Adam Smith and the contemporary world


  • Amartya Sen Harvard University, United States



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.

Author Biography

Amartya Sen, Harvard University, United States

Amartya Sen is T. W. Lamont University professor, and professor of economics and philosophy, at Harvard University. He has published extensively in many areas of philosophy and economics and in 1998 his contributions to economics were recognised with a Nobel Prize. His most recent publications include The idea of justice (Allen Lane, 2009), and the introduction to a new edition of Adam Smith's The theory of moral sentiments (Penguin, forthcoming in 2010).




How to Cite

Sen, A. (2010). Adam Smith and the contemporary world. Erasmus Journal for Philosophy and Economics, 3(1), 50–67.