Adam Smith, along with John Locke (1632–1704), was the premier philosopher of modern commercial and industrial capitalism. Smith's tripartite model of society, however, is miscomprehended when his philosophy is reduced to nonintervention and laissezfaire. The error arises in extending his criticism of mercantilism to a general criticism of government.

Smith's tripartite model of society comprises three modes of social control. First, the domain of moral rules gives effect to the moral sentiments and the principles of approbation and disapprobation, as people seek moral approbation and social recognition. Second, law gives effect to the need to protect interests as rights and to the desire for justice. Finally, the market gives effect to the desire of people to better their condition.

Smith examined these domains in Theory of Moral ...

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