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date: 12 November 2019

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter focuses on the role of temporal scarcity and language in reform. These are linked because language lies at the foundation of Smith’s account of a society in which the scarcity of time prevents us from being friends with more than a small number of people. When friendship-linked benevolence fails, we persuade and exchange. The scarcity of one’s life is, we argue, foundational for Smith. He brings this consideration to bear at the centre of his thoughts on reforming the state when he argues that we have time to develop affection for our systems of thought but not for the people described by these systems. Smith’s account, in which habitual sympathy motivates, allows him to describe an affection for systems built in language. Affection gives motivational power to a system but it also presents a great danger. We may care about a system far more than the people described in the system. The central challenge for Smith is that of combining the motivational power of system without succumbing to the temptation to use a system to justify breaking our fellow humans. The exceptions he allows to his own system of natural liberal offer evidence that he did not exempt his own system of reform from the constraint of individual happiness.

Keywords: Adam Smith, state, natural, necessary, reform, scarcity of time, affection for system

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