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Adam Smith’s Newtonianism

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Smith was certainly influenced by Newton’s analytic-synthetic method, and by his notion of “principle”. Nonetheless, in many fields of Smith’s inquiry he introduced elements which led him far from the Newtonian perspective. The present essay analyzes how historical dimensions, contingencies, institutions and conflicting human inclinations intervene in Smith’s discourse explaining economic systems. From this perspective, the intellectual Newtonian horizon seems to be profoundly modified. Finally, the paper focuses on how, in Smith’s view, institutions determine “unintended outcomes”, sometimes opposed to those of the market, when the reasons for their emergence have ceased but nevertheless persist over time. In this sense, the “invisible hand” is not only the result of the behaviour of myopic individuals trying to improve their condition, but also the outcome of the work of institutions which operate as structures autonomous with respect to individuals.

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Paper provided by University of Turin in its series Department of Economics and Statistics Cognetti de Martiis. Working Papers with number 201006.

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Length: 30 pages
Date of creation: Jul 2010
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:uto:dipeco:201006

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