Adam smith: Virtues and universal principles

Maria A. Carrasco*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


In this paper I propose that Adam Smith's Theory of Moral Sentiments provides a solution to a well-known problem in contemporary ethical debate, i.e. the incompatibility between classic virtue ethics which is particularistic and informed by an ideal of virtue on the one hand, and modern principle-based ethics which attributes a prominent place to universal rules on the other. Smith acknowledges the incompatibility of these two paradigms. But, in order to preserve the advantages of both kinds of theories, he proposes a third kind of moral theory: This theory can account for ancient-like virtues and judgments sensitive to the particularities of a specific context as well as for a limited set of universal rules, namely the 'rules of justice'. The clue to this move is a change of the point of view from which moral judgments are assessed to what I call a 'sympathetic-impartial perspective'. With this original approach Smith succeeds in articulating in a single and coherent theory the apparently irreconcilable elements of ancient and Modern accounts of morality.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)223-250
Number of pages28
JournalRevue Internationale de Philosophie
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2014
Externally publishedYes


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