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Economics as Theology: Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations

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  • A. M. C. Waterman

    (Department of Economics, St. John's College)

Abstract

Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations may be read as a work of natural theology similar in general style to Newton's Principia. Smith's ambiguous use of the word “nature” and its cognates implies an intended distinction between a positive sense in which “natural” means “necessary” and a normative sense in which “natural” means “right.” The “interest” by which humans are motivated is “natural” in the first sense, but it may not bring about social outcomes that are “natural” in the second sense. It will do so only if the social institutions within which agents seek their own “interest” are well formed. Smith provides a large-scale, quasi-historical account of the way in which well-formed institutions gradually develop as unintended consequences of private “interest.” In so doing, he provides a theodicy of economic life that is cognate with St. Augustine's theodicy of the state as remedium peccatorum.

Suggested Citation

  • A. M. C. Waterman, 2002. "Economics as Theology: Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations," Southern Economic Journal, Southern Economic Association, vol. 68(4), pages 907-921, April.
  • Handle: RePEc:sej:ancoec:v:68:4:y:2002:p:907-921
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    Cited by:

    1. Anthony Brewer, 2009. "On the Other (Invisible) Hand..," History of Political Economy, Duke University Press, vol. 41(3), pages 519-543, Fall.
    2. Walter O. Ötsch, 2006. "Gottes-Bilder und ökonomische Theorie: Naturtheologie und Moralität bei Adam Smith," Economics working papers 2006-15, Department of Economics, Johannes Kepler University Linz, Austria.

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