Date of Award

Fall 2021

Degree Type

Restricted to Claremont Colleges Dissertation

Degree Name

Philosophy, PhD


School of Arts and Humanities

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee Chair

Patricia Easton

Dissertation or Thesis Committee Member

Gideon Manning

Dissertation or Thesis Committee Member

Darrell Moore

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The thesis of this dissertation is to integrate and prioritize the intellectual virtues into a reading of Smith’s theory of approbation in his The Theory of Moral Sentiments (TMS). In so doing, it will be argued that Smith’s moral theory is a normative one. Most scholars interpret Smith’s principle of approbation as a judgment of sympathy, understood to be empathy. The role of reason at best takes a back seat, and emotion is given a primary role in such accounts. Moreover, the consensus is that Smith’s theory is descriptive and relativistic, or at least that the normative aspects cannot escape the descriptive and relativistic aspects. If this interpretation is correct, it will shift the discussion about TMS in two significant ways. First, the principle of approbation in Smith’s moral theory will be shifted from corresponding sentiments, read as emotions, to observations and generalizations about the right kinds of sentiments, or moral sentiments, which are determined by reason. Second, the alleged tension of the “is-ought” or descriptive to normative “issue” will be resolved. The methodological approach used in this dissertation is a close reading and analysis of TMS with specific attention to the intellectual virtues. The close reading entails focusing on where Smith discusses intellectual virtues in TMS, and how that discussion connects to other aspects of TMS, as well as The History of Astronomy (HA), and, on occasion, An inquiry into the nature and causes of the wealth of nations (WN), as well as why it is important to understanding Smith’s TMS as a normative theory. Those aspects are Smith’s understanding of intellectual virtue and: causality in general; the wise man as opposed to other types of men; the general rules, as well as the guidance of the passions; moral sentiments; and proper sympathy. The current study does not attempt to renew philosophy through Adam Smith’s corpus and, at the same time, preserve the ancients in the vein of Griswold (1999). Nor is it in the vein of Montes (2004) who approaches Smith’s corpus viewed through the lens of critical realism. Montes then uses that lens to examine Das Adam Smith Problem, self-command, propriety, and Smith’s Newtonianism. Nor is it a reconciling project attempting to show that the TMS is a text of “emotional sentiments”, on the one hand, and that the WN is a work of economics without the human view, on the other hand, in the vein of Vernon Smith (1998). In this dissertation the focus is on Adam Smith as a moral philosopher and it provides a careful reading of the final edition of TMS. While sensitive to Smith’s historical setting, his legacy, and the importance of his corpus, the aim is to provide an interpretation of Smith’s philosophical position in TMS as a work of moral philosophy that grounds virtue in a unique and significant conception of reason, which guides both sentiments and sympathy. A final, but important aspect of the TMS, which guides this close reading, is the dialectical style of Smith’s TMS. That is, Smith often begins his ideas, whether in a section of TMS or the entirety of TMS, with a discussion of an idea that is likely not his own. As the reading progresses, contrary ideas may also be explored, but his final thoughts on the matter are not discerned until one arrives at the end of the section or the end of the part or the end of the text. That Smith’s writing style has dialectical aspects is the canonical view of Smith’s TMS even if this reading of the substance of TMS is different.

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