Adam Smith and the Character of Virtue


Recent years have witnessed a renewed debate over the costs at which the benefits of free markets have been bought. This book revisits the moral and political philosophy of Adam Smith, capitalism’s founding father, to recover his understanding of the morals of the market age. In so doing it illuminates a crucial albeit overlooked side of Smith’s project: his diagnosis of the ethical ills of commercial societies and the remedy he advanced to cure them. Focusing on Smith’s analysis of the psychological and social ills endemic to commercial society – anxiety and restlessness, inauthenticity and mediocrity, alienation and individualism – it argues that Smith sought to combat corruption by cultivating the virtues of prudence, magnanimity, and beneficence. The result constitutes a new morality for modernity, at once a synthesis of commercial, classical, and Christian virtues and a normative response to one of the most pressing political problems of Smith’s day and ours. Ryan Patrick Hanley is Assistant Professor of Political Science at Marquette University. His research in the history of political philosophy has appeared in the American Political Science Review, the American Journal of Political Science, the Review of Politics, History of Political Thought, the European Journal of Political Theory, and other academic journals and edited volumes. He is also the editor of the forthcoming Penguin Classics edition of Adam Smith’s Theory of Moral Sentiments, featuring an introduction by Amartya Sen, and a co-editor, with Darrin McMahon, of The Enlightenment: Critical Concepts in History.


 Reviews:

“Ryan Patrick Hanley’s excellent Adam Smith and the Character of Virtue succeeds in bringing a fresh perspective to the study of Smith’s works. It offers a brilliant reinterpretation of Smith’s moral philosophy that not only unifies Smith’s work but offers larger lessons for us today. In an increasingly crowded field, Adam Smith and the Character of Virtue distinguishes itself as one of the most important books on Smith in more than a decade.”
– James Otteson, Yeshiva University

“An original view of Adam Smith, arguing that he goes beyond self-interest and sympathy to the nobility of classical virtue. Ryan Hanley shows calm intelligence, fairness, and accuracy in this impressive new interpretation.”
– Harvey Mansfield, Professor of Government, Harvard University

“The great originality of Ryan Hanley’s book is twofold: first it exhibits Smith’s pervasive, surprising, and previously ignored focus on ‘nobility.’ Even more surprising is that Hanley is persuasive in explaining how in deploying this concept, Smith attempts to merge Christian and Pagan virtues appropriate to commercial times. Second it shows that Smith offers his readers a program of self-actualization that can transform their various manifestations of self-love into socially beneficial activities. In the process, Hanley puts to rest the idea that Smith was sanguine in relying on market forces or the invisible hand alone. Moreover, Hanley shows how Smith capitalized on humanity’s religious longings. Hanley wisely avoids the question about Smith’s religious views and focuses on Smith’s treatment of the role(s) of religion in commercial society. By letting Smith regularly engage with Aristotle, Rousseau, and Tocqueville, Hanley makes Smith seem like a helpful and instructive companion in a world where the victory of Liberalism and Enlightenment are not to be taken for granted. Along the way, Hanley articulates a detailed account of Smith’s intellectual development over time.”
– Eric Schliesser, Leiden University, editor of New Voices on Adam Smith

"Hanley's explanation of the importance of the heavily revised sixth edition of The Theory of Moral Sentiments to Smith's thought is provocative, and his analysis of the way Smith melded a defense of the virtues of prudence, benevolence, and magnanimity is compelling."
-CHOICE, E. J. Harpham, University of Texas at Dallas


 Prizes:

Winner, 2010 Templeton Enterprise Book Award, Intercollegiate Studies Institute

Reference Type: notes

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Reference Type: notes

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Reference Type: notes

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“profoundly humane philosopher” (The Social Philosophy of Adam Smith (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1973), 15–19)
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Marie Martin, “Utility and Morality: Adam Smith's Critique of Hume,” Hume Studies 16 (1990): 107–20
Ernst Tugendhat, “Universalistically Approved Intersubjective Attitudes: Adam Smith” (trans. Bernard Schriebl) Adam Smith Review 1 (2004): 88–104
Fleischacker, “Philosophy in Moral Practice: Kant and Adam Smith,” Kant-Studien 82 (1991): 249–69
“Values Behind the Market: Kant's Response to the Wealth of Nations,” History of Political Thought 17 (1996): 379–407
“Political Science and Political Understanding: Isaiah Berlin on the Nature of Political Inquiry,” American Political Science Review 98 (2004): 327–39
Norbert Waszek, “Two Concepts of Morality: A Distinction of Adam Smith's Ethics and Its Stoic Origin,” Journal of the History of Ideas 45 (1984): 591–606
“Style and Sentiment: Smith and Swift,” Adam Smith Review 4 (2008): 88–105
W. R. Scott, Greek Influence on Adam Smith (Athens: Pyrsos, 1939)
Vivenza, “Reading Adam Smith in the Light of the Classics,” Adam Smith Review 1 (2004): 107–24

Reference Type: notes

Jacob Hollander et al., Adam Smith, 1776–1926 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1928), 138
Griswold, “On the Incompleteness of Adam Smith's System,” Adam Smith Review 2 (2006): 181–86
Ian S. Ross, “Reply to Charles Griswold: ‘On the Incompleteness of Adam Smith's System’,” Adam Smith Review 2 (2006): 187–91
Maureen Harkin, “Adam Smith's Missing History: Primitives, Progress, and Problems of Genre,” English Literary History 72 (2005): 429–51
Laurence Dickey, “Historicizing the ‘Adam Smith Problem’: Conceptual, Historiographical, and Textual Issues,” Journal of Modern History 58 (1986)
Scott, Adam Smith as Student and Professor (Glasgow: Jackson, Son and Co., 1937), 79
T. M. Devine, “The Urban Crisis,” in Glasgow, ed. T. M. Devine and Gordon Jackson (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1995), vol. 1, pp. 402–16
Peter France, “Rousseau, Adam Smith and the Education of the Self,” in Moy Qui Me Voy, ed. George Craig and Margaret McGowan (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989), 40–41, 49
Stephen J. McKenna, Adam Smith: The Rhetoric of Propriety (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2006)
Andreas Kalyvas and Ira Katznelson, “The Rhetoric of the Market: Adam Smith on Recognition, Speech, and Exchange,” Review of Politics 63 (2001): 549–78
“Adam Smith and the Virtues,” Adam Smith Review 2 (2006): 245
MacIntyre, Whose Justice? Which Rationality? (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1988), esp. 328–29
Nancy Sherman, The Fabric of Character: Aristotle's Theory of Virtue (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989), 13ff.
Christopher Kelly, “‘To Persuade Without Convincing’: The Language of Rousseau's Legislator,” American Journal of Political Science 31 (1987): 321–35
Thomism and Aristotelianism (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1952), pp. 79–80
Tessitore, Reading Aristotle's Ethics: Virtue, Rhetoric, and Political Philosophy (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1996), esp. 19
Lerner, “Love of Fame and the Constitution of Liberty,” in Geschichte und Recht: Festschrift für Gerald Stourzh zum 70 Geburtstag, ed. T. Angerer et al. (Vienna: Böhlau Verlag, 1999), 65
The Individual in Society (London: George Allen and Unwin, 1967), 54, 72
Glenn R. Morrow, The Ethical and Economic Theories of Adam Smith (New York: Longmans, Green, 1923), 51
Athol Fitzgibbons, Adam Smith's System of Liberty, Wealth, and Virtue: The Moral and Political Foundations of The Wealth of Nations (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1995), 104–6
Robert Merrihew Adams, A Theory of Virtue: Excellence in Being for the Good (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006), 95–111
Richard Kraut, What Is Good and Why: The Ethics of Well-Being (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2007), 48–57
Jimena Hurtado Prieto, “The Risks of an Economic Agent: A Rousseauian Reading of Adam Smith,” Columbian Economic Journal 1 (2003): 217
“Bernard Mandeville's Heir: Adam Smith or Jean-Jacques Rousseau on the Possibility of Economic Analysis,” European Journal of the History of Economic Thought 11 (2004): 1
Hume, “Of the Dignity or Meanness of Human Nature,” in Essays, Moral, Political, and Literary, ed. Eugene F. Miller (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1985), 86

Reference Type: notes

McCloskey, “Bourgeois Virtue,” American Scholar 63 (1994): 177–91
David Brooks, “A Moral Philosophy for Middle-Class America,” New York Times, 15 October 2006
Henry C. Clark, “Conversation and Moderate Virtue in Adam Smith's Theory of Moral Sentiments,” Review of Politics 54 (1992): esp. 193–97
Ronald H. Coase, “Adam Smith's View of Man,” Journal of Law and Economics 19 (1976): 543–4
Samuel Hollander's claim that on Smith's view the “motive of ‘self-love’ is synonymous with that of ‘prudence’” (“Adam Smith and the Self-Interest Axiom,” Journal of Law and Economics 20 (1977): 138)
Rousseau, Emile; or, On Education, trans. Allan Bloom (New York: Basic Books, 1979), 202
Smith's library is known to have contained a first edition (see Hiroshi Mizuta, ed., Adam Smith's Library (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), 217)
Locke, Some Thoughts Concerning Education (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989), 116
Jean Starobinski, Blessings in Disguise; Or, The Morality of Evil (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1993), 118–31
Forman-Barzilai, “The Emergence of Contextualism in Rousseau's Political Thought: The Case of the Parisian Theatre in the Lettre à d'Alembert,” History of Political Thought 24 (2003): esp. 462–63
Peter McNamara, Political Economy and Statesmanship: Smith, Hamilton and the Foundation of the Commercial Republic (DeKalb: Northern Illinois University Press, 1998), 87–92
Winch, “Science and the Legislator: Adam Smith and After,” Economic Journal 93 (1983): 501–20
Amit Ron, “Modern Natural Law Meets the Market: The Case of Adam Smith,” European Journal of Political Theory 7 (2008): 117–36, esp. 121–25
Franklin, Autobiography, in Benjamin Franklin, Writings, ed. J. A. Leo Lemay (New York: Library of America, 1987), 1397
Axelrod, The Evolution of Cooperation (New York: Basic Books, 1984)
Vernon L. Smith, “The Two Faces of Adam Smith,” Southern Economic Journal 65 (1998): esp. 10–11 and 16–18
Sen, “Adam Smith's Prudence,” in Theory and Reality in Development, ed. Sanjay Lal and Francis Stewart (London: Macmillan, 1986), 31
Smith's conception of prudence (“Philosophical Psychology and Economic Psychology in David Hume and Adam Smith,” History of Political Economy 35 (2003): esp. 272–77 and 291–99)
Jean Starobinski, Jean-Jacques Rousseau: Transparency and Obstruction, trans. Arthur Goldhammer (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1988), 63)
Zev M. Trachtenberg, Making Citizens: Rousseau's Political Theory of Culture (London: Routledge, 1993), 175–210
Brubaker, “‘A Particular Turn or Habit of the Imagination’: Adam Smith on Love, Friendship, and Philosophy,” in Love and Friendship: Rethinking Politics and Affection in Modern Times, ed. Eduardo Velásquez (Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2003), esp. 230, 252

Reference Type: notes

Donald Livingston, Philosophical Melancholy and Delirium: Hume's Pathology of Philosophy (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998), 49–50 and 141–42
Mary Keys, Aquinas, Aristotle, and the Promise of the Common Good (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006), 143–72
Gabriel Richardson Lear, Happy Lives and the Highest Good: An Essay on Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2004), 168–74
Harkin, “Natives and Nostalgia: The Problem of the ‘North American Savage’ in Smith's Historiography,” Scottish Studies Review 3 (2001): 21–32
N. J. H. Dent and Timothy O'Hagan, “Rousseau on ‘Amour-Propre’,” Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 99 (1999): 93
Schliesser, “The Obituary of a Vain Philosopher: Adam Smith's Reflections on Hume's Life,” Hume Studies 29 (2003): 327–62
A. M. C. Waterman, “Economics as Theology: Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations,” Southern Economic Journal 68 (2002): 907–21
Hill, “The Hidden Theology of Adam Smith,” European Journal of the History of Economic Thought 8 (2001): 1–29
Alvey, “The Secret, Natural Theological Foundation of Adam Smith's Work,” Journal of Markets and Morality 7 (2004): 335–61
Jerrold Seigel, The Idea of the Self (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005), 144–45
Alexander Welsh, What is Honor? A Question of Moral Imperatives (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2008), 173, 176, 179
John Reeder, ed., On Moral Sentiments: Contemporary Responses to Adam Smith (Bristol: Thoemmes Press, 1997), 66
Cropsey, Political Philosophy and the Issues of Politics (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1977), 87
“Aristotle on the Greatness of Greatness of Soul,” History of Political Thought 23 (2002): 1–20
James Buchanan, “Equality, Hierarchy, and Global Justice,” Social Philosophy and Policy 23 (2006): 255–65
Buchanan, “The Justice of Natural Liberty,” Journal of Legal Studies 5 (1976): 1–16
“Sympathy and Approbation in Hume and Smith: A Solution to the Other Rational Species Problem,” Economics and Philosophy 20 (2004): esp. 337–39, 346–48
Luc Boltanski, Distant Suffering: Morality, Media and Politics, trans. Graham Burchell (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), 35–55
Jennifer Pitts, A Turn to Empire: The Rise of Imperial Liberalism in Britain and France (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2005), 43–52
Shklar, Men and Citizens: A Study of Rousseau's Social Theory (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1969), 187–88
“Policies Designed for Self-Interested Citizens May Undermine ‘The Moral Sentiments’: Evidence from Economic Experiments,” Science 320 (2008): 1605–9
Bowles et al., eds., Moral Sentiments and Material Interests: The Foundations of Cooperation in Economic Life (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2005), esp. 3–4, 31–33
Harvey Mansfield, Manliness (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2006)
Pangle, “The Classical and Modern Liberal Understandings of Honor,” in The Noblest Minds: Fame, Honor, and the American Founding, ed. McNamara (Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 1999), 211
“Language, Literature, and Imagination,” Adam Smith Review 4 (2008): 221–30
F. A. Hayek, “Adam Smith's Message in Today's Language,” in New Studies in Philosophy, Politics, Economics and the History of Ideas (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1978), 267–69
Milton Friedman, “Adam Smith's Relevance for 1976,” in Adam Smith and the Wealth of Nations, ed. Fred R. Glahe (Boulder: Colorado Associated University Press, 1978), 7–20
History of England, ed. William Todd (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1983), vol. 2, p. 272
“Adam Smith's Theoretical Endorsement of Deception,” Adam Smith Review 2 (2006)

Reference Type: notes

Josef Pieper, Faith, Hope, Love (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1997)
MacIntyre, Dependent Rational Animals: Why Human Beings Need the Virtues (Chicago: Open Court, 1999), 124–26
Timothy P. Jackson, The Priority of Love: Christian Charity and Social Justice (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2003), 1–27
Jonathan Sacks, The Dignity of Difference (London: Continuum, 2002), 113–24
Lerner, Maimonides' Empire of Light: Popular Enlightenment in an Age of Belief (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 74–76
Thomas L. Schubeck, “Self-Interest, Love, and Economic Justice: A Dialogue between Classical Economic Liberalism and Catholic Social Teaching,” Journal of Business Ethics 30 (2001): esp. 218–21
Wei-Ben Zhang, On Adam Smith and Confucius: The Theory of Moral Sentiments and the Analects (New York: Nova Science, 2000), 13, 67, 85–86
Viner's mature view in The Role of Providence in the Social Order (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, 1972), 81–82
Adam Smith's Theory of Moral Sentiments,” Journal of the History of Philosophy 33 (1995): 275–300
Hutcheson, Philosophiae Moralis Institutio Compendiaria/ Short Introduction to Moral Philosophy, ed. Luigi Turco (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2007), I.i.10, p. 34
Ferguson, Principles of Moral and Political Science (Edinburgh, 1792; reprint Hildesheim/New York: Georg Olms Verlag, 1975), I.ii.16, vol. 1, pp. 185–86
Kames, Loose Hints Upon Education, 2nd ed. (Edinburgh, 1782), 282–85
Leon R. Kass, “Charity and the Confines of Compassion,” in The Perfect Gift: The Philanthropic Imagination in Poetry and Prose, ed. Amy A. Kass (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2002), esp. 269–71
Christian Charity (“Compassion and the Softening of Mores,” Journal of Democracy 11 (2000): esp. 144–45
Richard Boyd, “Pity's Pathologies Portrayed: Rousseau and the Limits of Democratic Compassion,” Political Theory 32 (2004): 519–46
(“Beneficence/Benevolence,” Social Philosophy and Policy 4 (1987): 2)
Yuval Livnat, “On the Nature of Benevolence,” Journal of Social Philosophy 35 (2004): 309–10
Melzer, “Anti-antifoundationalism: Is a Theory of Moral Sentiments Possible?” Perspectives on Political Science 30 (2001): 155
Nussbaum, Upheavals of Thought: The Intelligence of Emotions (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001), 463–70
Ian Ross, “The Theory and Practice of the Wise and Virtuous Man: Reflections on Adam Smith's Response to Hume's Deathbed Wish,” Studies in Eighteenth-Century Culture 11 (1982): 65–74
Ross, Life of Adam Smith (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992), 407
Griswold's helpful claim: “Smitheans are calling into question the Platonic standpoint from which the inadequacy of the Smithean is pronounced” (“Reply to My Critics,” Perspectives on Political Science 30 (2001): 165)
E.C. Mossner, Adam Smith: The Biographical Approach (Glasgow: University of Glasgow Press, 1969), 18