Adam Smith was an extraordinary fellow. More than the founding theorist of market capitalism, Smith was a profound student of moral psychology. Smith’s Theory of Moral Sentiments easily matches Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations in richness and depth. I was reminded of this on learning that The Templeton Foundation and the journal In Character had awarded a prize to the authors of an Op Ed entitled, “Disaster Relief: What Would Adam Smith Do?”
The authors, Jonathan B. Wright and Douglas A. Hicks, use Smith’s treatment of an imaginary Chinese earthquake in Theory of Moral Sentiments to reflect on the Asian tsunami. Their underlying point is that economic and political flourishing rest upon civic virtue–a fact well understood by Smith (in contrast to the stereotype of Smith as a radically “laissez faire” thinker). For an accessible and rounded treatment of Adam Smith, incorporating his Theory of Moral Sentiments and his concerns with character and virtue, see Jerry Z. Muller’s Adam Smith: In His Time and Ours. But of course, best of all is to dive into the Theory of Moral Sentiments.