James Otteson

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James R. Otteson
James R. Otteson.jpg
Otteson at Yale University, July 2013
Born (1968-06-19)June 19, 1968
Albuquerque, New Mexico
Region Western Philosophy
School Analytic philosophy
Main interests
Political philosophy · Scottish Enlightenment · Classical Liberalism · Political Economy · History of Economic Thought · Adam Smith

James R. Otteson is an American philosopher and political economist. He is the Thomas W. Smith Presidential Chair in Business Ethics, Professor of Economics, and executive director of the BB&T Center for the Study of Capitalism at Wake Forest University. He is also a Senior Scholar at The Fund for American Studies in Washington, D.C., a Research Professor in the Center for the Philosophy of Freedom and in the Philosophy Department at the University of Arizona, a Visitor of Ralston College,[1] a Research Fellow for the Independent Institute in California, and a director of Ethics and Economics Education of New England.[2] He has taught previously at Yeshiva University, New York University, Georgetown University, and the University of Alabama.

Academic biography[edit]

Otteson earned his Bachelor of Arts degree from the Program of Liberal Studies—the "Great Books Program"—at the University of Notre Dame. His senior essay, "The Therapeutic Philosophy of Ludwig Wittgenstein," won PLS's Otto A. Bird Award for best senior essay in 1990. He spent his sophomore year abroad, studying at the Universität Innsbruck, in Innsbruck, Austria.

After completing his undergraduate degree, Otteson then attended the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee, earning an MA in philosophy in 1992. His paper "A Problem in Wittgeinstein's Philosophy of Language" won the department's 1991 Richard M. Peltz Memorial Award for Excellence in Philosophy. His master's thesis, "Locke's Arguments for the Existence of Natural Law," was directed by William Wainwright.

Otteson then joined the philosophy department at the University of Chicago, receiving a PhD in 1997. His dissertation, "The Unintended Order of Morality: Adam Smith and David Hume on the Origins of Morality," was directed by Daniel Garber (now at Princeton University), with readers Ted Cohen and Ian Mueller. Knud Haakonssen (then at Boston University; now at the University of St. Andrews and University College London) was an outside reader.

Upon graduating from Chicago, Otteson took a position in the philosophy department at the University of Alabama, where he began as an assistant professor and rose to become associate professor, full professor, and department chair. In 2007, he accepted a position as joint professor of philosophy and economics, and director of the honors program, at Yeshiva University. He moved to Wake Forest University in 2013.

He has held visiting scholar positions at the Social Philosophy and Policy Center, then located at Bowling Green State University; at the Centre for the Study of Scottish Philosophy, then located at the University of Aberdeen; at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Humanities at the University of Edinburgh; in the economics and philosophy departments at the University of Missouri-St. Louis; and in the government department at Georgetown University. He has also taught in the economics department at New York University.

Otteson lectures widely on Adam Smith, classical liberalism, political economy, business ethics, and related issues, including for the Foundation for Economic Education, the Institute for Humane Studies, the Atlas Economic Research Foundation, the Fund for American Studies, the Adam Smith Society, the Acton Institute, and the Tikvah Fund.


Otteson first became known for his writings on the ethics of Adam Smith. In his book, Adam Smith's Marketplace of Life (Cambridge University Press, 2002), he argued that Smith's moral philosophy proposed a "marketplace model" for the creation, development, and maintenance of large-scale human social orders, including morality. He also argues that this "market model" unifies Smith's two books, his 1759 Theory of Moral Sentiments and his 1776 Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, thereby providing a resolution to the long-standing "Adam Smith Problem."

In 2005, Otteson won a prize from the Fund for the Study of Spontaneous Order, sponsored by the Atlas Economic Research Foundation. This award is for scholars working outside the traditional areas of economics whose work is informed by an Austrian economic perspective.

Otteson's book Actual Ethics (Cambridge University Press, 2006) was named the first-prize winner of the 2007 Templeton Enterprise Award, an award sponsored by the Templeton Foundation and administered by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute. The award goes to "the very best that has been written ... to advance the cause of ordered liberty around the world" by an author under the age of forty, and it carries with it a $50,000 cash prize, more than what accompanies a Pulitzer Prize or a National Book Award.

Actual Ethics defends a classical liberal political order, based on a fusion of Kantian and Aristotelian moral themes. After developing and defending the moral basis of the position, he goes on to show how a classical liberal state would address several vexing moral and political issues, including wealth and poverty, affirmative action, same-sex marriage and adoption, speech codes, public education, and the treatment of animals.

His most recent books are the edited collection What Adam Smith Knew and the manuscript The End of Socialism, which was published by Cambridge University Press in 2014. In his review of The End of Socialism, Bradley Birzer called the book "one of the best books written on political thought and the philosophy of classical liberalism since Friedrich Hayek's The Constitution of Liberty."[3] James Bruce claims that the book's "moral critique of socialism" is "so important, and so powerful."[4] And Loren Lomasky writes, "The End of Socialism is erudite, exceedingly well informed, and some 800 percent more massive than the forerunner [i.e., G. A. Cohen's Why Not Socialism?] that it far exceeds in argumentative power.[5]



Selected articles and essays[edit]

Selected chapters[edit]

  • "Unintended-Order Explanations in Adam Smith and the Scottish Enlightenment." In Liberalism, Conservatism, and Hayek's Idea of Spontaneous Order, eds. Louis Hunt and Peter McNamara. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007.
  • "Editor's Introduction." Journal of Scottish Philosophy 7, 1 (March 2009), a special edition of JSP on "The Scottish Enlightenment and Social Thought" edited by Otteson.
  • "The Scottish Enlightenment and the Tragedy of Human Happiness." In On Happiness, ed. Kelly James Clark. Beijing, China: The World Knowledge Press, 2010.
  • "How High Does the Impartial Spectator Go?" In Adam Smith as Theologian, ed. Paul Oslington. New York: Routledge, 2011.
  • "Adam Smith." In the Oxford Handbook of the History of Ethics, ed. Roger Crisp. New York: Oxford University Press, 2013.
  • "Adam Smith on virtue, Prosperity, and Justice," in Economics and the Virtues: Building a New Moral Foundation, Jennifer A. Baker and Mark D. White, eds. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2016): 72-93.
  • "Adam Smith and the Right," in Adam Smith: His Life, Thought, and Legacy, Ryan Patrick Hanley, ed. (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2016): 494-511.
  • "Adam Smith's Libertarian Paternalism." In the Oxford Handbook of Freedom, ed. David Schmidtz. New York: Oxford University Press, forthcoming in 2016.

Selected book reviews[edit]

Other work[edit]

Otteson appeared several times on Andrew Napolitano's one-time Fox Business News television program, "Freedom Watch." He has also appeared in several short videos for Learn Liberty, all of which are available here.

Otteson was one of the principal bloggers at Pileus, and he is a member of the Mont Pelerin Society.

In November 2013, Otteson gave the inaugural Liggio Lecture, an annual lecture series in honor of Leonard Liggio.

In 2014-'15, Otteson was a bimonthly columnist for the Triad Business Journal.


Otteson is married to Katharine LeJeune Otteson, whom he met at and who also graduated from Notre Dame. They have four children and live currently in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

See also[edit]


External links[edit]