Adam Smith, Anti-Stoic

Center for the History of Political Economy at Duke University Working Paper Series, 2019-02

27 Pages Posted: 5 Feb 2019

See all articles by Michele Bee

Michele Bee

University of Lausanne

Maria Pia Paganelli

Trinity University

Date Written: January 16, 2019


Commerce changes the production of wealth in a society as well as its ethics. What is appropriate in a non-commercial society is not necessarily appropriate in a commercial one. Adam Smith criticizes Stoic self-command in commercial societies, rather than embracing it, as is often suggested. He argues that Stoicism, with its promotion of indifference to passions, is an ethic appropriate for savages. Savages live in hard conditions where expressing emotions is detrimental and reprehensible. In contrast, the ease of life brought about by commerce fosters the appropriate expressions and sharing of emotions. Imposing Stoicism on a commercial society is therefore imposing an ethic for savages onto a refined society — something to abhor. Smith’s rejection of Stoicism in commercial societies can thus be seen as a defense of commerce.

Keywords: Adam Smith, Stoicism, Commerce, Commercial Societies, Savages, Expression of Emotions, Insensitivity

JEL Classification: B12, B15, D91, F69, O1, Z1

Suggested Citation

Bee, Michele and Paganelli, Maria Pia, Adam Smith, Anti-Stoic (January 16, 2019). Center for the History of Political Economy at Duke University Working Paper Series, 2019-02, Available at SSRN: or

Michele Bee (Contact Author)

University of Lausanne ( email )


Maria Pia Paganelli

Trinity University ( email )

Dept. of Economics
One Trinity Place
San Antonio, TX 78212
United States

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