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Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences


Adam Smith and his 18th century Enlightenment contemporaries played an integral role in shaping modern western thought, which is fundamental to rationalizing ecological wreckage. In this discussion I follow a line of contextual inquiry into Smith’s work, beginning with the concept of “nature,” and then shifting into how Smith built upon his understanding of “nature” to rationalize an economic system both isolated from the non-human world and predicated upon infinite growth.

After discussing Smith’s economics, I then situate his political economic mechanisms with his last edition of The Theory of Moral Sentiments, an often-missed step in understanding Smith. Reviving Smith’s teachings on morality, read as a comment on the political economics of the 18th century, gives room to discuss the material crisis of the 21st century, which I claim comes from the complete separation of humans from the agency of all things, abiotic and biotic. Lastly, I advance Smith’s teachings on dialectical wisdom to incorporate contemporary political ecology in the hopes that amidst a crisis of western imagination he can remain relevant as a caution to those who continue to adopt his mechanisms to rationalize ecological exploitation.