Was Smith A Moral Subjectivist?

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Abstract

This paper may appear quixotic in the extreme. Adam Smith’s Theory of The Moral Sentiments has generally been seen as a species of the genus of moral sentimentalism. Moral sentimentalists agree in grounding our moral distinctions in our sentiments, as opposed to the world. They are in this respect the progenitors of various stripes of subjectivism in meta-ethics. I want to argue that Smith does not fit this picture. I think he can be easily read to do so, and that he was sometimes confused about what he was doing, but that we ought to, at a minimum, recognize an alternative, objectivist ( and  therefore, I think, correct)  strain in Smith, in tension with his apparent subjectivism.

Posted for comments on 11 Sep 2017, 2:03 pm.

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