IN A WORD OR TWO, PLACED IN THE MIDDLE: THE INVISIBLE HAND IN SMITH'S TOMES

Authors


Daniel Klein is Professor of Economics at George Mason University, Associate Fellow of the Ratio Institute, and editor of Econ Journal Watch. His book Knowledge and Coordination: A Liberal Interpretation is forthcoming from Oxford University Press (dklein@gmu.edu).

Brandon Lucas is a doctoral student in economics at George Mason University. His dissertation research focuses on Adam Smith's ideas on justice (blucas@gmu.edu).

Abstract

We explore the conjecture, first hinted at by Peter Minowitz, that Smith deliberately placed his central idea, as represented by the phrase ‘led by an invisible hand’, at the physical centre of his masterworks. The four most significant points developed are as follows: (1) The physical evidence: the expression ‘led by an invisible hand’ occurs pretty much dead centre of the 1st and 2nd editions of The Wealth of Nations (WN), and of the final edition of the tomes containing The Theory of Moral Sentiments (TMS). (2) The rhetoric lectures show that Smith not only was conscious of deliberate placement of potent words at the centre, but thought it significant enough to remark on to his pupils, noting that Thucydides ‘often expresses all that he labours so much in a word or two, sometimes placed in the middle of the narration’. (3) The invisible-hand paragraphs in TMS and WN both contend with Rousseau and hearken back to the Rousseau passages that Smith had translated and provided in his 1756 article on literature. (4) There are numerous and rich ways in which centrality and middleness hold special and positive significance in Smith's thought.

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