J. Viner's Erroneous Understanding of the Theory of Moral Sentiments and Its Relation to the Wealth of Nations
21 Pages Posted: 5 Dec 2017
Date Written: November 30, 2017
Viner’s understanding of Smith’s The Theory of Moral Sentiments is very poor. He overlooked the close connections that existed between The Theory of Moral Sentiments and The Wealth of Nations in his 1927 article on Smith in the Journal of Political Economy. The reason why Viner committed these errors is a common one in the economics profession. Viner attempted to combine Bentham’s version of utilitarianism with Smith’s version of virtue ethics. They simply do not mix. The error is similar to that which occurred at the very beginning of the formation of microeconomic theory, where Smith’s theory of competitive markets, which was based on the prudent and wise behavior of trying to maximize profits, was combined with Bentham’s Theory of Maximizing Utility, a concept which Smith totally and completely rejected out of hand because it ignored the “other interests” in Smith’s “Truck ,Barter and Exchange”.
Viner’s article, unfortunately, is considered a classic in the economics profession. His errors about Smith have been passed down and absorbed by most, if not all, economists who write on Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations, and The Theory of Moral Sentiments. The one clear exception that I am familiar with is Gavin Kennedy.
Keywords: Smith Viner, prudence, self interest
JEL Classification: B10, B12, B14, B16, B20, B22
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation