This article questions Adam Smith’s commitment to the notion of a beneficent Deity, or “all-perfect Being,” whose purpose is to promote the “real happiness” of humankind. It is argued that Smith conceals his true position in The Theory of Moral Sentiments by emphasizing the deceptive “love of system” (the fascination with well-crafted contrivances) as the main spur to material acquisitiveness; by using the empty formulation that “all the different ranks of life are nearly upon a level” without specifying which level they are “nearly upon”; and by introducing a contented beggar, who, with his identity as Diogenes the Cynic cloaked in anonymity, could be tendentiously misconstrued as a representative of the poor and lowly. It is concluded that Smith’s commitment to what I call “optimistic deism” must be regarded as deeply suspect and more probably nonexistent, and that as far as “real happiness” is concerned his position was one of pessimism of almost Cynic proportions, albeit a pessimism partially obscured by a veiled reference to the greatest Cynic of them all.
Research Article| March 01 2014
Terry Peach; Adam Smith’s “Optimistic Deism,” The Invisible Hand of Providence, and the Unhappiness of Nations. History of Political Economy 1 March 2014; 46 (1): 55–83. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00182702-2398930
Download citation file: