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Adam Smith in His Time and Ours Paperback – July 23, 1995

ISBN-13: 978-0691001616 ISBN-10: 0691001618 Edition: Reprint

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 263 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press; Reprint edition (July 23, 1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0691001618
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691001616
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.7 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #435,655 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

This solid, clearly written primer aims to redeem the famed economist Adam Smith's subtle and complex views, which have often been caricatured. First placing Smith in intellectual and historical context, Muller then analyzes The Wealth of Nations and The Theory of Moral Sentiments , finding in them "a vision of commercial humanism." Though usually characterized as a free-marketer, Smith actually viewed government as crucial to regulating industry and providing infrastructure, states Muller, an associate professor of history at the Catholic University of America. After exploring Smith's comprehensive views of religion, social psychology and social science, Muller concludes by showing how Smith has been misread and wrongly criticized and suggests that Smith's concerns about character, virtue and the institutions to foster them remain relevant today.
Copyright 1992 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

According to Muller (economics, Catholic Univ.), Adam Smith's ideas are not what they are thought to be by either his biggest fans or biggest critics. By jointly exploring Smith's two major works ( The Wealth of Nations and The Theory of Moral Sentiments ), the author captures the original Smith and infuses new relevance into his writings about tackling contemporary economic challenges. Smith's two works provide a discussion on how to structure institutions in order to channel personal emotions into the common good. Muller has written a provocative and generally convincing reexamination of one of the essential figures of Anglo-American intellectual heritage. Not just for economists, this book is recommended for all academic libraries.
- Richard C. Schiming, Mankato State Univ., Minn.
Copyright 1992 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

36 of 37 people found the following review helpful By R. Price on June 1, 2003
Format: Paperback
I couldn't disagree more with the review of Max Hayes. It would and does shock people to learn that Adam Smith wasn't primarily an economist as we think of the term. The fact that his work was centered around moral philosophy and making people "decent" is widely unknown and most people have never even heard of The Theory of Moral Sentiments. Robert Heilbroner said it best when he called Smith "the most quoted and least read of the worldly philophers."
This book is not a biography of Smith, which would probably be pretty boring. It is an examination of his ideas. Muller starts by placing the book in its intellectual context of earlier traditions. Than he turns to an examination of Smith's work as a whole. This is important because to often Smith is limited to The Wealth of Nations, which is only one element of his thought. Muller examines The Theory of Moral Sentiments and the Lectures on Jurisprudence to form a more complete picture of Smith as a moral philisopher.
The most important element of this book is the demonstration that Smith was not a defender of unrestrained greed. Smith sought to defend and construct institutions that would channel individual self-interest into benefical results for the whole of society. Nor was he an enemy of government. While it is true that he thought government often proved a danger to the market because of the influence of what we call special interests, Smith did not reject government regulation totally. In fact he argued for regulation of banking and interest rates and advocated using the government to try and correct the negative effects capitalism had on the intellect of the people through public financed education.
Muller writes a compelling book demonstrating that Smith is not the proto-libertarian so many people claim. That in fact Smith would probably be quite dismayed at the uses to which his thoughts have been applied.
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18 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Zvi Bodie on August 23, 1998
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I am sure that anyone interested in the history of ideas will enjoy reading this book for its clear exposition of Smith's ideas and their relevance to today's economic, social, and political issues. Muller has a scholar's mastery of Smith's writings as well as a broad knowledge of their intellectual antecedents. The style is jargon-free.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Rob Szarka on August 24, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Muller puts Smith in historical context and integrates his major works (Wealth of Nations, Theory of Moral Sentiments, and Lectures on Jurisprudence, the latter surviving only in the form of student notes) to paint a complete picture of Smith as moral philosopher. Smith's philosophy is often mischaracterized as one in which "greed is good" and the market alone is sufficient to attain a civil and productive society. Muller goes far beyond this cartoonish version of Smith to place his appreciation for the market in its proper context and distinguish Smith from contemporaries such as Mandeville and Bentham.

Muller's analysis is well-developed, but his exposition is at times repetitive. The final chapter, in which he attempts to relate Smith's philosophy to contemporary society, is a bit of a throwaway; and Muller is on shakier ground discussing economics than ethics. On balance, though, this is a fascinating and useful book that any student of Adam Smith should own. Despite the book's age, even the twenty-page Guide to Further Reading remains valuable.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Gary H. Goubeau on March 10, 2009
Format: Paperback
Before reading this book I believed that I was aware of the essence of what Adam Smith offered, but I was wrong, and I suspect many others would learn from this book that there is a complexity to Adam Smith's philosophy of which most have not been informed.

Smith has much to say about the role of government, and the negatives of market capitalism, opinions for which he is little known. He also presents a less than sanguine view of the motives and morals of the merchant class. Many of us who think we possess a clear understand of what Adam Smith advocated might find this book enlightening.

To gain such understanding we could simply read the Wealth of Nations in its entirety, but reading Adam Smith in the original can be difficult and tedious. Professor Muller does all the heavy lifting for us, adds his own very substantial erudition, and presents an entertaining and valuable survey of Smith's writings and wisdom along with interesting biographical information.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By C. Kollars on July 18, 2014
Format: Paperback
This book describes Adam Smith as others who lived at the same time would have seen him (which is perforce a little different than we see him now, centuries later). For example, he was guided by and contributed to international philosophic disputes that appear antiquated or quaint or just plain ridiculous now, such as the discussions about "natural rights" volleyed between the French and the Scottish enlightenments. And certain parts of his writings that appear to us a little disconnected or exaggerated make perfect sense when understood as attempts to appeal to a particular government agency or a house of the British Parliament or a particular political party.

And of course once one gets "in context" and starts reexamining the man, it's a slippery slope to reexamining the man's writings too. So it's not surprising that much of this book is devoted to reinterpreting Adam Smith's entire written oeuvre. Or to put it a little differently, this book winds up describing in great detail what Adam Smith's writings "really" meant. Unsurprisingly, there are a few significant differences between the results of this approach and how we understand his writings nowadays. For example he was not very concerned with (and even somewhat denigrated) both "laissez-faire" and "profits". Instead his main concern was designing and constructing a "decent society" that worked well for everyone. Although the book doesn't say so explicitly, the obvious conclusion is that if Adam Smith saw how his works are understood and used these days, he would be horrified.

This book's general drift is completely unlike anything else I've seen about Adam Smith and his work.
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