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Agency and discourse: revisiting the Adam Smith problem


  • Vivienne Brown

    () (Department of Economics, Faculty of Social Sciences, The Open University)


This paper builds on the author's earlier work (1991, 1994, 1997a), which examines issues of agency in the Moral Sentiments and Wealth of Nations, by arguing that the emphasis, in debates about the so-called 'Adam Smith problem', on construing questions about human nature in terms of 'motives to action' begs a more fundamental question about the metaphysics of agency and model of action in these two texts. The paper argues against what appears to be the current consensus that in the Moral Sentiments Smith conceived of motives to action in a causal sense (howsoever the notion of causality is construed), and this is contrasted within the analytic conception of economic agency in the Wealth of Nations which is given by the requirements of Smith's causal analysis of economic relations, including the causal determinants of the exchangeable value of the annual produce.

Suggested Citation

  • Vivienne Brown, 2008. "Agency and discourse: revisiting the Adam Smith problem," Open Discussion Papers in Economics 72, The Open University, Faculty of Social Sciences, Department of Economics.
  • Handle: RePEc:opn:wpaper:72

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    Cited by:

    1. Konow, James, 2009. "Adam Smith and Moral Knowledge," MPRA Paper 18557, University Library of Munich, Germany.

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