The Theory of Moral Sentiments

The Theory of Moral Sentiments Study Guide

Originally published in 1759, The Theory of Moral Sentiments reveals Adam Smith's comprehensive system that explains where morality arises from, how people make moral decisions, and what constitutes virtue. This philosophical tract was written prior to Smith's better-known 1776 treatise, An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations (typically referred to simply as The Wealth of Nations). One can see the roots of Smith's philosophy in The Theory of Moral Sentiments, and can trace how these principles would lead to the theory of free trade offered in the later text. In fact, the famous metaphor of an "invisible hand" guiding economic stability in a free trade environment also appears in Smith's writing on morality (182).