Adam Smith’s Ethics Psychological Foundations in Sympathy and Normative Aspirations to Impartiality

Christel Fricke holding a cup of water during her talk behind her is an Adam Smith banner Source: Charlotte Morris

In the final Templeton Foundation lecture of Adam Smith's tercentenary year, Templeton Fellow Professor Christel Fricke of Oslo University, Norway, gave a fascinating presentation on Smith’s approach to ethical theories and their focus on rational and moral agents who are expected to acknowledge normative, moral constraints on their actions.

Professor Fricke began by stating her intention to “defend the claim that it is Adam Smith we want to listen to when we want to be ethical, moral and rational agents”.

She pointed out that although Smith acknowledges people are rational and responsible, he notes that even those who take on the role of an agent often react to the effects of other people’s actions upon them.

She discussed Smith’s thinking on the importance of mutual sympathy, conscience and above all, impartiality in the process of moral judgement.

"If you listen to what Smith says about conscience it's not about the voice of God, rather it is continuing the sympathetic process - but imaginatively" she commented.

Professor Fricke compared Smith’s thinking to that of notable philosophers such as Kant and British philosopher Sir Peter Strawson. She also linked him to British author Jane Austen, pointing out that the latter’s novels aren't just about romance and marriage; rather, they are a pretext to delivering a moral lesson in a way that Smith would have approved of.

She even speculated whether Adam Smith was an animal lover: “For Adam Smith, the ethics of care were not only to be directed at those with special needs but at all people, even animals - he sometimes talks about dogs in this context”.

Professor Fricke’s lecture was an excellent conclusion to a series of globally focused lectures delivered by eight Templeton Fellows appointed by the University of Glasgow and funded by the John Templeton Foundation.

During Adam Smith’s tercentenary year, each Fellow has brought Smith into conversation with the big questions of today, offering a different insight into the man and his ideas.


Watch the full lecture on YouTube

Audience clapping at Christel Fricke Lecture Source: Charlotte Morris


Craig Smith talking to the audience during the Christel Fricke Lecture. Source: Charlotte Morris


Audience member listening to Christel Fricke during the hunter foundation. Source: Charlotte Morris

Christel Fricke Pointing during her Hunter Foundation lecture Source: Charlotte Morris


Christel Fricke speaking to the crowd with Craig Smith beside her. Source: Charlotte Morris