The great eighteenth-century British economist Adam Smith (1723–90) is celebrated as the founder of modern economics. Yet Smith saw himself primarily as a philosopher rather than an economist and would never have predicted that the ideas for which he is now best known were his most important. This biography shows the extent to which Smith's great works, The Wealth of Nations and The Theory of Moral Sentiments, were part of one of the most ambitious projects of the Euruopean Enlightenment, a grand “Science of Man" that would encompass law, history, and aesthetics as well as economics and ethics, and which was only half complete on Smith’s death in 1790.
Nick Phillipson reconstructs Smith’s intellectual ancestry and shows what Smith took from, and what he gave to, in the rapidly changing intellectual and commercial cultures of Glasgow and Edinburgh as they entered the great years of the Scottish Enlightenment. Above all he explains how far Smith’s ideas developed in dialogue with those of his closest friend, the other titan of the age, David Hume.
For most of the two hundred years or so that have passed since the publication of the Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith's writings on political and economic questions have been viewed within a liberal capitalist perspective of nineteenth- and twentieth- century provenance. This essay in interpretation seeks to provide a more historical reading of certain political themes which recur in Smith's writings by bringing eighteenth-century perspectives to bear on the problem. Contrary to the view that sees Smith's work as marking the point at which 'politics' was being eclipsed by 'economics', it claims that Smith has a 'politics' which goes beyond certain political attitudes connected with the role of the state in economic affairs. It argues that he employs a consistent mode of political analysis which cannot be encompassed within the standard liberal capitalist categories, but can be understood by reference to the language and qualities of contemporary political debate, and of the eighteenth-century science of politics cultivated by Montesquieu and, above all, Hume, particularly as revealed by recent scholarship. A concluding chapter draws the various strands of the interpretation together to form a portrait of what Smith might legitimately be said to have been doing when he wrote on these matters.
Adam Smith was a Scottish professor of moral philosophy. He published his classic The Wealth of Nations in 1776, the year the American Revolution began. Smith became widely known for his ideas of free markets, laissez-faire commerce, and the "invisible hand." Yet English politicians, landed gentry, and the nobility paid little attention and enacted none of Smith's suggested reforms.
The American colonies, however, began their existence as an independent nation in 1781 with no money, no industry, no banks, and deep in debt. The Founding Fathers-particularly Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and Benjamin Franklin-turned to the ideas of Adam Smith to create and jump-start an economic system for America with both immediate and long-sustained results.
This little-known but vital part of U.S. history is now revealed in Roy C. Smith's highly readable new book.