Rousseau's 'philosophical chemistry' and the foundations of Adam Smith's thought

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11 Scopus citations


Recent scholarship on Adam Smith has stressed that he accepts that commercial society has a number of important moral and political drawbacks, but it has not adequately addressed the question of why he defends commercial society despite these problems. I argue that one of Smith's earliest (and most often overlooked) writings, a review of Rousseau's Discourse on Inequality, points towards the ultimate grounds of his defence of commercial society, which lies above all in his account of the moral and political drawbacks of pre-commercial societies. Whereas Rousseau sees commercial society largely as a lamentable departure from a happy and peaceful state of nature, Smith sees it as a definite improvement over the poverty, dependence and insecurity that characterized most previous ages, its very real imperfections notwithstanding.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)620-641
Number of pages22
JournalHistory of Political Thought
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 2006
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • History
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Philosophy


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