Of shame and poverty; and on misreading Sen and Adam Smith
WithK. I. Macdonald
Pages 152

This chapter considers the view of Adam Smith on the condition of the poor and their place within society. It focuses on the logic of the arguments themselves, not context: the way to understand what an observation means is to consider the use that is made of it. The chapter discusses on shame and poverty also proceeds by articulating the arguments as written. It argues that the moral and logical structure of the concept of ‘shame’ precludes its valid deployment as a definer of poverty. Smith does present an account of the shame of the poor, but that has little to do with standards of dress. The Amartya K. Sen citation is to “Poor, relatively speaking”, an article which, despite its lucidity, appears to have been prone to misunderstandings. The academic orthodoxy customarily treats Smith’s ‘necessaries’ passage as being about poverty; that would be a misreading of Smith, and one with ramifications.