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  • Print publication year: 2002
  • Online publication date: June 2012



Let me close my study by introducing several brief considerations that were not appropriate to introduce into previous chapters. I begin with a short summary of the main parts of Smith's moral theory, as I see it. I then make two general observations about the theory: one relates to an aspect of the Adam Smith Problem, and the other is connected with what I think is an important omission in Smith's theory as he presents it. In the third section, I look at some recent work that tends to support parts of Smith's conception of human nature—and by extension, perhaps, his explanation of the development of moral standards. Finally, I close with a few words about what I think Smith's most important contribution to moral philosophy is. I say something about Smith's use of this contribution in comparison to others who have used it and a word about this contribution's plausibility in the context of contemporary moral thought.

Summary of Smith's Argument

Adam Smith's The Theory of Moral Sentiments is a presentation of the observations he has made about human beings and human moral judging, the regular patterns the latter seem to form, and Smith's explanation of why human moral judgments adhere to those patterns. The result is a theory that provides, perhaps for the first time, a careful account of the joint innate and social factors at work in the development of a society's moral standards.