Adam Smith and Spontaneous Order

A selection of books and journal articles to explore the ides of spontaneous order in Adam Smith's work.

December 16, 2019
-Norman Barry, The Tradition of Spontaneous Order (1982, Institute for Humane Studies). Barry details Smith’s conception of spontaneous order and places him within the broad corpus of the work, from the ancients to modern philosophers and economists.

-Daniel Klein, Rinkonomics (Chapter 1 of: Knowledge and Coordination 2012, OUP). Klein, using a simple metaphor of a skating rink, Daniel Klein demonstrates the development of spontaneous order. He also links Adam Smith’ conceptions of justice and sympathy to this development.

-Steven Horwitz, From Smith to Menger to Hayek: Liberalism in the Spontaneous Order Tradition (The Independent Review, 2001). Horwitz details Smith’s idea of spontaneous order and also discusses its influences and modifications by future Austrian economic thinkers. Horwitz also discusses the influence of other Scottish Enlightenment thinkers on Smith and the role of institutions in the spontaneous order process. (Note: Horwitz also authored Spontaneous Order in Adam Smith for AdamSmithWorks.)

-Craig Smith, Adam Smith’s Political Philosophy: The Invisible Hand and Spontaneous Order (2005, Routledge). Craig Smith details Adam Smith’s use of spontaneous order to help build his invisible hand metaphor and subsequent applications by Hume, Hayek, and Popper. Craig Smith also discusses how the invisible hand gives us a socio-theoretic view of the worlds of economics, law, government, moral philosophy, and science.

-Ronald Hamowy, The Scottish Enlightenment and Spontaneous Order (1987, The Journal of the History of Philosophy). More than just Adam Smith, Hamowy looks at the central role of spontaneous order in the Scottish Enlightenment. This help us understand the context in which Smith was writing, working, and thinking, especially since he knew many of the authors in this paper.

-Michelle Schwarze and John Scott, Spontaneous Disorder in Adam Smith’s Theory of Moral Sentiments: Resentment, Injustice, and the Appeal to Providence (2015, Journal of Politics). Schwarze and Scott discuss the role resentment and justice play in Smith’s moral philosophy and the discordant pressures they can have on moral order. This, they argue, naturally sets limits on the affability of spontaneous order to promote common welfare.

-Alec Macfie, The Invisible Hand of Jupiter (1971, Journal of the History of Ideas). Macfie highlights the seeming discord in the manner in which the “invisible hand” is used in Smith’s writings: in Wealth of Nations and Theory of Moral Sentiments, it is a coordinating force. However, in the History of Astronomy, it is a disruptive force. Macfie then attempts to reconcile these views.

-Gavin Kennedy, Adam Smith and the Invisible Hand: From Metaphor to Myth (2009, Econ Journal Watch). Kennedy argues that Smith’s use of the invisible hand is largely misinterpreted and that his concept of spontaneous order as discussed by modern scholars is incorrect. He argues that the invisible hand is largely irrelevant to understanding Smith (see also Daniel Klein’s response: In Adam Smith’s Hands).

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