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The "New, Optimistic, Theistic View" Of Adam Smith And The Problem Of Smith'S "Pessimistic" Views Of History


  • Alvey, James E.


In recent times a "new, optimistic, theistic view" of Adam Smith has arisen, challenging the old view of Smith as a follower of the secular David Hume. In the "new view," Smith adopts two types of teleology: teleology immanent in the constitution and historical teleology. It is the latter type of teleology that is primarily addressed here. In this teleological view of history, the divine "plan" progressively realizes the ideal society in practice. This form of "historical optimism" has some foundation in Smith's writings. Several varieties of the "new view" exist; three of these are examined in this paper in the light of the full range of Smith's historical writings. Actually, his "optimistic" version of history coexists with a "pessimistic" version. Some adherents of the "new view" seem unaware of Smith's "pessimistic side". Others propose that he became more "pessimistic" during his lifetime. Still others suggest that Smith became more "optimistic" during his lifetime. We show that the "change of view" strategy does not solve the problem. Smith seems to have retained a "hard core" of "pessimism" throughout his life. Perhaps, throughout his lifetime, Smith was an 80-percent "optimist"; while the microlevel composition of Smith's "optimism" and "pessimism" changed, his macrolevel of "optimism" remained rather constant. In any event, despite the considerable merits of the "new view", none of its adherents has provided a satisfactory answer to Smith's "pessimism".

Suggested Citation

  • Alvey, James E., 2004. "The "New, Optimistic, Theistic View" Of Adam Smith And The Problem Of Smith'S "Pessimistic" Views Of History," Discussion Papers 23703, Massey University, Department of Applied and International Economics.
  • Handle: RePEc:ags:masddp:23703
    DOI: 10.22004/ag.econ.23703

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