Theory of Moral Sentiments


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Item#: 124239 price:$16,500.00

Theory of Moral Sentiments
Theory of Moral Sentiments


SMITH, Adam. The Theory of Moral Sentiments. London: Printed for A. Millar, in the Strand; and A. Kincaid and J. Bell in Edinburgh, 1761. Octavo, contemporary full brown calf rebacked with original spine laid down, raised bands, red morocco spine label, renewed endpapers. Housed in a custom chemise and clamshell box. $16,500.

Scarce and important second edition of Smith’s first book, the first with Smith’s major additions and revisions at the core of “his central concepts of sympathy and the impartial spectator” (Tribe, 14), a work increasingly regarded as “one of the truly outstanding books in the intellectual history of the world” (Amartya Sen).

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… without knowing it, without intending it, to advance the interest of the society." "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, Immanuel Kant invented the categorical imperative and Sigmund 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). 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 very important second edition is the first with Smith's extensive additions and revisions. Prompted by the critical insights of Hume and Sir Gilbert Elliot, Smith expanded and altered "central concepts of sympathy and the impartial spectator" (Tribe, 14). In particular, "Smith made a significant addition to his argument which indicates a shift away from reliance on public opinion… This edition also explained the process of dividing oneself into two and elaborated upon the processes of self-judgment, using the impartial spectator. Overall Smith developed a more solid theory of moral judgment. The changes included theological statements. In the new material Smith refers to 'The great judge of the world' and 'his eternal justice' (203). He also writes that God created man 'after his own image' and made him 'his vicegerent upon earth' (204)" (Cockfield et al, New Perspectives, 76).

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). "Strahan printed 750 copies of the second edition… The title page shows the same publishers and identifies the author in the same way as the first edition" (Tribe, 14). Kress 5983. Tribe 2. See Kress 5815; Goldsmith 9537.

Printing error on page 17 affecting seven words (provided in facsimile); expertly restored contemporary calf with some wear to front board. An excellent copy.

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