CRIME AND PUNISHMENT: ADAM SMITH’S THEORY OF SENTIMENTAL LAW AND ECONOMICS

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Abstract

For Adam Smith a crime is not the result of a rational calculation of loss and gain, but the consequence of envy and a vain desire to parade wealth to attract the approbation of others, combined with a natural systematic bias in overestimating the probability of success. Similarly, Smith does not conceive of legal sanctions as a rational deterrent, but as deriving from the feeling of resentment. While the prevailing approach of the eighteenth century is a rational explanation of crime and a utilitarian use of punishment, Adam Smith instead builds his theory of criminal behavior and legal prosecution consistently on the sentiments. A well-functioning legal system is thus an unintended consequence of our desire to bring justice to the individual person, not the result of a rational calculation to promote the public good, just like a well-functioning economic system is the unintended consequence of our desire to better our own condition, not the result of a rational calculation to promote public good.
Lingua originaleEnglish
Numero di pagine31
RivistaJournal of the History of Economic Thought
Stato di pubblicazionePublished - 2020

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