This month, we discuss the moral philosophy of Adam Smith with Christel Fricke, Professor of Philosophy at the University of Oslo, and Research Director at the Center for the Study of Mind in Nature in the Department of Philosophy, Classics, and History of Art and Ideas at the University of Oslo. Click here to listen to our conversation.
Different moral theories have placed an emphasis on different things. Some philosophers have thought that being a good person means doing whatever will contribute to the optimal level of happiness in the greatest number of people. Some philosophers have thought that being a good person means obeying some basic set of principles, such as the golden rule. Adam Smith tried to define being a good person in terms of an ideal: you’re a good person just in case you do behave as though the ideal person would behave. More specifically, you’re a good person just in case you emotionally respond to thing the way this theoretical person would emotionally respond to things. This theoretical person was named ‘the impartial spectator.’
In this episode, Christel Fricke explains how Adam Smith thinks we build up a sense of what this ideal spectator is like through our interactions with others from early childhood on through adulthood. We figure out how this person would feel about the things that others say and do by carefully hashing through situations collectively and learning how to balance each other’s priorities. Join us as she explains how, on Adam Smith’s picture, all of that works!