IDEAS home Printed from
   My bibliography  Save this article

Adam Smith's Natural Prices, the Gravitation Metaphor, and the Purposes of Nature


  • David Andrews

    () (Department of Economics, State University of New York at Oswego, USA)


Adam Smith's 'natural price' has long been interpreted as a 'normal price' or 'centre of gravitation price' based on the famous gravitation metaphor of the Wealth of Nations I.vii, natural in the sense that it is the price that would result if competition were truly free, unobstructed by monopoly or government regulation, and could also therefore be called normal price, appealing to a sense of natural opposed to that which is produced artificially. This essay has three purposes. First I criticise this interpretation of Smith's gravitation metaphor. For Smith, it is not a Newtonian metaphor for the attractive character of natural price, but rather an Aristotelian metaphor for the pattern of movement of market prices, in which natural price serves merely as a reference point. Second I present an interpretation of Smith's natural price based on his understanding of nature, in the context of his assertions that the goals of nature are the self-preservation of individuals and the propagation of species, goals humans pursue with divided labour under bonds of mutual dependence, facilitated by exchange and hence prices. The natural price of a commodity is the price that supports nature's goals by providing for the maintenance of those who participate in production and supply in a manner that is just sufficient for these activities to continue indefinitely. Third I highlight the similarity between natural prices construed in this way and the prices of Piero Sraffa's Production of Commodities by Means of Commodities.

Suggested Citation

  • David Andrews, 2014. "Adam Smith's Natural Prices, the Gravitation Metaphor, and the Purposes of Nature," Economic Thought, World Economics Association, vol. 3(1), pages 1-42, March.
  • Handle: RePEc:wea:econth:v:3:y:2014:i:1:p:42

    Download full text from publisher

    File URL:
    Download Restriction: no

    File URL:
    Download Restriction: no

    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Leonidas Montes, 2003. "Smith and Newton: some methodological issues concerning general economic equilibrium theory," Cambridge Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 27(5), pages 723-747, September.
    2. Redman, Deborah A, 1993. "Adam Smith and Isaac Newton," Scottish Journal of Political Economy, Scottish Economic Society, vol. 40(2), pages 210-230, May.
    3. Geoffrey Harcourt & Peter Kriesler, 2012. "Introduction [to Handbook of Post-Keynesian Economics: Oxford University Press: USA]," Discussion Papers 2012-33, School of Economics, The University of New South Wales.
    4. Ricardo F. Crespo, 2006. "The ontology of 'the economic': an Aristotelian analysis," Cambridge Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 30(5), pages 767-781, September.
    Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)


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

    Cited by:

    1. Gavin Kennedy, 2015. "Adam Smith's Use of the 'Gravitation' Metaphor," Economic Thought, World Economics Association, vol. 4(1), pages 67-79, March.

    More about this item


    Access and download statistics


    All material on this site has been provided by the respective publishers and authors. You can help correct errors and omissions. When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:wea:econth:v:3:y:2014:i:1:p:42. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (Jake McMurchie). General contact details of provider: .

    If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

    If CitEc recognized a reference but did not link an item in RePEc to it, you can help with this form .

    If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your RePEc Author Service profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

    Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

    IDEAS is a RePEc service hosted by the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis . RePEc uses bibliographic data supplied by the respective publishers.