The Rehabilitation of Adam Smith for Catholic Social Teaching

Journal of Business Ethics 149 (1):57-82 (2018)
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Catholic Social Teaching takes a rather cautious view toward the value of the ideas of Adam Smith, due to his emphasis on negative political and economic liberty. Detractors of Smith within CST point to what they consider to be deficiencies within his works: an impoverished moral anthropology, a lack of concern for the common good, and markets untethered to human needs. Defenders of Smith within CST tend to emphasize the material benefits that derive from Smithian institutions, such as economic growth, improvements in standards of living, and the new opportunities that arise from cultures focused on innovation. This paper argues that Smith’s ideas have real value for CST. However, this value primarily lies in his moral psychology. While not denying the dangers of business activity for our moral lives, Smith also helps us to understand the possibility of the moral corruption of those who wield political power, thus providing an indirect defense of political and economic liberty that coheres with important Christian ethical notions found in CST. This is the case even though CST does not consistently recognize concerns surrounding the dangers of wielding political power—and thus Smith’s arguments offer real challenges to CST as well. This paper further suggests that these basic insights are relevant regardless of one’s favored institutional arrangements.



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Gregory Wolcott
John Templeton Foundation

Citations of this work

Adam Smith and Catholic Social Teaching.Nuno Ornelas Martins - 2021 - Journal of Business Ethics 170 (2):401-411.
Why Catholic Social Thought is Not a Theory.Matthias P. Hühn - 2021 - Philosophy of Management 21 (1):69-85.

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References found in this work

Anarchy, State, and Utopia.Robert Nozick - 1974 - New York: Basic Books.
The Theory of Moral Sentiments.Adam Smith - 1759 - Dover Publications.
Against Democracy: New Preface.Jason Brennan - 2016 - Princeton University Press.
After Virtue.A. MacIntyre - 1981 - Tijdschrift Voor Filosofie 46 (1):169-171.
Anarchy, State, and Utopia.Robert Nozick - 1974 - Philosophy 52 (199):102-105.

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