Modern natural law meets the market: The case of Adam Smith

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Philosophers of the 17th and 18th centuries who worked within the tradition of modern natural law became interested in political economy in part as they attempted to reconcile two conflicting images of economic activity. On the one hand, from the legal point of view economic activity was understood as a morally neutral and benign activity that could be regulated by simple and clear rules of justice. On the other hand, it was seen as a realm of political struggle, manipulation, deceit and the exercise of hidden forms of domination. This article examines the legal and moral contexts of Adam Smith's excursion into political economy by interpreting the roles played by these two images of the market in the theory of value articulated in book I of The Wealth of Nations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)117-136
Number of pages20
JournalEuropean Journal of Political Theory
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 2008
Externally publishedYes


  • Adam Smith
  • Natural law
  • Political economy
  • Science of the legislator
  • Wealth of Nations

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Political Science and International Relations


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