Adam smith and the role of the metaphor of an invisible hand

Gavin Kennedy

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    11 Citations (Scopus)


    Daniel Klein and Brandon Lucas's 'In a Word or Two, Placed in the Middle: The Invisible Hand in Smith's Tomes', following a vague hint by Peter Minowitz (2004), offers original physical evidence that Smith 'deliberately placed the phrase "led by an invisible hand"- at the physical centre of both his masterworks'. Further, it suggests that the invisible-hand paragraphs are a response to Rousseau (1755); and that in 'numerous and rich ways', centrality holds 'special and positive significance in Smith's thought'. This paper acknowledges the physical centrality of the invisible-hand metaphor, but questions whether centrality alone gives weight to wider claims that the 'invisible hand' was Smith's 'central idea'. It draws upon Smith'sRhetoric Lectures (1763), and argues that the invisible-hand paragraphs in The Theory of Moral Sentiments and Wealth of Nations identify the actual objects of the invisible-hand metaphor. This paper insists that Adam Smith is the most reliable source for revealing what he meant. In contrast, most modern attributions of special meaning to Adam Smith's use of the metaphor ignore Smith's teaching on the use of metaphors and, instead, make numerous, and often mutually exclusive, claims that Smith had a 'doctrine' of 'an invisible-hand'. © 2011 The Author. Economic Affairs © 2011 Institute of Economic Affairs. Published by Blackwell Publishing, Oxford.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)53-57
    Number of pages5
    JournalEconomic Affairs
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - Mar 2011


    • Adam Smith
    • Centre
    • Invisible hand
    • Metaphors
    • Moral Sentiments
    • Objects
    • Wealth of Nations


    Dive into the research topics of 'Adam smith and the role of the metaphor of an invisible hand'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

    Cite this