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Adam Smith's Ethics and the “Noble Arts”


  • Jonathan Wight


Adam Smith's character-based ethical system lays the foundation for his vision of the social and economic good. Within this system, the arts perform a critical role. Smith's essays “Of the Imitative Arts” and his Lectures on Rhetoric and Belles Lettres are useful companions to The Theory of Moral Sentiments in analyzing the mechanisms whereby literature and the arts excite moral development. The arts stretch the boundaries of imagination and perspective, stimulating self-awareness and self-reflective growth. When combined with rational thought, decision-making takes place through an internal dialogue in which this wider perspective weighs upon one's “impartial spectator” and becomes the background for action. According to this view, the arts provide positive externalities for society and should be encouraged through public policy. The arts promote a conversation that becomes part of the common goods of society, including that of science.

Suggested Citation

  • Jonathan Wight, 2006. "Adam Smith's Ethics and the “Noble Arts”," Review of Social Economy, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 64(2), pages 155-180.
  • Handle: RePEc:taf:rsocec:v:64:y:2006:i:2:p:155-180
    DOI: 10.1080/00346760600721114

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Jerry Evensky, 1993. "Retrospectives: Ethics and the Invisible Hand," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 7(2), pages 197-205, Spring.
    2. McCloskey, Donald N, 1983. "The Rhetoric of Economics," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 21(2), pages 481-517, June.
    3. Garaventa, Eugene, 1998. "Drama: A Tool for Teaching Business Ethics," Business Ethics Quarterly, Cambridge University Press, vol. 8(03), pages 535-545, July.
    4. Michael Wattsee, 2002. "How Economists Use Literature and Drama," The Journal of Economic Education, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 33(4), pages 377-386, December.
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    Blog mentions

    As found by, the blog aggregator for Economics research:
    1. Changing Lives through Literature
      by Jonathan B. Wight in Economics and Ethics on 2012-02-17 20:01:24


    Citations are extracted by the CitEc Project, subscribe to its RSS feed for this item.

    Cited by:

    1. Mark White, 2010. "Adam Smith and Immanuel Kant: On Markets, Duties, and Moral Sentiments," Forum for Social Economics, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 39(1), pages 53-60, January.
    2. Jonathan B. Wight, 2011. "Ethics and Critical Thinking," Chapters,in: International Handbook on Teaching and Learning Economics, chapter 18 Edward Elgar Publishing.
    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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    Adam Smith; arts; ethics; morals; moral imagination;


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