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Abstract

The conventional interpretation of Adam Smith is that he is a prophet of commercialism. The liberal capitalist reading of Smith is consistent with the view that history culminates in commercial society. The first part of the article develops this optimistic interpretation of Smith's view of history. Smith implies that commercial society is the end of history because 1) it supplies the ends of nature that he identifies; 2) it is inevitable; and 3) it is permanent. The second part of the article shows that Smith has some dark moments in his writings where he seems to reject completely such teleological notions. In this more civic humanist mood he confesses that commercial society does not supply the ends of nature, nor is it inevitable, nor is it permanent. Both views exist in Smith and the commentator is forced to choose between passages in Smith's work in order to support a particular interpretation of the former's view of history.

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