The 'Invisible Hand' and British Fiction, 1818-1860: Adam by Eleanor Courtemanche

By Eleanor Courtemanche

The "invisible hand," Adam Smith’s metaphor for the morality of capitalism, is explored during this textual content as being way more refined and complicated than is generally understood, with many British realist fiction writers (Austen, Dickens, Gaskell, Eliot) having absorbed his version of ironic causality in advanced societies and became it to their very own reasons.

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Additional resources for The 'Invisible Hand' and British Fiction, 1818-1860: Adam Smith, Political Economy, and the Genre of Realism (Palgrave Studies in Nineteenth-Century Writing and Culture)

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The drawback of this explanation is that it reduces its human subjects to automata driven by the single passion of self-interest – which conforms neither to Smith’s hypothesis nor to his observations. Smith was interested in creating a moral defence of economics in the name of liberty, not in declaring that God had intended for humans to be selfish. e. historical) process (WN I, 25), which calls into question the notion of a divine order present since the beginning of time, and even implies that some day the order created by the invisible hand might come to an end.

Descartes hypothesized that the physical universe was full of subvisible particles, or ‘ether’, which flowed around objects in a series of vortices, and accounted for motion without recourse to a distressing ‘gap’ between cause and effect. The following sections trace this Cartesian theory of material space from the physiocrats to Smith’s writings on the history of astronomy. This influence persists in TMS, where Smith synthesizes cosmology with morality by asserting that morality depends on an imaginary shift in subject position, or ‘sympathy’, which results in an illusion of social holism.

One is that the invisible hand is something built into the divine or natural tendency to ‘truck, barter, and exchange one thing for another’ (WN I, 25), which is what is assumed to be the result of a ‘free’ action – the invisible hand does not manifest itself, after all, if the people stop agitating to improve their lifestyle. 20 This mechanistic theory had been most prestigious during the late seventeenth century, and although it had since fallen somewhat out of fashion, we shall see that mechanistic theories (like that of Descartes) exerted a lingering influence on Smith.

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