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date: 19 June 2019

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter surveys Smith’s complete works and addresses three distinct but related questions: (1) What are the main thrusts of his writings on art and literature? (2) Did aesthetic thinking help found Smith’s philosophy? (3) Can one reconcile his love and extensive knowledge of arts and letters with his conviction that they are both morally suspect and economically useful? The key conclusions are: (a) that Smith’s writings on the arts and letters are richer than is usually supposed; (b) that although Smith expressed profound ambivalence the love of beautiful objects, he nonetheless drew on examples from the worlds of arts and letters throughout his works and placed the aesthetic categories of the imagination, novelty, beauty, and narrative at the epistemological core of his natural and moral philosophy; and (c) that by calling attention to the role played by a subject’s class and social position in determining the value of art and literature, he charted a potentially radical alternative to the Kantian model that has dominated aesthetic theory since the late eighteenth century.

Keywords: Adam Smith, aesthetics, arts, literature, imagination, beauty, narrative

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