chapter  1
37 Pages

The ethical veil of the knowledge economy

Adam Smith and William James both gave defi nitive public lectures in Edinburgh that were to shape the western intellectual landscape for centuries. The founder of modern economics speaking in 1748-50, sponsored by Lord Kames, and the founder of modern psychology speaking in 1901-2 sponsored by the Gifford Foundation. Defenders of disciplinary divisions might speculate that it is only through such broad historical correlations that we can fi nd parallels between Smith and James. However, work in the sociology of emotions has established a more important thematic connection in their work (Barbalet [1998] 2001; Evans 2001). Although Smith is famous for his 1776 treatise The Wealth of Nations, it is his earlier 1759 study, The Theory of Moral Sentiments, that has attracted attention in the theory of emotions. The Wealth of Nations explored the idea of how self-interest could benefi t society (grounded as it was in social concern),1 but his Theory of Moral Sentiments explored how society dominated by self-interest could form moral judgements; according to Smith this was established through an emotional sympathy. H.T. Buckle in his 1861 History of Civilization in England captures the underlying focus of Smith’s two major works:

In the Moral Sentiments, he investigates the sympathetic part of human nature; in the Wealth of Nations, he investigates its selfi sh part. And as

all of us are sympathetic as well as selfi sh … and as this classifi cation is a primary and exhaustive division of our motives to action, it is evident, that if Adam Smith had completely accomplished his vast design, he would have at once have raised the study of human nature to a science

(quoted in Raphael and Macfi e 1976: 21)

Smith’s concern with human nature is the key correlation with James’s later work on emotion, but the conception of emotion in these two writers hold very different epistemological concerns. Smith’s ‘sentiments’ and ‘passions’ and James’s ‘sentiments’, ‘feelings’ and ‘emotions’ are written within different orders of representation and within a different politic of the individual and the social. The sociologist Jack Barbalet can establish the importance of Smith for a ‘macrosociological approach’ to emotion because the different historical frameworks of knowledge allow the category of emotion to function in the social space and for collective purposes (Barbalet [1998] (2001): 188-9). The central question, as Barbalet has so usefully identifi ed, is not that emotions were once social and are now private, but that emotions are ‘represented’ differently. As Barbalet states, there is a ‘narrowing, in wider society, of what is referred to by the term emotion’ (Barbalet [1998] (2001): 171). Emotion, or the passions in the eighteenth century, had a wider meaning than it does today. According to Barbalet, there is a ‘shrinking of the phenomenal world of the self ’, which occurs as a result of the market and what Macpherson called ‘possessive individualism’ (Barbalet [1998] (2001): 172-3).