Adam Smith, Newtonianism and Political Economy

Manuscrito. Revista Internacional de Filosofia 5 (1):117-134 (1981)
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Abstract

The relationship between Adam Smith's official methodology and his own actual theoretical practice as a social scientist may be grasped only against the background of the Humean project of a Moral Newtonianism. The main features in Smith's methodology are: (i) the provisional character of explanatory principles; (ii) 'internal' criteria of truth; (iii) the acknowledgement of an imaginative aspect in principles, with the related problem of the relationship between internal truth and external truth, in terms of mirroring of 'real' causes. Smith's Newtonian (as opposed to Cartesian) methodology makes room for progress in social theorizing in so far as it allows for a decentralization of the various fields of the Moral Science, contributing to the shaping of political economy. On the other hand, the Cartesian legacy in Smith's Newtonian methodology makes the relationship between phenomena and theoretical principles highly problematic.

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Sergio Volodia Marcello Cremaschi
Università Cattolica di Milano (PhD)

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