Economic philosophy of Adam Smith

April 15, 2015
Adam Smith and his Wealth

In this paper, the economic philosophies of Adam Smith (1723–1790) and Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712–1778) are discussed, with special reference to their respective views on money. It is argued that self-love plays an important role in their philosophies of money. For Smith, self-love is the foundation of economic activity and a means to quantify exchange relations. Rousseau, in turn, rejects money because of the possibility that it may give rise to destructive and narcissistic forms of self-love—which he calls amour-propre. It seems that Smith's and Rousseau's views of money are in opposition to each other; however, both argue that their view of money becomes unsustainable, if not qualified, by the embedded tension present in self-love. For Smith, self-love must remain in tension with sympathy for the economy to function, as discussed in his Theory of Moral Sentiments. Rousseau concedes that in society both amour-propre and amour de soi (passionate, sacrificial love) are necessary. This tension introduces a moment of madness that may have important implications when contemporary philosophies of economics engage issues such as economic inequality and poverty.

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