Adam Smith's analytic-synthetic method and the 'system of natural liberty'

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In the present paper I shall deal with Adam Smith's application of the analytic-synthetic method, which he considered to be the scientific method par excellence. I shall concentrate on some shortcomings in Smith's arguments and endeavour to explain them as resulting from a particular interpretation of the aforesaid method. The peculiarity of Smith's interpretation was that he omitted the analysis and that he thought the synthesis reflects the composition of an object out of pre-existing elements which are endowed with 'essential qualities'. I shall then try to show that this methodological concept presupposed the view that society is a compound of independent individuals, i.e. an aggregate of Robinson Crusoes. Finally I shall discuss possible political reasons for this view. On the systematic level, I shall argue that political and scientific partisanship do not necessarily stand in contradiction to objective knowledge, and on the historical level, I shall plead for a 'Social History of Ideas'.1.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)135-154
Number of pages20
JournalHistory of European Ideas
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1981
Externally publishedYes


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