A CRITICAL REVIEW OF LISA HILL'S VIEW OF ADAM SMITH'S 'HIDDEN THEOLOGY'

Lisa Hill has recently provided a new assessment of Adam Smith which attempts to reveal the 'hidden' theology which underpins his providential or 'optimistic' system of thought. Her interpretation breaks with the mainstream view of Smith as a follower of the secular, or atheistic, David Hume. While Hill concedes that there are resemblances to modern theories of evolution and spontaneous order in Smith's writings, the latter's own views differ. Darwinian evolution and Hayekian spontaneous order theories are thoroughly secular. Smith's ideas, however, are located in, what Hill calls 'a transitional phase in the history of ideas' in which belief in teleology was still mainstream. Hence, while society may change very slowly over time, in something like an evolutionary manner, according to Hill, Smith insists that it is evolution 'by design.' Similarly, spontaneous order is a sign of the divine ordering of the world. In Hill's reading, the 'invisible hand' doctrine not only emerges as a central component in all of Smith's works but it has a theological meaning: it is Smith's shorthand for the divinely-constructed spontaneous order. Hill's article makes an innovative contribution both to the 'new theological and teleological view' of Smith and to Smith scholarship generally. Whilst broadly sympathetic to the 'new view,' and Hill's version of it, I believe that some issues need further consideration. Her Panglossian interpretation of Smith seems to me to be overly 'optimistic.' This difference in interpretation manifests itself particularly in our differing presentations of Smith's view of history and the characterization of apparent 'defects' in nature. Where Hill finds Smith to be a thoroughly 'optimistic' theorist, I have presented him as a theorist who uneasily (and at times inconsistently) combines 'optimism' with 'pessimism.'


Issue Date:
2004
Publication Type:
Working or Discussion Paper
PURL Identifier:
http://purl.umn.edu/23711
Total Pages:
23
Series Statement:
Discussion Paper 04.08




 Record created 2017-04-01, last modified 2017-10-19

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