Hanley shows how Smith set forth a vision of the worthy life that is uniquely suited to people today. Full of invaluable insights on topics ranging from happiness and moderation to love and friendship, Our Great Purpose enables modern readers to see Smith in an entirely new light—and along the way, learn what it truly means to live a good life.
Ryan Patrick Hanley has provided a succinct, witty and informative work on the relevance of Adam Smith today, mercifully released from the old 'father of capitalism' misrepresentation. It is not a biography...but those who want the moral, ethical and practical core of Smith’s work would be well advised to start with Hanley’s jovial, sometimes controversial account of what Smith actually thought ... one of the great virtues of Hanley’s book is the centrality of love to Smith’s philosophy and economics ... Those who trumpet Smith as the free market guru and the saint of untrammelled capitalism miss the whole point. Indeed, Smith’s concern for how the poor are ignored by the rich shines out in this book. Morality and money were never far removed in Smith’s thinking, and he most often came down on the side of morality ... Hanley has done a great service in making Smith less of an ideologue and more of a quester ... Hanley’s book is an excellent primer on the true Smith, the person who thought that fellow feeling was more important than personal gain...
Mr. Hanley...shows that the attention paid to one portion of Smith’s writings in The Wealth of Nations has created a kind of intellectual myopia. It is as if we continue to watch the same 20 minutes of a movie sequel without watching the first installment or finishing the second. We miss vital plot points as well as the overarching vision. We miss Smith’s sustained critique of the dangers of consumerism, what Smith called the 'trinkets of frivolous utility.' We miss that Smith spoke up for the poorer classes. We miss that virtues like prudence, self-command and benevolence characterize his philosophy better than unfettered trade or the acquisition of wealth ... Our Great Purpose fashions a useful lens through which to view Smith’s full philosophical project and intellectual style, a style that Edmund Burke said was more akin to painting than to writing ... While Mr. Hanley is not the first to point to the Moral Sentiments as a key to unlocking Adam Smith’s thought, he communicates the elegance and difficulty of Smith’s philosophy without portraying it as quixotic. Smith deftly connected all human activity into a single, philosophical portrait, and Our Great Purpose makes a compelling case for us to study it closely. By avoiding the all-too-familiar Smith, Mr. Hanley reunites all the parts of Smith’s philosophy, bringing sympathy out of the shadows of self-interest.
...in this informative but unfocused work. Hanley argues that Smith, though best known as an economist, was a social theorist as well and was deeply concerned with how to live a happy and beneficial life ... Hanley makes it clear from the outset that he does not consider this volume either a scholarly endeavor or a self-help book, making it difficult to tell whom he expects his audience to be. Lacking sufficient analysis to be of interest to scholars or a convincing new case about how Smith’s thinking is relevant to today that might attract general readers, this will appeal only to devoted acolytes of Smith.