"His course of lectures on this subject was divided into four parts. The first contained Natural Theology; in which he considered the proofs of the being and attributes of God, and those principles of the human mind upon which religion is founded. The second comprehended Ethics, strictly so called, and consisted chiefly of the doctrines which he afterwards published in his Theory of Moral Sentiments." (Cited in Nicholas Phillipson, Adam Smith: An Enlightened Life.)

  • 2
    Perhaps it distinguishes the two meanings of ethics as given by Merriam-Webster. 1 the discipline dealing with what is good and bad and with moral duty and obligation, 2 a set of moral principles : a theory or system of moral values. Strictly for a lecture, I think it means the first. Commented Oct 28, 2020 at 18:23

1 Answer 1


Strictly can mean 'exactly or correctly', and so-called can mean 'thus named or called', so the second part of Adam Smith's lectures comprehended (covered) ethics according to a very precise definition.

It is worth noting that 'so-called' is the modern hyphenated usage, and the modern usage tends to have a sneering implication that the 18th century writer did not intend.

Strictly (Cambridge Dictionary)

So-called (Cambridge Dictionary)

  • 1
    That's not the way I read the cited text. Assuming it was carefully written, what I see is that the second part of course of lectures on this subject is sometimes referred to by some "name" other than "Ethics" (by implication, perhaps some scholars refer to that second part of the course as Theory of Moral Sentiments when they should have called it Ethics). Otherwise, it's not obvious which "strict definition" of the word "ethics" is relevant to the context, in which case I can't see the point of mentioning it. And I don't think so-called is "dismissive" here. Commented Oct 28, 2020 at 18:50
  • 1
    The phrase "strictly so called" seems to be a rather old-fashioned way of saying "narrowly defined" - compare "There was no English translation, strictly so called, of any play of Plautus in the 16th or 17th century, except that of the Menaechmi by W. W. (probably William Warner), first printed in 1595, which Shakespeare may possibly have used (in MS.) for his Comedy of Errors. A translation of the whole of Plautus in "familiar blank verse" by Bonnell Thornton and others appeared in 1767 " - Edward Adolf Sonnenschein, "Plautus, Titus Maccius," in Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed., 1911) Commented Oct 28, 2020 at 19:51
  • 1
    I deliberately wrote that the usage of 'so called' was not in the modern dismissive sense. Commented Oct 28, 2020 at 19:52
  • 1
    The 18th century capitalisation of 'Ethics' may give the impression that the second part of the lectures was thus titled, and the modern sense of 'so called' may add to that. Commented Oct 28, 2020 at 19:54
  • I found this... [Adam Smith's] course of lectures on [Moral Philosophy] was divided into four parts” (EPS, 274). They were “Natural Theology”, “Ethics”, “that branch of morality which relates to justice” (or Jurisprudence), and “expediency” (or Political Economy). I still read the specific example here as meaning strictly speaking that second lecture was called "Ethics", even though it might often be known by another name. Perhaps presaging vagueness about the names of the 3rd and 4th lectures. Commented Oct 29, 2020 at 11:37

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.