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Scholars Workshop with Sarah Gustafson

  • Abigail Adams Institute Office 14 Arrow Street Cambridge, MA USA (map)

A house divided? Marriage, divorce, and the family in the moral economy of Adam Smith. 

In the Lectures on Jurisprudence, Adam Smith describes divorce as “evidently [producing] the worst effects” of “great licentiousness and dissoluteness of manners”. He advocates, “it is better the knot [of marriage] should be too strait than too loose.” Scholarly astonishment at his stance is, this paper argues, a hangover from the Adam Smith Problem. Smith’s writings on marriage and divorce, in recommending a marriage contract as tightly bound as possible, protect the home as much for the parents’ lifelong education as for the children's, thereby setting aside the home as a realm subject to distributive justice. For Smith, divorce injects self-interest and competition into the original benevolent society, interfering with the sympathetic education necessary for the free market, and undermining stable expectations of both commutative/jurisprudential and distributive justice.