Adam Smith on Justice, Social Justice, and Ultimate Justice



Abstract: Adam Smith argues that virtue falls into two broad categories: “justice,” which he calls a “negative” virtue because it principally comprises restraint from harming or injuring others; and “beneficence,” which he calls “positive” because it comprises the actions we ought to take to improve others’ situations. Smith’s conception of justice is thus quite “thin,” and some critics argue that it is indeed too thin, since it fails to incorporate substantive concerns for the well-being of others. In this essay, I lay out Smith’s conception of justice and offer a way to understand it that attempts to comprehend the various things he says about it. I then offer a cluster of objections drawing on criticisms that might fall under the heading of “social justice.” Finally, I suggest how Smith might respond to the criticisms by outlining a Smithian conception of what I call “ultimate justice.”

A liberal theory of externalities?



Abstract: Unlike exploitative exchanges, exchanges featuring externalities have never seemed to pose particular problems to liberal theories of justice. State interference with exchanges featuring externalities seems permissible, like it is for coercive or deceptive exchanges. This is because exchanges featuring negative externalities seem to be clear cases of the two exchanging parties harming a third one via the exchange—and thus of conduct violating the harm principle. This essay aims to put this idea into question. I will argue that exchanges featuring negative externalities are not unjust in this straightforward way, i.e. because they would constitute an instance of wrongfully causing or risking a bodily or material harm. In fact, unless we are subscribing to particularly demanding variants of liberalism—e.g. perfectionist liberalism—or unless we are exclusively focusing on borderline cases of externalities—i.e. of effects of exchanges hardly to be called externalities—there is no liberal theory of how exchanges featuring externalities are unjust.

How Not to Argue for Markets (or, Why the Argument from Mutually Beneficial Exchange Fails)



Abstract: In recent years, there has been considerable debate concerning the legitimate scope of market transactions. Markets in many goods that are usually held to be market-inalienable (including sex, human organs, sweatshop labor, women’s reproductive labor, humans, and votes) have all had their defenders—and detractors. Despite the variety of these “contested commodities,” one defense of the view that markets in them are morally legitimate is almost ubiquitous in the philosophical literature on the moral limits of markets. This “Argument from Mutually Beneficial Exchange” is simple. If a trade is voluntary, neither party would have participated in it unless they ex ante expected to benefit from doing so. Hence, provided that the trade in question does not violate the rights of any third party (e.g., it is not the sale of an assassin’s services) then a moral concern for the welfare improvement of each of both parties through the trade prima facie supports its moral permissibility. Taylor argues that this argument should be rejected. This is because it is based on illegitimately inferring from the fact that persons would prefer to trade in a good rather than not given the existence of a market in that good to the conclusion that consideration for the well-being of the would-be trading parties justifies allowing the market in question.

Moral markets: A marginalistic interpretation of Adam Smith



Abstract: The article is built upon James Otteson’s analogy between the structure of moral and economic rules. In Otteson’s interpretation of Adam Smith’s works both of them develop from an exchange of information of interacting agents. We develop that concept about Adam Smith’s Theory of Moral Sentiments, analyzing those exchanges, and considering them Moral Market processes, in the Austrian Tradition of markets as processes. We think that Smith’s emphasis on graduality and his metaphor of the Impartial Spectator allows us to propose a marginalistic approach to those markets stating how, in some of them which we call moral exchanges of justice, and through a great number of exchanges, moral rules of justice emerge. Finally, we present the problems that arise when legislation tries to change the results of these exchanges, in what we called a price control in the moral market.

Should There Be Freedom of Dissociation?


ECONOMIC AFFAIRS, Volume 37, Issue 2

Abstract: Contemporary liberal societies are seeing increasing pressure on individuals to act against their consciences. Most of the pressure is directed at freedom of religion but it also affects ethical beliefs more generally, contrary to the recognition of freedom of religion and conscience as a basic human right. I propose that freedom of dissociation, as a corollary of freedom of association, could be a practical and ethically acceptable solution to the conscience problem. I examine freedom of association and explain how freedom of dissociation follows from it, showing how dissociation protects freedom of religion and conscience. Extreme cases, such as the problem of the Satanist nurse, can be handled within a dissociationist framework, so it is reasonable to think less extreme cases can also be dealt with. The serious objection that dissociationism entails unjust discrimination is answered primarily by appeal to the need for ‘full and fair access’ to goods and services by all groups. I then allay important concerns about what kind of liberal society we should want to live in. Next, I refute the charge that a dissociationist society violates liberalism’s ‘higher good’, arguing that liberalism strictly does not have a higher good. I conclude with some reflections on what a dissociationist society might look like.

Judaism and Liberalism: Israel’s Economic Problem with its Haredim


ECONOMIC AFFAIRS, Volume 37, Issue 2

Abstract: This article argues that, in the arrangements for the public provision of welfare for the poor and a basic education for all in both biblical and post-biblical times, Judaism is more closely in accord with classical liberalism than it is with those variants of liberalism which favour no more than the minimal night-watchman state as well as those which favour the extensive welfare states of contemporary Western social democracies. To the extent that Israel’s ultra-orthodox Jews (its Haredim) have been able to secure more by way of state subsidies (through exploiting the leverage their country’s national system of proportional representation has given them, which often leaves them holding the balance of power), not only are they endangering Israel’s viability as a vibrant, developed liberal democracy, they are also guilty of departing from the religious teachings and tradition of Jewish orthodoxy.

Adam Smith’s Philosophy of Science: Economics as Moral Imagination



Abstract: The paper takes a fresh look at two essays that Adam Smith wrote at the very beginning of his career. In these essays, Smith explains his philosophy of science, which is social constructivist. A social constructivist reading of Smith strengthens the scholarly consensus that The Wealth of Nations (WN) needs to be interpreted in light of the general moral theory he explicates in The Theory of Moral Sentiments (TMS), as the two essays and TMS stress the importance of the same concepts: e.g., moral imagination, the socially embedded individual, and humility. The connecting tissue between all three works is made up of sentiments and values. Smith regards the socially embedded human as the agent in all three realms (knowledge creation, morality, economics), and humans are always driven by values. Smith not only conceives of economics as an applied moral philosophy, but also bases both research areas on a view of knowledge creation that stresses specific epistemic values. If mainstream economic theory (and business theory that is based on it) wants to have any claim to Adam Smith, it would have to change not only what it argues but also how it argues. Economists would have to replace the language of mathematics with the language and logic of moral philosophy and give values centre stage.