Adam Smith’s Eulogy for Self-Command
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Adam Smith

How to Cite

Adam Smith’s Eulogy for Self-Command. (2023). The Political Science Reviewer, 47(1), 409-438.


Smith’s moral and ethical system, propounded in The Theory of Moral Sentiments, has been said to contain many parallels with the moral and ethical thought of various classical political thinkers. In particular, scholars have found similarities between Smith’s conception of virtue—and by extension virtue friendship—and that of Aristotle. This article makes the case that while Smith’s ethical system has structural affinities with Aristotle’s virtue theory, he prioritizes stability over the cultivation of virtue in an unmistakably modern manner that attempts to divorce the practice of politics from theoretical speculation. By way of an analysis of the role the virtue of self-command plays in Smith’s ethical system, I contend that Smith's separation of political practice from theoretical speculation leads to a homogenizing mediocrity that fails to fully actualize human potential. Smith’s system sacrifices human greatness for stability. In this sense, Smith can be said to have built on the low but solid ground of man’s ordinary, universal instincts and passions. However, I conclude with some observations that suggest Smith’s system may not be as stable as he indicates and that the lowest ground is not always the most stable.

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