Adam Smith and cultural relativism


  • Samuel Fleischacker University of Illinois, Chicago



Adam Smith, culture, relativism, anthropology, moral judgment


This paper explores the presence of both relativistic and universalistic elements in Adam Smith’s moral philosophy. It argues that Smith is more sympathetic to the concerns of anthropologists than most philosophers have been, but still tries to uphold the possibility of moral judgments that transcend cultural contexts. It also argues that the tensions between these aspects of his thought are not easy to resolve, but that Smith’s sensitivity to the issues that give rise to them makes him a useful figure with whom to think through the relationship between anthropology and moral philosophy to this day.

Author Biography

Samuel Fleischacker, University of Illinois, Chicago

Samuel Fleischacker is a professor of philosophy at the University of Illinois, Chicago. His particular research interests are the moral status of culture, the nature and history of liberalism, and the relationship between moral and other values (aesthetic values, religious values, political values). His publications include A third concept of liberty: judgment and freedom in Kant and Adam Smith (Princeton, 1999); On Adam Smith’s Wealth of nations: a philosophical companion (Princeton, 2003); A short history of distributive justice (Harvard, 2004); and Divine teaching and the way of the world (Oxford, 2011).




How to Cite

Fleischacker, S. (2011). Adam Smith and cultural relativism. Erasmus Journal for Philosophy and Economics, 4(2), 20-41.