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By James R. Otteson, John Meadowcroft


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Indd 25 10/13/2010 1:45:23 PM 26 Adam Smith ourselves to be better acquainted with it, and to have a more thorough insight into its nature. 3) As Smith makes clear, that is not yet science: it is merely looking for resemblances among things one observes, and categorizing experiences based on those resemblances. ). This experience, Smith thinks, causes an anxiety—“wonder”—that is not altogether pleasant. It recurs with respect to anomalies we discover in previously held causal relations. 10). 12).

But that does not mean they are arbitrary. For, first, there are rules of language. Language is not an anarchy with each person making things up for himself. indd 20 10/13/2010 1:45:22 PM Smith’s Philosophical Program 21 expected or even allowed. And third, infractions of the rules are usually noticed and frequently punished. Smith tells, for example, of the child learning to speak correctly: “A child that is just learning to speak, calls every person who comes to the house its papa or its mama” (LRBL 204, §1); and, “A child, speaking of itself, says, Billy walks, Billy sits, instead of I walk, I sit” (LRBL 219, §32).

So science is the progressive attempt to develop new or better ways to capture and represent an external reality, and the regularities that scientists describe they have discovered, not invented. 4 The upshot, to return to Smith, is that on his account language is an example of what has come to be called “spontaneous order”: a system of order that is, to paraphrase Smith’s contemporary Adam Ferguson,5 the result of human action but not of human design. An example will illustrate. Consider the word “brethren”: in the eighteenth century, “brethren” was a commonly used form for the plural of “brother”; “brothers” had not yet taken over as the preferred form.

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