Within the discipline of economics, as within all academic disciplines, scholars produce texts in which they examine, discuss, and sometimes invoke their intellectual predecessors. As historians of economic thought, we are faced with the task of evaluating the readings put forward by these scholars. This article argues that to adequately evaluate such readings one must understand the inalienable role that a scholar's epistemological framework plays in the conditioning of their reading of historical texts and concepts. To do so, the author examines two divergent readings of Adam Smith: Jacob Viner's reading of Smith's invisible hand as God and Paul Samuelson's reading of the same three words as an allocative mechanism that translates an individual's “selfish” actions into the public good or “the best good of all” within a state of perfect competition. These distinct readings from two North American economists with remarkably similar historical, geographical, and academic contexts provide the ideal case for exploring the manner in which readers' differing epistemological commitments shape their different readings of historical concepts and texts. The exploration of these readings and the manner in which they are epistemologically conditioned are embedded within the wider discussion around an interpretation put forward by Quentin Skinner. Thus, this article offers an account of the variance in readings of the invisible hand and contributes toward the contemporary revisionist Smithian literature that explores, criticizes, and revises dominant readings of Smith.

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