Pressures on different classes to behave morally according to Adam Smith

Dublin Core


Pressures on different classes to behave morally according to Adam Smith


Class, society, and morality


An excerpt from "The Wealth of Nations" by Smith which describes how higher and lower class citizens change their moral behavior when surrounded by a busy society. Smith also explains how lower-class citizens may be pressured differently upon joining smaller sects.


Adam Smith


Smith, Adam. An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith. Project Gutenberg, 1 June 2002,


Project Gutenberg


March 9, 1776


Trent Hannan


"The Theory of Moral Sentiments" by Adam Smith







Text Item Type Metadata


A man of rank and fortune is, by his station, the distinguished member of a great society, who attend to every part of his conduct, and who thereby oblige him to attend to every part of it himself. His authority and consideration depend very much upon the respect which this society bears to him. He dares not do anything which would disgrace or discredit him in it; and he is obliged to a very strict observation of that species of morals, whether liberal or austere, which the general consent of this society prescribes to persons of his rank and fortune. A man of low condition, on the contrary, is far from being a distinguished member of any great society. While he remains in a country village, his conduct may be attended to, and he may be obliged to attend to it himself. In this situation, and in this situation only, he may have what is called a character to lose. But as soon as he comes into a great city, he is sunk in obscurity and darkness. His conduct is observed and attended to by nobody; and he is, therefore, very likely to neglect it himself, and to abandon himself to every sort of low profligacy and vice. He never emerges so effectually from this obscurity, his conduct never excites so much the attention of any respectable society, as by his becoming the member of a small religious sect. He from that moment acquires a degree of consideration which he never had before. All his brother sectaries are, for the credit of the sect, interested to observe his conduct; and, if he gives occasion to any scandal, if he deviates very much from those austere morals which they almost always require of one another, to punish him by what is always a very severe punishment, even where no evil effects attend it, expulsion or excommunication from the sect. In little religious sects, accordingly, the morals of the common people have been almost always remarkably regular and orderly; generally much more so than in the established church. The morals of those little sects, indeed, have frequently been rather disagreeably rigorous and unsocial.


Adam Smith, “Pressures on different classes to behave morally according to Adam Smith,” Enlightenmens, accessed February 8, 2023,

Output Formats