The Problem of Natural Religion in Smith’s Moral Thought

COLIN HEYDT

JOURNAL OF THE HISTORY OF IDEAS

Abstract: Adam Smith is one of the philosophers whose views on the relation of morality to religion have been very actively debated. It is accepted that Smith had unorthodox personal religious beliefs. The crux of the debate, however, is whether or not the God of natural religion is essential, in one or more ways, to Smith’s moral theory. A number of recent interpretations defend the description of Adam Smith as “a strong supporter of natural theology.”2 This paper argues [End Page 73] against that claim, using both novel evidence and familiar evidence applied in novel ways. I demonstrate here that Smith took positions at odds with a commitment to natural religion’s importance for morality. In particular, I show that it is hard to square Smith’s alleged support of natural religion with his account of conscience, his natural-rights theory, and his omission of piety from his catalogue of virtues.