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The Moralizing Role of Distance in Adam Smith: The Theory of Moral Sentiments as Possible Praise of Commerce

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  • Maria Pia Paganelli

Abstract

The Theory of Moral Sentiments can be read as a book praising commerce. In The Theory of Moral Sentiments, Adam Smith claims that viewing oneself from a distance decreases the natural tendency toward self-deception and increases the propriety of one's behavior. In front of strangers and distant acquaintances, an individual would generally restrain the more self-indulgent and excessive passions and be more composed than in front of family and close friends. Frequent exposure to strangers fosters the habit of propriety—the basis of moral behavior. Commerce increases one's opportunities to interact with strangers and introduces distance in interpersonal relationships. Commercial societies are therefore the environments that most facilitate and are amenable to proper and moral behavior. According to this reading of The Theory of Moral Sentiments, for Smith, commerce facilitates not just material prosperity but also moral development.

Suggested Citation

  • Maria Pia Paganelli, 2010. "The Moralizing Role of Distance in Adam Smith: The Theory of Moral Sentiments as Possible Praise of Commerce," History of Political Economy, Duke University Press, vol. 42(3), pages 425-441, Fall.
  • Handle: RePEc:hop:hopeec:v:42:y:2010:i:3:p:425-441
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    Cited by:

    1. Andreas Ortmann & Benoit Walraevens, 2015. "The Rhetorical Structure of Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations (and the importance of acknowledging it)," Discussion Papers 2014-11A, School of Economics, The University of New South Wales.
    2. Andreas Ortmann & Benoit Walraevens, 2014. "The Rhetorical Structure of Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations (and the importance of acknowledging it)," Discussion Papers 2014-11, School of Economics, The University of New South Wales.
    3. Fazekas, Károly, 2016. "Tisztesség, empátia, közgazdaságtan
      [Honour, empathy and economics]
      ," Közgazdasági Szemle (Economic Review - monthly of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences), Közgazdasági Szemle Alapítvány (Economic Review Foundation), vol. 0(10), pages 1120-1141.

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    Keywords

    Adam Smith; The Theory of Moral Sentiments;

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