By Albion Woodbury Small
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Extra resources for Adam Smith and Modern Sociology a Study in the Methodology of the Social Sciences
Of this proposition we may say, first, it is methodologically an obiter dictum. That is, it belongs in a larger range of inquiry, antecedent and fundamental to the technological inquiry to which The Wealth of Nations is devoted. It is, moreover, a species of inquiry for which Smith’s scheme of moral philosophy apparently does not provide a plane. It is related to the proper subject-matter of economics, as conceived by the author of The Wealth of Nations, very much as an inquiry into the ultimate physical reasons for the relative durability of wood and steel would be related to an engineer’s account of the comparative economy of these materials, as discovered by experience, for constructing railroad bridges.
In my judgment, there are three defects in the mode in which Political Economy has been treated in England, which have prevented people from seeing what it really is, and from prizing it at its proper value. … Secondly, I think in consequence of this defect of conception Economists have been far more abstract, and in consequence much more dry, than they need have been. If they had distinctly set before themselves that they were dealing only with the causes of wealth in a single set of societies, they might have effectively pointed their doctrines with facts from those societies.
37 On the other hand, Hirst has quite clearly expressed the presumption with which this study was undertaken:38 The truth, as Smith conceived it, is that men are actuated at different times by different motives, benevolent, selfish, or mixed. The moral criterion of an action is: will it help society, will it benefit others, will it be approved by the Impartial Spectator? The economic criterion of an action is: will it benefit me, will it be profitable, will it increase my income? Smith built his theory of industrial and commercial life upon the assumption that wage-earners and profit makers are generally actuated by the desire to get as high wages and profits as possible.
Adam Smith and Modern Sociology a Study in the Methodology of the Social Sciences by Albion Woodbury Small