In his Life of Adam Smith, Dugald Stewart notes that Smith was “always disposed to ascribe to custom and fashion their full share in regulating the opinions of mankind with respect to beauty.” Indeed, Stewart refers to this as a “collateral” inquiry within The Theory of Moral Sentiments. This article examines what Smith has to say about fashion and attempts to identify in what sense it is “collateral” to the main inquiry of The Theory of Moral Sentiments. As we proceed, it will become clear that Smith does indeed advance a well-developed analysis of fashion as a social and economic phenomenon, and that this analysis fits neatly within the boundaries set by his examination of morality in The Theory of Moral Sentiments and the political economy of The Wealth of Nations and Lectures on Jurisprudence. Moreover, the article will argue that an examination of this aspect of Smith’s thought reveals a key step in his attempt to distance his moral theory from crude forms of conventionalism.
Craig Smith; Adam Smith’s “Collateral” Inquiry: Fashion and Morality in The Theory of Moral Sentiments and The Wealth of Nations. History of Political Economy 1 September 2013; 45 (3): 505–522. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00182702-2334776
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