Emiliano Bevilacqua

The government of sentiments in Adam Smith. A sociological reading

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This essay shows how Adam Smith’s sociology develops in two directions: on the one hand, the recognition and enhancement of the role played by personal feelings in the formation of society, and, on the other, the analysis of a social dynamic capable of constraining their intensity. The discussion of the categories of propriety and appearance of utility presented in The Theory of Moral Sentiments will address the centrality of the government of sentiments in Smith’s thought and, at the same time, will describe its significance and ambivalence. These categories enable an understanding of how Adam Smith’s sociology works on the subject with the aim of promoting a well-functioning market society. Since selfishness is one of the sentiments that characterise human nature, the Smithian writings also help to deepen the relationship between subjectivity and economy. This approach allows the emergence of a sociology which sees the immanence of daily life as a field where a kind of anthropology that may be attuned to the market can be shaped. The Foucauldian interpretation of the Scottish Enlightenment is helpful in emphasizing the relevance of Smith’s thought, which seems to offer interesting insights for a current understanding of the social relations in a market society.


  • Adam Smith
  • sentiments
  • sociology
  • subjectivity
  • Foucault


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