicz shows how history, poetics, and certain types of literary fiction provided Smith with factual and valuable information for the science of man and for moral instruction. C. Jan Swearingen then connects sophistication in language and in moral propriety. This is not a completely novel idea, of course: following the publication of Smith’s lectures on rhetoric, a number of people have drawn parallels between Smith’s conceptualisation of rhetoric and ethics. Sympathy, ‘in its older sense of “feeling with” rather than “feeling for”’ (p. 162) is indispensable both for the emergence of languages and morality, or ethics. Rhetorical and ethical propriety are closely related constructs.

In the third part, Christel Fricke explores ‘The Sympathetic Process and the Origin and Function of Conscience’. She provides a summary of the debates over Smith’s concept of impartiality, the main issue being whether Smith’s impartial spectator is a procedure allowing one to go beyond socially and culturally embedded values and norms, hence rationalising universal moral standards. Duncan Kelly then explores the limits of the sympathetic process, ‘which underpins the complexity of Adam Smith’s conjectural history of government and laws, his analysis of the promise and paradox of commercial society, as well as his defence of justice and his ambiguous ambivalence of Christianity and theism, given his avowed desire to construct an ethics independent of theology’ (p. 214). Ryan Patrick Hanley, in contrast to Campbell’s deeply positive reading of Smith, reminds us of the normative side of Smith’s moral theory. Arguing that Smith’s virtue theory is ‘eclectic’ (p. 221), Hanley underlines that its real value is that it does not privilege one set of virtues over another, be they ethical or intellectual. He also provides a deep and innovative analysis of the neglected ‘intellectual virtues’ in Smith. Finally, Eugene Heath analyses Smith’s vocabulary pertaining to self-interest, distinguishing between self-interest proper and self-love, selfishness and self-preservation. His discussion of ambition, however, is limited and unsatisfying.

Tony Aspromourgos’s contribution in the fourth part summarises Smith’s theory of labour and capital, while Nerio Naldi recapitulates the difficulties and ambiguities of Smith’s concepts of value and prices. A discussion of the morality of (natural) prices in Smith would have been desirable. Hugh Rockoff provides an account of Smith’s thoughts on the regulation of money and banking. He argues that Smith’s propositions for interventions in the banking — money — credit market were informed by the ‘small note mania’ and the Ayr Bank Crisis, suggesting that some of Smith ideas reflected the British economic and political context of the second half of the 18th century. Paganelli reviews the way in which Smith conceptualises ways commerce may foster morality, thus providing a moral justification of markets. It is well established that there are limits to the idea of ‘doux commerce’: Smith, for example, was quite blunt about the potentially debilitating effects of the division of labour on workers. Arguing that the moral justification of markets remains a controversial topic (p. 344), Paganelli proposes to relate this discussion to the field experiments that Henrich and more than dozen other colleagues conducted across the globe in various small-scale societies with different economic and cultural characteristics. The validity of these experiments, however, has been contested (see the open commentary to Henrich et al. Citation2005).

In the fifth part, Spiros Tegos shows that Smith’s concept of corruption is both distinctive and innovative (with regards to the dominant, republican conception) and argues that it should not be seen as a forerunner of Marx’s concept of alienation. David M. Levy and Sandra J. Peart, in a somewhat opaque contribution, reflect on ‘Smith and the State: Language and Reform’; and this is followed by Fabrizio Simon’s contribution, which focuses on Smith’s (unfinished) theory of law, and argues that it goes against the utilitarian and contractual approaches of his time. The section is concluded by Edwin Van de Haar, who argues that Smith’s view on Empire and international relations have been largely neglected or misinterpreted. Van de Haar seeks to provide a comprehensive overview of Smith’s theory of international relations.

The sixth part is devoted to Adam Smith on social relations, Richard Boyd pointing out that in Smith’s work civil society is equated with civilised society, while Gavin Kennedy provides direct and indirect evidence of Smith’s fading religiosity. He revisits a number of the arguments made in earlier publications, but this account is the best summary yet of his view on this matter. Phillipson has also argued that Smith, for pragmatic and/or opportunistic reasons, kept his atheism private. Samuel Fleischacker revisits the question of whether Smith is an egalitarian. Identifying a long list of those who supported that notion as well as those questioning it, and then reviewing how equality and hierarchy show up in Smith two major published works, he comes to the conclusion that there exist ‘varieties of egalitarianism’ (pp. 496 and following). Early in the chapter (p. 486), Fleischacker mentions the possibility that Smith was strategically cautious about taking too much of a stance on these issues, because of this risk involved; this argument parallels those of Kennedy and Phillipson regarding why Smith never openly declared his fall from God. Maureen Harkin explores Adam Smith’s apparently curious lack of interest in women’s place in economic, social, and cultural life: ’Any discussion of women in Smith … centres on the discussion of the psychology of sentiment in TMS and the history of political forms and their links to domestic life and partnerships in Lectures on Jurisprudence.’ (p. 504). She also points out an interesting gender-specific problem resulting from women’s excessive sympathy, or empathy.

The final part summarises Smith’s legacy and influence, beginning with Spencer J. Pack’s summary of Marx’s reading of Smith. Craig Smith then examines how key figures of the New Right (Friedman, Buchanan, and Hayek) have claimed a Smithian heritage, especially with respect to the general link between liberty, unintended consequences, and beneficial results, and what they really shared with him. Tom Campbell revisits some of the themes raised in his Adam Smith’s Science of Morals (1971), which Berry credits as having been the first substantial ‘evaluative discussion of TMS’ (p. 16). The major theme is his re-affirmation of Smith’s largely empirical methodology on the one hand, and Smith’s alleged normative moral views on the other. Campbell bluntly questions the kind of arguments advanced by Phillipson (Citation2010) and Kennedy (this volume), suggesting that Smith, late in life, had abandoned his belief into the existence of an Author of Nature.

In conclusion, Amartya Sen pleads for contemporary uses of Smith, the most innovational of which would be to develop a theory of justice from Smith’s concept of impartial spectatorship, in order to avoid the limitations of modern contractualism and its dominant Rawlsian model of ‘closed impartiality’ (see Sen Citation 2009; in which only people from inside the focal group can participate in the debate about justice).

If you have time for additional books, then I recommend — with due modesty— my book with Benoit Walraevens which has reviews of the books mentioned above as well as others (e.g., on pages 12–22 reviews of important books by West 1990, McKenna 2006, Pack 1991, … and many relevant articles.) For a summary of reviews that our book has received so far, see here.

Consider making your opinion known by applauding, or commenting, or following me here, or on Facebook or on LinkedIn.



Andreas Ortmann

EconProf: I post occasionally on whatever tickles my fancy: Science, evidence production, the Econ tribe, Oz politics, etc. Y’all r entitled to my opinions …