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considered not only as an individual but as the member of a family, of a State, and of the great Society of mankind” (Wealth of Nations, V. 1. 346).
His lectures on Moral Philosophy embraced four parts, (1) Natural Theology, dealing with the Being and Attributes of God, and “those principles of the human mind on which religion is founded.” Except for scattered hints in the Moral Sentiments, we have no materials for judging of his views on these matters. We only know (from more than one passage in his works) that anything like a metaphysical treatment of them would be rigorously excluded, for our author hated metaphysics, scholastic or otherwise.? (2)
(2) They embraced Ethics in the narrower sense, the doctrines chiefly discussed in the Moral Sentiments. (3) They embraced justice in particular, as a virtue susceptible of precise and accurate rules, and therefore admitting a full and particular explanation. He followed the plan of Montesquieu, and traced the progress of jurisprudence, public and private, from the rudest to the most refined ages, pointing out the effects of the industrial arts and of the growth of wealth on laws and government. He had it also on his programme * in this connection to sketch out a system of natural jurisprudence (or law of nature), of which he regarded every system of positive law as a more or less imperfect embodiment. This would give “the natural rules of justice independent of all positive institution.” Grotius, he says, was the first who attempted this, and he left much to be done, which our author, writing in 1759, hoped to live long enough to do himself. He partly fulfilled this hope in 1776 (Wealth of Nations), but like Grotius he left much undone ; and with something of sadness in his last edition of the Moral Sentiments he repeats his promises (6th ed. 1790) with only a faint hope of fulfilling them :“ In the last paragraph of the first edition of the present work, I said that I should in another discourse endeavour to give an account of the general principles of law and
1 Life, by Dug. Stewart, in Essays, p. xvii. seq. 2 See W. of N., V. 1. 346.
3 Dug. Stew., loc. cit. 4 Mor. Sent., 1759, last paragraphs. 5 Compare ist ed. 1759, p. 549, 6th ed. 1790, vol. ii. p. 397.
government, and of the different revolutions which they had undergone in the different ages and periods of society, not only in what concerns justice, but in what concerns police, revenue, and arms, and whatever else is the object of law. In the Inquiry concerning the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, I have partly executed this promise, at least so far as concerns police, revenue, and arms. What remains, the theory of jurisprudence, which I have long projected, I have hitherto been hindered from executing, by the same occupations which had till now prevented me from revising the present work. Thouglt my advanced age leaves me, I acknowledge, very little expectation of ever being able to execute this great work to my own satisfaction,' yet, as I have not altogether abandoned the design, and as I wish still to continue under the obligation of doing what I can, I have allowed the paragraph to remain as it was published more than thirty years ago, when I entertained no doubt of being able to execute everything which it announced."
He had at least dealt with the fourth and last subject of Moral Philosophy as he conceived it,—the regulations made by States to increase their power and prosperity, for this subject will cover the main topics of the Wealth of Nations, commerce, finance, ecclesiastical and military establishments.
Adam Smith undoubtedly started with the purpose of giving to the world a complete social philosophy. He accomplished the greater part of his design, and yet he is seldom remembered except for his economical work and only for part of that. He is reckoned not among the architects but among the iconoclasts of the eighteenth century But it is to the former class he would have wished to belong. Philosophy, to him, is “the science of the connecting principles of nature ; “philosophy, by representing the invisible chains which bind together all these disjointed objects, endeavours to introduce order into this chaos of jarring and discordant appearances." It removes the appearance of fits and starts, and "renders the theatre of nature a more coherent and therefore more magnificent spectacle” to the imagination. But to do this its connecting principles must be such as are “familiar to all mankind.”
i George Wilson's letter to Bentham, 14th July, 1787 (Bentham, Wks., vol. x. 173, 174) gives us an idea how Adam Smith was hampered by ill health in the later years of his life: “ Dr. Smith has been very ill here of an inflammation
The physicians say he may do some time longer. He is much with the ministry, and the clerks at the public offices have orders to furnish him with all papers, and to employ additional hands, if necessary, to copy for him. I am vexed that Pitt should have done so right' a thing as to consult Smith; but, if any of his schemes are effectuated, I shall be comforted.”
This general notion of Philosophy is first applied by him to the Physical Sciences; but it applies equally well to his Ethics and Economics, where the connecting principles are sympathy and commercial ambition, principles familiar to all mankind.
After so describing Philosophy, he goes on to tell us that it can only arise in a well ordered society, a society where there is security for life and possessions. In place of philosophy the savage has his polytheism and fetishism, and whatever he finds irregular he ascribes to the “invisible hand”? of some god, who "stops or alters the course which natural events would take if left to themselves.”3 When Adam Smith himself recognises the presence of an “invisible hand,” it is as a cause of order and law in human actions, as opposed to irregularity,' a calm philosophical view, which can, as he admits, only arise where there is civic calm and tranquillity, permitting wonder to take the place of terror. The first motive of philosophy, he says, is not utility but curiosity, and the study is pursued as a good in itself without regard to any supposed usefulness, Adam Smith himself was in this sense a philosopher to the end of his days. His motive for studying economics as well as for studying ethics was neither as with Malthus philanthropy,
as with the Physiocrats patriotism, in the first instance. It was essentially the discovery of truth for its own sake, the love of finding order where there had
1 Essays (publ. 1790)—"The History of Astronomy,” pp. 20 seq. 2 Ib., 25; cf. W. of N., IV. 11. 199, 2.
3 Essays, p. 25. 4 W. of N., IV. 11. 199, 2.
6 Essays, p. 26. 6 From this point of view the passage in Moral Sent. (ist ed.), p. 351 seq. and esp. 355, may seem an “apologia pro vitâ suâ."
seemed to be chaos. This appears even from the similes with which he illustrates his general descriptions of Philosophy. Systems, he says, resemble machines. A machine is a little system, to perform and connect together all the movements which its artist designs for it. A philosophical system is an imaginary machine that endeavours in fancy to connect movements already existing in reality. Now, as the first machines are the most complex, so are the first systems. Such were the Ptolemaic and Copernican, as compared with the Newtonian system. They are inventions of the imagination, though they fit the facts so well that they easily seem to us the real chains by which nature binds together her several operations. The business of philosophers is not to work but to think, “not to do anything but to observe everything, and they are “upon that account often capable of combining together the powers (sic) of the most distant and dissimilar objects." They try too to fill up the gaps between one process and another in sequences so near and familiar that mere custom hinders the ordinary man from even perceiving that there are any gaps to be filled.
We have now to consider Adam Smith's own application of these principles to economics as a branch of Moral Philosophy in its larger sense, and we have to see how far the “connecting principles” of ethics and of economics, have themselves any principle of connection.
From the programme above quoted • compared with the Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, as we now have it, it is plain that the Inquiry was, like the writings of the Physiocrats, intended to embrace political philosophy as well as economics. In his 4th book indeed the author deliberately applies the term Political Economy in a narrow sense. “Considered as a branch of the science of a
4th book philosophy Physiocrats
1 Essays, p. 44.
2 Ibid., p. 93. He himself so applies them when he says in Moral Sent., II. 118, that God made the “ machine of the universe " so as to produce “the greatest possible quantity of happiness.”
3 W. of N., I. 1. 5, 2. 4 Essays, p. 18. 5 Above, pp. 147-149. 6 He seems to have begun the book as early as 1764. See Burton's Life of Hume, II. 228.
statesman or legislator” (he says) it has two objects, to enrich the people, and to provide a public revenue ; and it is from this narrower point of view that he criticises the mercantile and the physiocratic systems. But in dealing with the Physiocrats he says, that their works “ treat not only of what is properly called Political Economy, or of the nature and causes of the wealth of nations, but of every other branch of the system of civil
This passage seems to make it clear that Adam Smith understood the title of his own book to be a good general description of Political Economy; and we must remember how comparatively small a part he allots to politics and governments in the the creation of the wealth of nations. Quesnay, he says, seemed to believe that the desire of men to better their own condition in the world would not act effectively unless complete liberty were granted,—whereas in point of fact (according to Adam Smith) it has been acting throughout the centuries already, and has been triumphing in spite of governments; economical forces not only ought to be but are and have been more powerful than political. The “causes of the wealth of nations,” therefore, are found to act within society indeed but apart from the action of the State and often in defiance of it ; and an Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations begins earlier and ends later than mere politics. Though Dugald Stewart struggled hard to preserve the wider notion of Political Economy, as dealing with “ the happiness and improvement of political society” and not merely its wealth, he was only followed by a few of the minor economists ; and the desirableness of narrowing the
range of inquiry has been generally recognised. Turning now to the inquiry itself, we find it very unlike a text book for students, or a treatise addressed to a group of professional economists. It is addressed, like Hume's Essays, to all the world of educated people ;
1 W of N., IV., Introd.
2 Ib., IV. IX. 307, 1. 3 See W. of N., 304, 2.
* Dug. Stewart, Pol. Ec. (ed. Hamilton, 1855), vol. i. p. 9 (written circa 1810). Cf. Pryme, Introd. Lecture (Cambridge), 1823. 5 Cf. Courcelle-Seneuil
, Ad. Smith (Petite Biblioth. Econ.), p. xix.