ABSTRACT

Smith did not learn the lesson from Hume that he should have about the delicacy required in using the term ‘natural’ and its cognates. Hume argued that in some sense everything that occurs, including those things done by humans, is natural (Treatise of Human Nature 3.2.1.17-19). But Hume also recognized the usefulness in classing some kinds of things as artifi - cial; he writes, for example, “though the rules of justice be artifi cial, they are not arbitrary” (Treatise 3.2.1.19). Of course, as Hume suggested, these “artifi cial” things are also in a sense natural, since they occur in nature and operate according to rules or laws of behaviour that also were not created by humans1 . Was Smith careful with the term? A. M. C. Waterman has discussed many of the uses of ‘“nature” Smith employed, laying great stress on subtle differences in tone, on ideas surrounding particular usages and so on2. Yet I wonder whether Smith’s uses can withstand the scrutiny Waterman gives them. Smith had an ear for rhetoric, and he knew when to use words like ‘natural’ to powerful effect. He knew he was using some important terms in technical ways-like ‘sympathy’ and ‘natural price’—and in those cases gave careful, even technical defi nitions. In the case of ‘natural’ and its cognates, however, he did not see himself as using it technically, and so we get no defi nition. Hence the uses we fi nd share a family resemblance, in some cases admitting of precise defi nition, but in other cases vaguely or loosely used, even intentionally so in order to draw on connotations that enhanced their rhetorical power.