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By James R. Otteson, John Meadowcroft


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The fact that these differences among human languages exist show that the rules of language are not inherent in any external reality. Hence correct language usage is determined not by carefully studying, say, the objects being described, but rather by studying the way people use their words. Language is constructed by humans, who themselves vary in time, circumstance, and experience—and these variations are reflected in their languages. Language rules are thus “artificial” because constructed by humans.

12) The course of astronomical science, according to Smith’s ensuing analysis, is constituted by successive discoveries of anxiety-producing anomalies and the attempt to imagine connecting principles that render the anomalies regular. It is in that sense that Smith can claim that science addresses itself to the imagination. 19; HAP 9), which thus enables scientific description. This is a Stoic, even Pythagorean, view of the world: orderly, rational, ultimately balanced and harmonious. For Vivenza, Smith’s conclusions are “hypothetical and relativistic” (2001: 37): hypotheses framed to satisfy the imagination but always subject to future correction, and dependent on the psychology of the humans involved.

1 TMS has seven parts. Most of the central philosophical elements of Smith’s explanation of human morality are contained in the first three parts: his notions of “propriety” and “merit,” his explanation of one’s conscience and the standard of the “impartial spectator,” and their dependence on a natural desire for MSS. Part four is a discussion of the connection between our moral sentiments and utility, largely in response to Hume’s argument. Part five discusses the extent to which our moral sentiments are dependent on “custom and fashion,” and are thus variable or relative.

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