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2022 | OriginalPaper | Chapter

7. Adam Smith’s Reasoning Routines and the Deep Structure of His Oeuvre

Authors : Andreas Ortmann, Benoît Walraevens

Published in: Adam Smith’s System

Publisher: Springer International Publishing

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Abstract

In order to identify the “deep structure” of Smith’s works, we identify a set of three “reasoning routines” that are triggered by Smith’s Wonder–Surprise–Admiration meta-routine (WSA routine from here on) that, at an early stage of his career, in juvenile works such as History of Astronomy and early lectures such as those on languages and rhetoric, Smith developed and later put to good use as moral philosopher, in The Theory of Moral Sentiments, and as economist, in An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations.

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Footnotes
1
Schumpeter was much less enthusiastic about the WN, probably because he did not understand—and arguably, since he had no access to the LRBL, could not understand—the rhetorical structure of that book (Ortmann and Walraevens 2018; Ortmann et al. 2019; see also Dow 1987).
 
2
While the importance of this work is documented by Smith exempting it explicitly from the bonfire that he wanted much of his other unpublished works to contribute to, there is some dispute about how early it was written. Phillipson (2010, pp. 283–234; see also Kennedy 2013, 2017 for further references pointing in the same direction), for example, argues that it was written in the 1740s and hence while Smith was still at Oxford. Kennedy (2013) has made an interesting case for the likely reason that led Smith to have his juvenile essay published posthumously. It was a work essential to Smith’s fledgling intellectual development since it reflects his thinking about “the origins of philosophical thought, the creation of philosophical systems, and the appeal which philosophy has to its public. Philosophy’s roots, Smith suggested, lay in the psychological need to explain the unexpected, to soothe the imagination and to restore the mind to a state of cognitive order and tranquility” (Smith 1982; see also Montes 2013). The editor of the relevant passages of the Glasgow edition of the EPS, Wightman—drawing in his Introduction heavily on Smith’s first biographer, Dugald Stewart—argues that “it has been fairly generally assumed that he at least laid the foundation of the History of Astronomy at Oxford; but from further internal evidence it may be inferred that he did not finish it there” (Smith 1982, p. 7).
 
3
Condillac, Rousseau, and Turgot, three French philosophers that Smith held in high esteem, also contributed to this debate, Smith mentioning and criticizing Rousseau’s views on the origin of languages in his essay (see Smith 1985, pp. 9, 205).
 
4
Says Phillipson (2010, pp. 165–166): “In 1761 he [Smith] had published an extended version of his lecture on the origins of language in a little known and short-lived review called the Philological Miscellany under the title ‘Considerations Concerning the Fist Formation of Languages’. One can see why he wanted to do so. His theory of morals and the elaborate discussion of the process of sympathetic exchange on which it was based had presupposed the theory of language on which his theory of rhetoric was based. The theory of language he had presented to his Edinburgh and Glasgow students had been designed to show that language was essentially a vehicle for communication which had a history that was probably as old as civilization. Not only was this a subject of obvious relevance to an understanding of the workings of sympathy…Stewart commented, it was an essay ‘on which the author himself set a high value’.” Stewart also hailed it as a “very beautiful specimen” of “theoretical or conjectural history,” which “may be traced in all his different works” (Stewart 1982, pp. 33, 36, 37).
 
5
We do not deny the importance of the Lectures on Jurisprudence (LJ) but we believe that of the (un)published works, this is the least relevant for the key arguments that we make here. This will not prevent us from using them whenever necessary for our argumentation.
 
6
Smith considered himself first and foremost a moral philosopher, as attested by his willingness to sign the WN as “Adam Smith, Formerly Professor of Moral Philosophy at the University of Glasgow” (WN, 1). And it bears repeating that Smith saw himself, maybe even more, from the very beginning as a philosopher: As Stewart reported famously (after Smith had died), Smith thought that “[t]he best method of explaining and illustrating the various powers of the human mind, the most useful parts of metaphysics, arises from an examination of the several ways of communicating our thoughts by speech, and from an attention to the principles of those literary compositions which contribute to persuasion or entertainment” (EPS, p. 274).
 
7
To avoid misunderstandings, we note here and make clear in the chapter in detail that we see these three reasoning routines, in particular the first and third, to be on the same level. The first is the discovery of the laws of motion of the machine called natural and social world. This discovery—for the social world in particular—requires evolutionary processes whose beginnings can only be reconstructed through historical theorizing. The second reasoning routine or, maybe better, set of reasoning routines, rides on the first in that it highlights the interactive nature of the interactions that we consider. The numbering of the reasoning routines is therefore just a convention without deep meaning.
 
8
See Berry (2001) for a general presentation of Smith’s four-stage theory.
 
9
Smith noted that, while in principle this algorithm was accessible to all, it was not equally accessible even to those of philosophical pretensions; but the difference was owed to habit, custom, and education rather than natural abilities (Smith 1982, p. 45).
 
10
As Phillipson notes, “In 1759, one of Smith’s former students, a young Presbyterian minister, wrote enthusiastically and perceptively about Smith’s use of the ‘experimental method’ in moral philosophy, noting the ‘wonderful profusion of Examples to illustrate the different parts of the theory which seem like so many facts and experiments in Natural Philosophy & seem to confirm & support the author’s principles in the most satisfying manner” (Phillipson 2016, p. 113).
 
11
Smith’s true belief in God, and the place of religion in his thinking, remains a controversial issue among scholars writing on Smith (see Pack 1995; Fleischacker 2021). For a general overview of these debates, see Kennedy (2013, 2017) and Graham (2016). Rasmussen (2017), like us, seems to find Kennedy’s case persuasive. Kennedy argues that Smith was an agnostic who was kept from revealing the fact by what he saw happened to Hume but also to not hurt his beloved mother who was deeply religious. Fleischacker (2021), somewhat surprisingly, does not mention Kennedy’s work. He does concede that “What Smith believed, privately, about religion can therefore play a significant role in how we interpret his work” (Fleischacker 2021, p.19).
 
12
“The beauty of a systematical arrangement of different observations connected by a few common principles, was first seen in the rude essays of those ancient times towards a system of natural philosophy. Something of the same kind was afterwards attempted in morals. The maxims of common life were arranged in some methodical order, and connected together by a few common principles, in the same manner as they had attempted to arrange and connect the phenomena of nature. The science which pretends to investigate and explain those connecting principles, is what is properly called moral philosophy” (WN, V.i.f.25, p. 724).
 
13
Liu and Weingast (2021) also underline the importance of the notion of equilibrium (and of the comparative statics which draws on it) in Smith’s system of thought. Their reading is very much what we identify as the Newtonian deductive view, i.e., RR1.
 
14
Smith thus defends parsimony in science and underlines the importance of relying on principles of which we have an everyday experience. For more details on the main characteristics of good, persuasive “systems” in Smith, see Biziou (2003).
 
15
“By acting according to the dictates of our moral faculties, we necessarily pursue the most effectual means for promoting the happiness of mankind, and may therefore be said, in some sense, to co-operate with the Deity, and to advance as far as in our power the plan of Providence. By acting otherways, on the contrary, we seem to obstruct, in some measure, the scheme which the Author of nature has established for the happiness and perfection of the world, and to declare ourselves, if I may say so, in some measure the enemies of God” (TMS, III.5.7, p. 166).
 
16
Pack (1995) interestingly claims that Smith’s religious beliefs were certainly more influenced by his philosophical and epistemological views than the other way round.
 
17
A technical term that, for the two-player case, describes a bi-matrix with rows and columns that intersect and each cell featuring the payoffs for the two players, Row and Column.
 
18
“ … in a general review of his publications, it deserves our attention less, on account of the opinions it contains, than as a specimen of a particular sort of inquiry, which, so far as I know, is entirely of modern origin, and which seems, in a peculiar degree, to have interested Mr Smith's curiosity. Something very similar to it may be traced in all his different works, whether moral, political, or literary; and on all these subjects he has exemplified it with the happiest success […] When, in such a period of society as that in which we live, we compare our intellectual acquirements, our opinions, manners, and institutions, with those which prevail among rude tribes, it cannot fail to occur to us as an interesting question, by what gradual steps the transition has been made from the first simple efforts of uncultivated nature, to a state of things so wonderfully artificial and complicated. […] On most of these subjects very little information is to be expected from history […] Thus, in the instance which has suggested these remarks, although it is impossible to determine with certainty what the steps were by which any particular language was formed, yet if we can shew, from the known principles of human nature, how all its various parts might gradually have arisen, the mind is not only to a certain degree satisfied, but a check is given to that indolent philosophy, which refers to a miracle, whatever appearances, both in the natural and moral worlds, it is unable to explain…” (Stewart 1795 in Smith 1982, pp. 292–293, our italics).
 
19
Along the same lines, Breban (2014) shows that in TMS Smith presents a “gravitational” theory of happiness in which unexpected events create only momentary changes and deviations from our natural state of happiness.
 
20
Following the Stoics on this point, Smith thinks that happiness is due to a state of tranquility of our mind. See TMS, III.iii.30, p. 149.
 
21
Detailed arguments along these lines can be found in Evensky (1989, 2005), Meek (1976), Skinner and Wilson (1975), and (1986, section II).
 
22
In two important volumes, Binmore (1994, 1997) has argued for a bottom-up approach to ethical issues that draws heavily on David Hume’s approach. To what extent Smith’s “evolutionary” approach was inspired by Hume, and deviated from him, is an intriguing question that we do not address here because it is tangential to our argument. See though Meardon and Ortmann (1996a, 1996b).
 
23
“Human society, when we contemplate it in a certain abstract and philosophical light, appears like a great, an immense machine, whose regular and harmonious movements produce a thousand agreeable effects. As in any other beautiful and noble machine that was the production of human art, whatever tended to render its movements more smooth and easy, would derive a beauty from this effect, and, on the contrary, whatever tended to obstruct them would displease upon that account: so virtue, which is, as it were, the fine polish to the wheels of society, necessarily pleases; while vice, like the vile rust, which makes them jar and grate upon one another, is as necessarily offensive” (TMS, VII.iii.1.2, p. 316).
 
24
His juvenile Letter to the Edinburgh Review bears testimony of his early interest in translation (Smith 1982).
 
25
On the possible reasons of Smith’s stress, see Kennedy (2017, pp. 13–19).
 
26
For more details on this, see Kennedy (2017, pp. 25–29).
 
27
“In the Professorship of Logic [at Glasgow] … [Smith] dedicated [most] of his time to the delivery of a system of rhetoric and belles lettres. The best method of explaining and illustrating the various powers of the human mind, … arises from the examination of the several ways of communicating our thoughts by speech, and from an attention to the principles of those literary compositions which contribute to persuasion or entertainment” (Stewart 1795 in Smith 1982, pp. 274–275).
 
28
“About a year after his appointment to the Professorship of Logic, Mr. Smith was elected to the chair of Moral Philosophy. His course of lectures on this subject was divided into four parts. The first contained Natural Theology; in which he considered the proofs of the being and attributes of God, and those principles of the human mind on which religion is founded. The second comprehended Ethics, strictly so called, and consisted chiefly of the doctrines which he afterwards published in his TMS. In the third part, he treated at more length that branch of morality which relates to justice, … In the last part of his lectures, he examined those political regulations which are founded, not upon the principle of justice, but that of expediency, and which are calculated to increase the riches, the power, and prosperity of a State. … What he delivered on these subjects contained the substance of the work he afterwards published under the title of WN” (Stewart 1795, pp. 274–275).
 
29
Smith also met Voltaire during his stay on the Continent, in the latter’s house in Ferney.
 
30
Smith spent most of his time in the south of France. For more details on this, see Alcouffe and Massot-Bordenave (2020); see also West (1996).
 
31
In Smith’s LJ (1762 and 1766), we find no mention of the “mercantile system,” nor of the “agricultural system” or the “system of natural liberty,” while hindrances to the freedom of internal and foreign commerce and the false belief in the monetary foundation of wealth are repeatedly denounced. Smith’s enemy in WN, the pernicious system of merchants and manufacturers persuading legislators to make laws favoring them at the expense of the interest of society, was not clearly “conceptualized” yet.
 
32
See Phillipson (2010, p. 209) on the sociable time he had in London.
 
33
It is Smith who first developed the concept of the mercantile system in the WN (Spector 2003). Completing his system of political economy required a conceptualization of the different discourses prevailing at that time and of their influence on economic and political reality, a task still to be accomplished and for which the colonies of North America, his later example of the natural progress of opulence, seemed a useful reference point that had the advantage of being policy relevant as well as far removed from the very violent attack Smith set out to launch. Right in the center of both the commercial system of Great Britain and the British Empire, London was for Smith the proper place for observing the mercantile system, which threatened the survival of the Empire, and for being informed about the tumultuous relations between the mother country and the American colonies.
 
34
On Smith’s life and work as a commissioner of customs, see Anderson et al. (1985).
 
35
See Rae (1895, p. 8) and Stewart 1795, pp. 270, 271, and 330:
“Mr Smith attracted notice, by his passion for books, and by the extraordinary powers of his memory” (Stewart 1795, p. 270).
“ … he still retained, and retained even in advanced years, a recollection of his early acquisitions, which not only added to the splendor of his conversation, but enabled him to exemplify some of his favourite theories concerning the natural progress of the mind in the investigation of truth, …” (Stewart 1795, p. 271).
“I have often, however, been struck at the distance of years, with his accurate memory of the most trifling particulars; …” (Stewart 1795, p. 330).
 
36
In Bryce’s opinion, there are “few datable post 1748 references” (p. 12, see also his reference to Millar and Dougall). As was noted by McKenna (2006, p. 73) “on the basis of a range of evidence, scholars have come to regard the students notes as being very close to Smith’s words” because “it can be said that they did capture Smith’s prose style well, and that the notes are consistent with Smith’s other published work.” He adds, “What revisions the rhetoric lectures underwent cannot be known, though Smith’s most recent biographer [Ross] argues that the Glasgow version of the lectures reproduces the Edinburgh material without much alteration” (2006, p. 74).
 
37
The decision of the editors of the Glasgow edition of Smith’s complete works not to include the Considerations with his TMS, as Smith had wanted, strikes us as questionable and might explain why this essay was until recently neglected in the scholarship on Smith’s oeuvre.
 
38
“Two Savages who met together and took up their dwelling in the same place would very soon endeavour to get signs to denote those objects which most frequently occurred and with which they were most concerned. The cave they lodged in, the tree from whence they got their food, or the fountain from whence they drank, would all soon be distinguished by particular names, I as they would have frequent occasion to make their thoughts about these known to one another, and would by mutual consent agree on certain signs whereby this might be accomplished” (Smith 1985, p. 9, our italics).
 
39
We insist on this crucial link between the evolution of language and the evolution of the human mind in the conclusion. See below, p. 50. For an excellent summary of the Considerations … see Bryce (1985, pp. 23–26).
 
40
“(T)he perfection of stile consists in Express < ing > in the most concise, proper and precise manner the thought of the author, and that in the manner which best conveys the sentiment, passion or affection with which it affects or he pretends it does affect him and which he designs to communicate to his reader” (Smith 1985, pp. 55–56).
 
41
“Every discourse proposes either barely to relate some fact, or to prove some proposition. … The latter is the foundation of two Sorts of Discourse: The Didactick and the Rhetoricall. The former proposes to put before us the arguments on both sides of the question in their true light, giving each of its proper degree of influence, and has it in view to perswade us no farther than the arguments themselves appear convincing. The Rhetoricall again endeavors by all means to perswade us; and for this purpose it magnifies all the arguments on the one side conterary to that which is designed that we should favour. Persuasion which is the primary design in the Rhetoricall is but the secondary design in the Didactick. It endeavours to persuade us only so far as the strength of the arguments is convincing, instruction is the main End. In the other Persuasion is the main design and Instruction is considered only so far as it is subservient to perswasion, and no farther” (Smith 1985, p. 62). See also Smith (1985, p. 89).
 
42
“We have learned, however, from experience, that such a misfortune [a stranger we meet has learned the death of his father] naturally excites such a degree of sorrow, and we know that if we took time to consider his situation, fully and in all its parts, we should, without doubt, most sincerely sympathize with him…and the general rules derived from our preceding experience of what our sentiments would commonly correspond with, correct, upon this, as upon other occasions, the impropriety of our present emotions” (TMS, I.i.3.4, p. 18).
 
43
See for example his analysis in WN of the social isolation of poor workers in great cities which leads them to follow the « unsocial», « rigorous» morality of small religious sects (WN, V.i.g.12, p. 795). Against this, Smith identifies « two very easy and effectual remedies» provided by the state: encouraging the study of science and philosophy, seen as « the great antidote to the poison of enthusiasm and superstition», and increasing the « frequency and gaiety of publick diversions» (WN, V.i.g.14–5, p. 796).
 
44
The LRBL date from the fifteenth winter in which Adam Smith lectured on rhetoric, i.e., they were given after Smith published the TMS. That could confound the argument in the present article. However,
The general continuity of the lecture-course from 1748 to 1763 details apart, is established by its structure and by the set of central principles which inform all twenty nine reported lectures and which could not have been added or superimposed on the argument at some intermediate stage of its development. Basic to the whole is the division into ‘an examination of the several ways of communicating our thoughts by speech’ and ‘an attention to the principles of those literary compositions which contribute to persuasion or entertainment’. (Bryce 1985, p. 12)
 
45
“so we cannot always be satisfied merely with being believed, unless we are at the same time conscious that we are really worthy of belief… It is always mortifying not to be believed, and it is doubly so when we suspect that it is because we are supposed to be unworthy of belief and capable of seriously and wilfully deceiving. To tell a man that he lies, is of all affronts the most mortal” (TMS, VII.iv.25, p. 336).
 
46
Or again: “The Rhetorician will not barely set forth the character of a person as it really existed but will magnify every particular that may tend to excite the Strongest emotions in us. He will also seem to be deeply affected with that affection which he would have us feel towards any object. He will exclaim, for example, on the amiable Character, the sweet temper and behaviour of the man towards whom he would have us to feel those affections…the orator heightens every incident and pretends at least to be deeply affected by them himself, often exclaiming on the wretched condition of those he talks of etc.” (LRBL, ii.37–8, pp. 100–101).
 
47
“ … if you'll attend to it all the Rules of Criticism and morality when traced to their foundation, turn out to be some Principles of Common Sense which every one assents to; all the business of those arts is to apply these Rules to the different subjects and shew what their conclusion is when they are so applyed. … We have shewn how fare they have acted agreably to that Rule, which is equally applicable to conversation and behaviour as writing. For what is that makes a man agreable company, is it not, when his sentiments appear to be naturally expressed, when the passion or affection is properly conveyed and when their thoughts are so agreeable and natural that we find ourselves inclined to give our assent to them. A wise man too in conversation and behaviour will not affect a character that is unnaturall to him; … He will only regulate his naturall temper, restrain within just bounds and lop all exuberances and bring it to that pitch which will be agreeable to those about him. But he will not affect such conduct as is unnaturall to his temper tho perhaps in the abstract they may be more to be wished” (LRBL, i.134, pp. 55–56).
 
48
“The great pleasure of conversation and society, besides, arises from a certain correspondence of sentiments and opinions, from a certain harmony of minds, which like so many musical instruments coincide and keep time with one another. But his most delightful harmony cannot be obtained unless there is a free communication of sentiments and opinions. We all desire, upon this account, to feel how each other is affected, to penetrate into each other’s bosoms, and to observe the sentiments and affections which really subsist there” (TMS, VII.iv.28, p. 337).
 
49
Note that we use the word “progress” here in Smith’s much more neutral sense of the word, as a synonym of “evolution,” because clearly for Smith the (economic) progress of society can lead to serious drawbacks, and especially to the corruption of men’s characters. For more details on this issue, see in particular Hanley (2009), Pack (2010, chap 8), Tegos (2013).
 
50
Note that Pack and Schliesser (2018) argue that Smith uses an Aristotelian rather than a Newtonian conception of gravitation in his analysis of natural and market prices.
 
51
The love of systems is also quite important for explaining the accumulation of wealth and especially the behavior of capitalists, as Diatkine (2000, 2010) showed.
 
52
See also LJ(A), vi.45, p. 347.
 
53
“A free commerce on a fair consideration must appear to be advantageous on both sides. We see that it must be so betwixt individualls, unless one of them be a fool and makes a bargain plainly ruinous; but betwixt prudent men it must always be advantageous. For the very cause of the exchange must be that you need my goods more than I need them, and that I need yours more than you do yourself; and if the bargain be managed with ordinary prudence it must be profitable to both” (LJ(A), vi.160, p. 390).
“Nobody ever saw a dog make a fair and deliberate exchange of one bone for another with another dog” (WN, I.ii.2, p. 26, our italics).
 
54
For more details on this, see Berry (2013) and Walraevens (2014).
 
55
“The different situations of different ages and countries are apt, in the same manner, to give different characters to the generality of those who live in them, and their sentiments concerning the particular degree of each quality, that is either blamable or praise-worthy, vary, according to that degree which is usual in their own country, and in their own times” (TMS, V.2.7, p. 204).
“Among civilized nations, the virtues which are founded upon humanity, are more cultivated than those which are founded upon self denial and the command of the passions. Among rude and barbarous nations, it is quite otherwise, the virtues of self-denial are more cultivated than those of humanity. The general security and happiness which prevail in ages of civility and politeness, afford little exercise to the contempt of danger, to patience in enduring labour, hunger and pain…The abstinence from pleasure becomes less necessary, and the mind is more at liberty to unbend itself, and to indulge its natural inclinations in all those particular respects” (TMS, V.2.8, p. 204–205).
Among savages and barbarians it is quite otherwise. Every savage undergoes a sort of Spartan discipline, and by the necessity of his situation is inured to every sort of hardship. He is in continual danger…His circumstances not only habituate him to every sort of distress, but teach him to give way to none of the passions which that distress is apt to excite (TMS, V.2.9, p. 209).
 
56
See also Pack (1991, p. 132) on this point.
 
57
See also Pack (1991, chap 6) for the idea that Smith applied the Socratick method in WN.
 
58
Indeed, the respective essays on the history of astronomy, the history of ancient physics, and the history of ancient logics and metaphysics are all titled: “The Principles which lead and direct Philosophical Enquiries; illustrated by the History of…” (Smith 1982, pp. 31, 106, 118).
 
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Metadata
Title
Adam Smith’s Reasoning Routines and the Deep Structure of His Oeuvre
Authors
Andreas Ortmann
Benoît Walraevens
Copyright Year
2022
DOI
https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-99704-5_7