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ADAM SMITH AND THE ROLE OF THE METAPHOR OF AN INVISIBLE HAND

Authors


Gavin Kennedy is Professor Emeritus, Heriot-Watt University, and a Fellow of the Adam Smith Institute (London). His Adam Smith: A Moral Philosopher and His Political Economy (2nd edition, Palgrave Macmillan) was published in September 2010 (gavinK9@gmail.com).

Abstract

Daniel Klein and Brandon Lucas's ‘In a Word or Two, Placed in the Middle: The Invisible Hand in Smith's Tomes’, following a vague hint by Peter Minowitz (2004), offers original physical evidence that Smith ‘deliberately placed the phrase “led by an invisible hand”– at the physical centre of both his masterworks’. Further, it suggests that the invisible-hand paragraphs are a response to Rousseau (1755); and that in ‘numerous and rich ways’, centrality holds ‘special and positive significance in Smith's thought’. This paper acknowledges the physical centrality of the invisible-hand metaphor, but questions whether centrality alone gives weight to wider claims that the ‘invisible hand’ was Smith's ‘central idea’. It draws upon Smith'sRhetoric Lectures (1763), and argues that the invisible-hand paragraphs in The Theory of Moral Sentiments and Wealth of Nations identify the actual objects of the invisible-hand metaphor. This paper insists that Adam Smith is the most reliable source for revealing what he meant. In contrast, most modern attributions of special meaning to Adam Smith's use of the metaphor ignore Smith's teaching on the use of metaphors and, instead, make numerous, and often mutually exclusive, claims that Smith had a ‘doctrine’ of ‘an invisible-hand’.

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