By James R. Otteson, John Meadowcroft
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Additional info for Adam Smith
Thus Smith acknowledges that his reader will raise the success of Newton’s system—including its success at explaining anomalies that undermined the systems of previous thinkers, like that of Descartes—as an objection to Smith’s hypothesis that scientific theories are mere inventions of the imagination, imaginary causal chains whose purpose is rather to assuage the anxiety that anomaly-ridden theories are prone to raise than to describe correctly the actual causal chains in nature. If Newton’s system is as great as it clearly is, surely it is more than a mere invention of the imagination, one might object.
This pleasure is heightened, Smith argued, as the number of disparate fields or observations or phenomena that a single principle can explain rises. 67). The PP thus forms an intellectual bridge that Smith, as well as others of the Scottish Enlightenment, saw linking both Newton and themselves to a new, improved, and distinctively modern scientific understanding of the world. In his 1687 Principia, in which he developed his theory of universal gravitation, Newton demonstrated the effects of “gravity” with astonishing success.
Although there are other desires Smith says all humans have,2 Smith thus rests an enormous part of the burden of his explanation of moral systems on the workings out of this single principle. Given Smith’s Parsimony Principle, it is not surprising that he would seek to explain a large range of phenomena with one principle. Smith takes the desire for MSS to be an invisible, imaginary chain that he has discovered that, like Newton’s gravity, can explain a surprisingly large range of human moral life.
Adam Smith by James R. Otteson, John Meadowcroft