Sophists and sophistry in the Wealth of Nations

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The Stoic is often seen as the forerunner of Adam Smith's market man of morals, but others have suggested that the sophist played a role in the formation of market morality and political economy. This article traces Smith's treatment of ancient sophists and his use of the term sophistry in the Wealth of Nations. Smith praised ancient sophists for their effective didactic oratory and their ability to make money through teaching. Smith criticized arguments as sophistic when they promoted monetary advantage for a few over and above the principle of competition. This varied reception of sophists and sophistry suggests a keen understanding of the rhetorical tradition and its capacity to influence the development of the discourse of political economy. Smith's use of sophistry and reference to the sophists invites a deeper awareness of the essential vitality of effective argumentation for Smith's "system of natural liberty."

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-26
Number of pages26
JournalPhilosophy and Rhetoric
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2011
Externally publishedYes


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