Scholarly Comments on Academic Economics

Adam Smith’s View of Man


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Reprinted here by permission is a 1976 Journal of Law and Economics essay by Ronald Coase. The essay concludes: “Smith would not have thought it sensible to treat man as a rational utility-maximiser. He thinks of man as he actually is—dominated, it is true, by self-love but not without some concern for others, able to reason but not necessarily in such a way as to reach the right conclusion, seeing the outcomes of his actions but through a veil of self-delusion. No doubt modern psychologists have added a great deal, some of it correct, to this eighteenth-century view of human nature. But if one is willing to accept Smith’s view of man as containing, if not the whole truth, at least a large part of it, realisation that his thought has a much broader foundation than is commonly assumed makes his argument for economic freedom more powerful and his conclusions more persuasive.”