Original Research

Moral theory, agrarianism and sustainable free market economics in the work of Adam Smith

Mark Rathbone
The Journal for Transdisciplinary Research in Southern Africa | Vol 19, No 1 | a1317 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/td.v19i1.1317 | © 2023 Mark Rathbone | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 01 December 2022 | Published: 03 May 2023

About the author(s)

Mark Rathbone, Department of Management, Faculty of Economic and Management Sciences, North-West University, Potchefstroom, South Africa


The purpose of this article is to argue that Adam Smith’s assessment of agrarian economics is based on the transdisciplinary engagement between moral theory and economics in An inquiry into nature and causes of the wealth of nations (first published in 1776). This assessment draws on recent scholarship that underscores that Smith’s earlier work The Theory of Moral Sentiments (first published in 1759) is not in conflict with Smith’s economic theory; it rather presents the moral point of departure of his economics. This transdisciplinary interaction derails the divergent perspectives of contemporary scholars that either view Smith as an agrarian economist or an antagonist of industrialisation. The reason for this view of Smith’s economics is due to the failure to emphasise the engagement between agrarian economic and Smith’s moral theory that championed liberty. Secondarily, this engagement between economics and moral theory highlights Smith’s contribution to sustainable economics that can play an influential role in contemporary society.

Transdisciplinarity Contribution: The article highlights the transdisciplinary interaction between Adam Smith’s free market economic theory and his moral theory as a function of liberty with special reference to agrarianism.


Adam Smith; agriculture; free market; liberty; moral philosophy.

JEL Codes

B12: Classical (includes Adam Smith)

Sustainable Development Goal

Goal 1: No poverty


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