This paper explores the foundations of Adam Smith’s view that the philosopher is the same as the street porter. Despite their innate similarity, Smith recognized that the role of the philosopher, someone who provides useful instruction to fellow humans, is not that of the street porter (Pear and Levy 2005; Schliesser 2005, 2006). He also saw that this potentially useful employment may entail a biased perspective on human conduct. Motivated by matters too distant for ordinary people to notice, the philosopher may come to believe that he is better than those he studies and to regard himself as independent form their concerns. Viner expressed Smith’s positions:

Under normal circumstances, the sentiments make no mistake. It is reason which is fallible. Greatest of all in degree in fallibility is the speculative reason of the moral philosopher, unless the legislator is on a still lower level.

Document Type


Publication Date


Publisher Statement

Copyright © 2008 International Adam Smith Society. This article first appeared in The Adam Smith Review 4 (2008), 57-87.

Please note that downloads of the article are for private/personal use only.