The History of Economic Thought
Online ISSN : 1884-7358
Print ISSN : 1880-3164
ISSN-L : 1880-3164
Instinct as a Foundational Concept in Adam Smithʼs Social Theory
Tetsuo Taka
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2012 Volume 53 Issue 2 Pages 1-20


Abstract: Adam Smithʼs social theory analyzes and interprets both the unfolding and accumula-tive structures of human nature and society, while considering the foundation of hu-man instinct. My reinterpretation makes it possible to achieve a coherent understand-ing of The Theory of Moral Sentiments and The Wealth of Nations, and to recognize the commonalities among Smith, Hume, and Darwin with respect to the viewpoint of evolutionary point of view. Smithʼs concept of “instinct” is distinctly biological; it differs obviously from Lockeʼs philosophical concept and Humeʼs psychological one. There is no doubt that Smith followed Locke and Hume in terms of his empirical understanding of human knowledge and ways of thinking; nonetheless, Smith remained convinced that ani-mals had instincts-that is, they are born with innate programs. As shown in his de-tailed descriptions in “Of the External Senses”-including those of instinctual per-ception among the young of the partridge, the goose, and suckling animals, as well as worms that have no head but yet search for food-Smith came to this idea through elaborate direct observations and indirect observations via the work of Linnaeus. For Smith, the human species incorporates the instincts of self-interest (self-preserva-tion) and mutual altruism (sociability, the propensity to exchange). This understand-ing is maintained without any change from that outlined in the “Letter to Authors of the Edinburgh Review” to that in the sixth edition of The Theory of Moral Sentiments. JEL classification numbers: B 10, B 31, B 41.

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© 2012 The Japanease Society for the History of Economic Thought
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