In Adam Smith’s own words: The role of virtues in the relationship between free market economies and societal flourishing. A semantic network data mining approach

Johan Graafland, Thomas Wells

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

Abstract

Among business ethicists, Adam Smith is widely viewed as the defender of an amoral if not anti-moral economics in which individuals’ pursuit of their private self-interest is converted by an ‘invisible hand’ into shared economic prosperity. This is often justified by reference to a select few quotations from The Wealth of Nations. We use new empirical methods to investigate what Smith actually had to say, firstly about the relationship between free market institutions and individuals’ moral virtues, and secondly about the further relationship between virtues and societal flourishing. We show with more quantitative precision than traditional scholarship that the invisible hand reading dramatically misrepresents both the nuance and the sum of Smith’s analysis. Smith paid a great deal of attention to a flourishing society’s dependence on virtues, including the non-self-regarding virtues of justice and benevolence, and he worried also about their fragility in the face of the changed incentives and social conditions of commercial society.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Business Ethics
DOIs
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - Apr 2020

Keywords

  • Adam Smith
  • doux-commerce
  • societal flourishing
  • self-destruction
  • semantic network data-mining
  • virtues

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