This collection of scholarly essays examines Adam Smith's theory of moral sentiments.
Even though Adam Smith always considered The Theory of Moral Sentiments
to be his most authoritative work, it never achieved the same prominence as his other work, The Wealth of Nations
. TMS has often been misunderstood for at least two reasons:
1) Many of the commentators have been economists who have looked at TMS simply in order to find some relevance for WN. This gave rise to the so-called "Adam Smith problem" -- an inconsistency between the psychological assumptions of the two books.
2) A failure to note whether a particular passage was written for the 1st (1759) or for the 6th edition (1790). The 1st edition reflected Smith's youthful idealism, whereas the 6th edition included a whole new part, on the character of virtue, and other revisions. In fact, it was so drastically altered that it could be considered a different book altogether.
The primary purpose of this work is to expound a "theory" of ethics. Here, "theory" is a name for the subject matter, rather than the theory in Smith's TMS. The content of the book consists primarily of philosophical analysis of Smith's theory of moral sentiments, focusing on the two key ideas of "sympathy" and "impartial spectator."
Each of the 14 essays is analytical, effective, and well-written.