Maria Carrasco

Liberalism and Practical Reason

16 september 2010 kl 1415 - Georg Sverdrups hus, Grupperom 7

(10.09.2010) In The Inquiry into the Causes and Nature of the Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith’s most famous book, the author sustains that “the very simple secret which most effectually secures the highest degree of prosperity” to everybody, is the establishment of the system he describes as that “of perfect justice, of perfect liberty, and of perfect equality” (WN II, IV.ix.17). This political and economic organization which he enthusiastically promotes, and which basically corresponds to what we now call a liberal order, would be- at least- technically superior to any other social arrangement.

Carrasco will argue that if this political order is indeed better than others, it is because politics is a ‘practical activity’, and the rationality that underlies the genesis and regulations of liberal institutions in Smith’s proposal is precisely the kind of rationality we use in praxis, i.e. practical reason. Actually, liberal institutions may be said to perform an analogous function as virtuous habits in ethics:  they constitute a stable framework of references over which the best of human’s potentialities may flourish. Their open, dialogic and cooperative character, which is able to correct errors and incorporate new experiences; their regard to contingencies and to everyone’s contribution and, in general, their conformance with the central features of practical reasoning, would be the clue to give form to this institutional design, and to understand why, ultimately, it is the one that better capitalizes human knowledge and people’s different talents in each particular field.


Maria Carrasco is Professor of Philosophy at the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile; Santiago, Chile. She has written several articles on Adam Smith’s practical philosophy, both in English and Spanish. Her papers on this topic include

  • Adam Smith and a Modern Reconstruction of Practical Reason, Review of Metaphysics (2004).
  • Adam Smith: Liberalismo y Razón Práctica, revista Pensamiento, España (2006)
  • Adam Smith on Morality, Justice, and the Political Constitution of Liberty, Journal of Scottish Philosophy (2008)
  • Hutcheson y Smith: Hacia un Sentimentalismo ‘Sofisticado’, Revista de Filosofía de la Universidad de Chile (2009)
  • Adam Smith y el Relativismo, Anuario Filosófico, España (2009)
  • Adam Smith’s ‘Sympathetic Impartiality’ and Universality, Revista de Instituciones, Ideas y Mercados (RIIM), Argentina (2010)
  • Adam Smith: Self-command, Practical Reason and Deontological Insights, British Journal for the History of Philosophy (forthcoming)
  • Hutcheson, Smith and Utilitarianism, Review of Metaphysics (forthcoming)
  • From Psychological to Moral Sympathy, Adam Smith Review (forthcoming)

She has also co-edited a monographic issue on Adam Smith for the prestigious Spanish journal “Empresa y Humanismo” (2009).

Her other work, mostly in Spanish, includes the books:
Consecuencialismo. Por qué no  (Eunsa, España, 1999)
Liberalismo y razon practica a la luz de la filosofia de Charles Taylor (RIL, 2001, Chile)

And, regarding her other fields of study, basically Applied Ethics and Bioethics, she recently published Problemas contemporaneos de antropologia y bioetica (IES, 2009, Chile).