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The risks of an economic agent: a Rousseauian reading of Adam Smith


  • Jimena Hurtado

    () (Universidad de los Andes)


This article is a critical review of Adam Smith’s notion of an economic agent. Using Jean Jacques Rousseau’s arguments, I show the shortcomings of Smith’s hypothesis regarding individuals’ economic behaviour within market society. The morals of sympathy, understood as a social theory and beyond the limitations Smith himself acknowledges, attempts to present the economic agent as a natural and unthreatening figure restricted to market transactions. A careful reading of Rousseau shows the historical character of Smith’s construction, and thereby its failure to recognise the influence of social, cultural and economic development on the formation of this economic agent. Rousseau refuses the possibility of constructing economic theory based on this agent and denounces it as a way of justifying irresponsibility and tyranny. Two possible paths in economics are thus open: economics as an independent field of action or economics as a field regulated by politics

Suggested Citation

  • Jimena Hurtado, 2003. "The risks of an economic agent: a Rousseauian reading of Adam Smith," Colombian Economic Journal, Academia Colombiana de Ciencias Economicas, Colegio Mayor de Nuestra Senora del Rosario, Pontificia Universidad Javeriana, Universidad de Antioquia, Universidad de los Andes, Universidad del Valle, Universidad Externado de Colombia, Universidad Nacional de Colombia, vol. 1(1), pages 193-220, December.
  • Handle: RePEc:cej:primer:v:1:y:2003:i:1:p:193-220

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    Adam Smith; Jean Jacques Rousseau; economic agent; market society; economic analysis;

    JEL classification:

    • B1 - Schools of Economic Thought and Methodology - - History of Economic Thought through 1925
    • B3 - Schools of Economic Thought and Methodology - - History of Economic Thought: Individuals
    • Z00 - Other Special Topics - - General - - - General


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