IDEAS home Printed from https://ideas.repec.org/p/pra/mprapa/18557.html
   My bibliography  Save this paper

Adam Smith and Moral Knowledge

Author

Listed:
  • Konow, James

Abstract

This paper examines the contribution of The Theory of Moral Sentiments to the study of how we acquire moral knowledge. In Smith, this is associated with the moral judgment of an impartial spectator, a hypothetical ideal conjured in the imagination of an agent. This imagined spectator has the properties of impartiality, information and sympathy. I argue Smith develops this construct in the context of personal ethics, i.e., as a guide to moral conduct in personal relationships. There are limitations, however, to this model for personal ethics, as acknowledged by Smith himself and suggested by subsequent social science findings. Moreover, this model does not necessarily extend to social ethics, i.e., to moral judgment in less personal economic and social interactions, such as firms, industries and governments. Hence, I propose modifying the spectator model in light of modern social science methods and of Smith’s own insights to address its limitations for personal ethics and to provide it with a foundation for social ethics. The proposed approach is based on a quasi-spectator, i.e., the empirical analysis of the moral views of real spectators whose properties approximate those of the ideal spectator. A review of quasi-spectator studies suggests this as a promising method for informing both descriptive and prescriptive ethics.

Suggested Citation

  • Konow, James, 2009. "Adam Smith and Moral Knowledge," MPRA Paper 18557, University Library of Munich, Germany.
  • Handle: RePEc:pra:mprapa:18557
    as

    Download full text from publisher

    File URL: https://mpra.ub.uni-muenchen.de/18557/1/MPRA_paper_18557.pdf
    File Function: original version
    Download Restriction: no

    References listed on IDEAS

    as
    1. Linda Babcock & George Loewenstein, 1997. "Explaining Bargaining Impasse: The Role of Self-Serving Biases," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 11(1), pages 109-126, Winter.
    2. Konow, James, 2008. "The Moral High Ground: An Experimental Study of Spectator Impartiality," MPRA Paper 18558, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    3. Thaler, Richard H & Shefrin, H M, 1981. "An Economic Theory of Self-Control," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 89(2), pages 392-406, April.
    4. James Konow, 2009. "Is fairness in the eye of the beholder? An impartial spectator analysis of justice," Social Choice and Welfare, Springer;The Society for Social Choice and Welfare, vol. 33(1), pages 101-127, June.
    5. James Konow, 2000. "Fair Shares: Accountability and Cognitive Dissonance in Allocation Decisions," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 90(4), pages 1072-1091, September.
    6. Harrison, John R, 1995. "Imagination and Aesthetics in Adam Smith's Epistemology and Moral Philosophy," Contributions to Political Economy, Oxford University Press, vol. 14(0), pages 91-112.
    7. Marc Fleurbaey, Erik Schokkaert and Koen Decancq, "undated". "What Good is Happiness?," OPHI Working Papers ophiwp020, Queen Elizabeth House, University of Oxford.
    8. Croson, Rachel & Konow, James, 2007. "Double Standards: Social Preferences and Moral Biases," MPRA Paper 2729, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    9. repec:cup:apsrev:v:100:y:2006:i:03:p:309-318_06 is not listed on IDEAS
    10. Croson, Rachel & Konow, James, 2009. "Social preferences and moral biases," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 69(3), pages 201-212, March.
    11. Nava Ashraf & Colin F. Camerer & George Loewenstein, 2005. "Adam Smith, Behavioral Economist," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 19(3), pages 131-145, Summer.
    12. Easterlin, Richard A., 1995. "Will raising the incomes of all increase the happiness of all?," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 27(1), pages 35-47, June.
    13. 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.
    Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)

    More about this item

    Keywords

    Adam Smith; ethics; moral knowledge;

    JEL classification:

    • B31 - Schools of Economic Thought and Methodology - - History of Economic Thought: Individuals - - - Individuals
    • B12 - Schools of Economic Thought and Methodology - - History of Economic Thought through 1925 - - - Classical (includes Adam Smith)
    • A12 - General Economics and Teaching - - General Economics - - - Relation of Economics to Other Disciplines
    • D60 - Microeconomics - - Welfare Economics - - - General

    NEP fields

    This paper has been announced in the following NEP Reports:

    Statistics

    Access and download statistics

    Corrections

    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:pra:mprapa:18557. 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: (Joachim Winter) or (Rebekah McClure). General contact details of provider: http://edirc.repec.org/data/vfmunde.html .

    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.