*Adam Smith: Systematic Philosopher and Public Thinker*

by on September 28, 2017 at 2:36 pm in Books, Economics, History, Philosophy, Political Science | Permalink

That is the new, excellent, and detailed book by Eric Schliesser, a political scientist at Amsterdam.  I would say that Schliesser is a very learned “left Smithian,” and that you should take the subtitle very very seriously.  Here is one excerpt:

1. I argue that while Smith certainly took experience and empirical science seriously, he should not be understood as a empiricist in epistemology and his moral epistemology; he relies crucially on innate ideas and innate mental structure.

2. This book gives the first extensive (albeit not exhaustive) study and taxonomy of Smith’s theory of the passions, which I treat as elements of his system (cf. Hume’s treatise 1.1.4.7).  In fact, I argue that the content of a social passion is inherently normative in Smith’s approach.

3. I argue that Smith is decidedly reserved about deploying mathematics within his political economy.

4. I argue that Smith’s account of liberty should not be identified with the so-called liberty of the moderns, or freedom of contract.  While Smith certainly was a defender of freedom of contract, his account of liberty is more expansive (and more attractive).

Sometimes I draw a distinction between “branching” books, whose arguments spread out in many different directions and draw many distinctions, and “channeling” books, which try to put the material into a narrower, common framework.  (Reading each requires quite distinct sets of skills!)  This is a branching book.  You can order it here.

I thank my colleague David Levy for the pointer to this work.

1 Barkley Rosser September 28, 2017 at 2:46 pm

For the record, I think that Schilesser primarily identifies himself as more as a philosopher than as a political scientist, although this is clearly political philosophy, which he has recently been teaching a lot, to the degree that it is not just political economy. Of course, Smith was a Professor of Moral Philosophy himself, so it is appropriate.

2 Barkley Rosser September 28, 2017 at 4:01 pm

You seem to be seriously losing it, Art Deco.

3 An ordinary orange September 28, 2017 at 5:07 pm

The only thing Barkley and Arteco Inc. have in common is that when they read James Joyce it is exactly like thinking in a mirror and kissing a third party, of course being that Leibniz and Linnaeus and John Wesley poured out from a cistern of stealth and rain paper.

4 anonymous September 28, 2017 at 10:44 pm

that was the real Mr Rosser and a fake Art Deco. The real Mr Rosser and the real Art Deco make lots of insightful comments here, if I do not learn facts from most of the comments I do learn a little more about rhetoric.

5 Thor September 28, 2017 at 8:54 pm

As you probably know … “Moral Philosophy” as understood in the 18th and 19th centuries meant political economy, philosophy (which itself encompassed “natural philosophy”: the hard sciences), psychology — especially of the passions — as well as what we might call economics. Is this conglomerate coterminous with political science? I’m not sure. Political science has pretty much dispensed with the passions, to its detriment.

6 Daniel Klein September 28, 2017 at 3:00 pm

I look forward to reading the book. RE (4), I think that liberty in the sense of others, particularly the government, not messing with one’s stuff is central in Smith’s understanding of liberty, even in his larger constitutional notion of an institutional system of liberty. But central does imply “All there is to it.”

7 Daniel Klein September 28, 2017 at 3:16 pm

Oops, I mean: does NOT imply

8 Art Deco September 28, 2017 at 4:51 pm

As far as Philosophers go I feel this Russel Brand character makes a lot of sense.

9 AD September 28, 2017 at 5:15 pm

$60 on Kindle, really? Where’s that Amazon predatory pricing when you need it.

10 Ray Lopez September 28, 2017 at 5:31 pm

Shorter book review: Adam Smith was the world’s first behavioral economist.

Bonus trivia: Some claim–implausibly from my reading of the original source–that Adam Smith’s “invisible hand” was not when he wrote that phrase what people today mean it to be; it’s been channeled into meaning something else. Channeling Adam Smith, I think they are wrong.

11 Art Deco September 28, 2017 at 5:38 pm

I think Russel Brand’s take on behavioral economics is more sophisticated.

12 Ray Lopez September 28, 2017 at 7:30 pm

Wikipedia on Brand: “Since guest editing an edition of British political weekly New Statesman in 2013,[9] Brand has become known as a public activist and campaigner, and has spoken on a wide range of political and cultural issues, including wealth inequality, addiction, corporate capitalism, climate change, and media bias. … Over the course of his career, Brand has been the subject of frequent media coverage and controversy for issues such as his promiscuity and drug use, his outrageous behaviour at various award ceremonies, his dismissal from MTV and resignation from the BBC, and his two-year marriage with singer Katy Perry. He has incorporated many of his controversial public antics into his comedic material” – Art Deco, do you think an artist has to be ‘in character’ at all times in order to perform the best? Like Sasha B. Cohen was for Borat even off-screen? Or like apparently R. Brand is all the time? According to a book I’m slowly reading, “Proust and his Banker” by Balsamo, Proust himself thought so. His works of fiction were taken from his real life, and he felt since his characters in his novels were generous, giving away millions (in today’s money) and living on the edge, Proust had to do the same in his real life to be able to write authentically about them. He did, and amazingly, because his speculative investments did not go to zero but unexpectedly went way up at the end of his life, he died rich. But his use of quack patent medicines and remedies caused a lung infection that took his life. So Art Deco, do you cuck in real life too?

13 anonymous September 29, 2017 at 1:13 am

Ray – one more stupid insult like the insult in your last sentence and I skip every comment you ever write again. Show some self-respect.

14 The Cuckmeister-General September 29, 2017 at 6:23 am

Sounds like someone here is a cuckold who had their feelings hurt because Ray reminded you of your cuck status.

15 anonymous September 29, 2017 at 9:37 pm

Sad! I wish you the best: it must be sad to be an annoying bullshit artist. And no, I have never been cuckolded: often women have hinted that they would like me to cuckold their husbands: I have always refused. The world is a good place in many ways: some day you will understand that, my little friend.

16 Greg Ransom September 28, 2017 at 5:40 pm

Smith gave us an empirical undesigned order problem paired to a causal mechanism — that makes him an empiricist in the same way it does Charles Darwin.

QED

17 A clockwork orange traveaux September 28, 2017 at 5:44 pm

10 3

18 Greg Ransom September 28, 2017 at 10:32 pm

Hume the very paradigm of the empiricist rejected any logic of empiricism and located the machinery of empiricism in our inmate mental propensities or habits, so their is nothing inherently non-empiricist about innate mental structures. Empiricism is located in places that surprise those working within the neo-Kantian frame that shaped eg Mill, Carnap & those who came in their wake.

19 Lebron James September 29, 2017 at 12:37 am

I will not feel as though Thoreau wept dutifully until Stephen A. Smith is fired and The Importance of Being Earnest replaces Tony Surprise Eyes Markets in Literally Everything.

20 prior_test3 September 29, 2017 at 2:16 am

What subtitle?

21 BJ dubbbS September 29, 2017 at 9:00 am

Based on my browsing through Google books it looks like Schliesser makes Smith into a Kuhnian, lol. I mean, why bother? “Let’s shoehorn Smith into this theory that appeared two hundred years later” Sure why not?

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