Theory of Moral Sentiments


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SMITH, Adam. The Theory of Moral Sentiments… To Which is Added, A Dissertation on the Origin of Languages. London: W. Strahan, J. and F. Rivington, T. Longmon, T. Cadell and W. Creech in Edinburgh, 1781. Octavo, contemporary full brown calf, elaborately gilt-decorated spine, red morocco spine label; pp. (vii) (1) 2-478 (2).

1781 edition of Smith's Moral Sentiments, his first book, one of only 750 copies issued—"one of the truly outstanding books in the intellectual history of the world" (Amartya Sen)—with Smith's Considerations Concerning the First Formation of Languages, which is not in the first edition and is highly viewed as "reflecting core ideas about communication that are integral to the full system of Smith's thought," in contemporary calf.

Smith's Theory of Moral Sentiments, his first book, is "one of the truly outstanding books in the intellectual history of the world" (Amartya Sen). First published in 1759, it laid the foundation for Wealth of Nations and proposed the theory repeated in the later work: that self-seeking men are often "led by an invisible hand… to advance the interest of the society." As the "fruit of his Glasgow years… Moral Sentiments would be enough to assure the author a respected place among Scottish moral philosophers, and Smith himself ranked it above the Wealth of Nations… Its central idea is the concept, closely related to conscience, of the impartial spectator who helps man to distinguish right from wrong. For the same purpose, Kant invented the categorical imperative and Freud the superego" (Niehans, 62). Basing moral sentiment on "the power one man has of putting himself in the place of another," in contrast to Hume's idea of self-interest, "Smith was henceforth recognized as one of the first authors of the day" (DNB). With Moral Sentiments and Wealth of Nations Smith created "not merely a treatise on moral philosophy and a treatise on economics, but a complete moral and political philosophy, in which the two elements of history and theory were to be closely conjoined" (Palgrave III:412-13).

Both Moral Sentiments and Wealth of Nations reflect Smith's attempts "to anchor the new science of political economy in a Newtonian universe, mechanical albeit harmonious and beneficial, in which society is shown to benefit from the unintended consequences of the pursuit of individual self-interest. There is thus a considerable affinity between the structure of Moral Sentiments and that of Wealth of Nations… Smith's ethics and his economics are integrated by the same principle of self-command, or self-reliance, which manifests itself in economics in laissez faire" (Spiegel, Growth of Economic Thought, 229-231). To Smith, when man pursues "his own private interests, the original and selfish sentiments of Moral Sentiments, he will, in the economic realm, choose those endeavors which will best serve society. Herein lies the connection between the two great works which make them the work of a single and largely consistent theorist" (Paul, "Adam Smith," 293).

This 1781 edition contains Smith's Considerations, which "has increasingly been understood as reflecting core ideas about communication that are integral to the full system of Smith's thought" (Henley, ed. Adam Smith, 389). It is not in the first edition and was later added on Smith's specific orders. Dugald Stewart said that Smith, in particular, "set a high value" on Considerations (Account of the Life, xxxiv), and in his 1793 eulogy to Smith noted that Considerations introduces a "particular sort of enquiry, which, so far as I know, is entirely modern in origin, and which seems, in a peculiar degree to have interested Smith's curiosity. Something very similar to it may be traced in all his different works, whether moral, political, or literary." "Fifth Edition" stated on title page. One of only 750 copies printed. "The imprint of the fifth edition of 1781 looks much like the fourth, except that it no longer contains the name of William Johnston, who had retired as a bookseller in 1773" (Sher in Tribe, 15). Contains minor small corrections and revisions. With woodcut-engraved head- and tailpiece. With rear advertisement leaf. ESTC T95113. Kress B425. Early owner signature above title page.

Text very fresh with lightest trace of scattered foxing, expert restoration to contemporary binding.

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