The ‘Invisible Footprint’ of Adam Smith in Modern Wellbeing Studies

Charlie Whitington



This paper aims to spark increasing engagement with Adam Smith in the study of wellbeing. It shows his relevance to the current field, having anticipated key developments and inspired aspects of Sen’s capabilities approach; and offering a strong justification for a pluralist approach to wellbeing. Smith can thus provide a timely intervention against the emergent ‘hegemony of happiness’, and an alternative to the dominant philosophical figures of Bentham and Aristotle - instead providing a richer understanding of varied valuable human ends which combines economics, moral philosophy, and a conception of human flourishing. The minimal engagement with Smith’s work in the field of wellbeing is thus surprising. Reasons for this are explored but shown to offer no justification of why engagement with Smith is neither possible nor beneficial. It concludes by outlining ways that further engagement with Smith would add richness to existing debates, and provoke novel ones, with central importance to considerations of human wellbeing.

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