Adam Smith and the contemporary world
This paper argues that many of Adam Smith's insights, particularly those in his Theory of moral sentiments, have a relevance to contemporary thought about economics and ethics that is currently underappreciated. In economics, for example, Smith was concerned not only with the sufficiency of self-interest at the moment of exchange but also with the wider moral motivations and institutions required to support economic activity in general. In ethics, Smith's concept of an impartial spectator who is able to view our situation from a critical distance has much to contribute to a fuller understanding of the requirements of justice, particularly through an understanding of impartiality as going beyond the interests and concerns of a local contracting group. Smith's open, realization-focussed and comparative approach to evaluation contrasts with what I call the "transcendental institutionalism" popular in contemporary political philosophy and associated particularly with the work of John Rawls.