Date of Award

5-13-2021

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Department

Philosophy

First Advisor

Eric Wilson

Abstract

The questions concerning Adam Smith’s religious views and his purported support for utilitarianism have each generated a substantial literature. In this thesis, I propose a response to the first of these problems which I believe also helps resolve the second one. First, I argue that Smith’s references to God in The Theory of Moral Sentiments reflect his sincere theological commitments, not merely his account of the psychology of religious belief or his attempt to avoid charges of atheism. I then show that Smith conceives of God as a utilitarian creator who designed our moral sentiments so that they would most effectively promote the utility of humanity as a whole. I combine these two claims to develop an interpretation of Smith as a two-level utilitarian where the Impartial Spectator determines the morality of the lower level and God does so for the higher one.

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