A Non-religious Grounding of Morals: Smith and the Scottish Enlightenment

Iain McLean

in Adam Smith, Radical and Egalitarian

Published by Edinburgh University Press

Published in print July 2006 | ISBN: 9780748623525
Published online September 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780748672110 | DOI:
A Non-religious Grounding of Morals: Smith and the Scottish Enlightenment

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This chapter reports the moralism of Adam Smith. The weak church and the weak state had a double impact on the Scottish Enlightenment. Smith's moral theory is not the same as either Francis Hutcheson's or David Hume's. Hutcheson took the side of conscience against authority in church controversies. He recognised the need to supply a ground for morals independent of religion. Like Hutcheson, Smith saw the need for a non-religious grounding for ethics. Smith's philosophy is deeply egalitarian. He continued to tinker with The Theory of Moral Sentiments for the rest of his life. The most amusing mark of Smith's increasing moral radicalism is his deletion of a long passage aligning his moral theory with the Christian theology of the Atonement. The ‘man of system’ passage reveals how Smith was a precursor of the Austrian school of economics.

Keywords: moral theory; Adam Smith; Scottish Enlightenment; Francis Hutcheson; religion; moral radicalism; Christian theology; economics; The Theory of Moral Sentiments

Chapter.  5917 words. 

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