Smith contra Slote

Analytic Philosophy 52 (4):319-327 (2011)
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Michael Slote’s Moral Sentimentalism is a wonderful model of a particular, under-appreciated philosophical method. It demonstrates that exciting, original work can be created by putting old ideas to new uses, proving once again that the classics of moral and political philosophy offer too rich an array of intellectual resources to leave to historians alone. Whenever one is reclaiming old ideas, however, the most important decision is which ideas to reclaim, and which to leave in the dustbin of history. Slote makes use of many ideas drawn from history’s greatest moral sentimentalist, David Hume, but he rejects many others. The work of Hume’s closest friend and greatest sentimentalist ally, Adam Smith, is rejected without adequate explanation. Smith is mentioned, but quickly dismissed. Yet even though Smith makes little contribution to Slote’s own version of sentimentalism, I think he deserved greater discussion in this book. Smith and Slote address many of the same subjects, using the same basic sentimentalist approach, but they come to very different conclusions. It is thus possible to construct a fruitful debate between them—a debate in which, since he can no longer speak on his own behalf, I will be taking Smith’s side.

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Michael L. Frazer
University of East Anglia


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