Adam Smith 1723-1790


Adam Smith
Adam Smith

Contents


I. Introduction
II. Life
III. Beliefs
IV. Writings
V. Influence
VI. Sources

I. Introduction


Adam Smith, 1723-1790, a Scottish moral philosopher, was one of the innovators and architects of modern economics. Though Smith's life is well chronicled, his beliefs and thought processes have been less well recorded. Only those thoughts in published form and the records of his didactic lectures in Edinburgh and at the University of Glasgow can be used as windows into Smith's mind. Smith's two primary books, "An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations" (1776) and its precursor, "The Theory of Moral Sentiments" (1759) have been benchmark works on the topics of political economics and inner conscience. There can be no doubt that the extent of Smith's had an affect of epic proportions on both the economies of The Enlightenment as well as in today's world. (10)

II. Life


Adam Smith, 1723-1790,was born in Kirkaldy, Scotland to Adam Smith (Sr.) and Margret Douglas, a woman from an affluent and well connected family. Smith began his education in Kirkaldy and at fourteen years of age, Smith began studying philosophy at the University of Glasgow. Due to his obvious success in this field, Smith won a scholarship to the Balliol College of Oxford University. History tells that during his time at Oxford, Smith learned the least but at the same time did the most. With little help from the faculty, Smith took his education into his own hands. Consisting primarily of classical and contemporary philosophy, along with additional studies of economics, Smith's education flourished (with more than a little credit to himself) and he soon began lecturing. Also at this time Smith is said to have renounced Catholicism.

Upon returning to Kirkaldy, Smith used his mother's connections to secure a position as a lecturer in Edinburgh alongside the philosopher, Lord Henry Kames. This position granted Smith an audience to whom to voice his opinions. History, rhetoric, and economics were among his favorite topics. Not only did the audience present find great meaning in these speeches but economists and philosophers today also are able to apply the lessons taught by Smith over two hundred-fifty years ago and apply it to more contemporary circumstances.

In addition to the attention of students and commoners, Smith soon caught the eye of a more educated group. Professors at Glasgow University saw the potential in the now twenty seven year old scholar and in 1751, Smith, son of a comptroller of customs, joined the faculty at the prestigious Glasgow University. He was offered the position of Professor of Logic. A year later, in 1752, his position was transferred to Chair of Moral Philosophy. The Theory on Moral Sentiments incorporated some aspects of his major lectures at Glasgow.

Smith left Glasgow University in 1763 to accept the lucrative position as tutor to the Duke of Buccleuch. He traveled with the Duke for the following two years, meeting and conversing with several of the major philosophers of the Enlightenment Era. When Smith returned to his home town of Kirkaldy in 1766, he started writing and studying for ten years during which he wrote his most famous work, The Wealth of Nations.

In 1778, Smith went to live with his mother in Edinburgh and he accepted the position of Commissioner of Trade in Scotland, a position clearly befitting a man of such prodigious achievements in the realm of economics. He worked until July of 1790, when he died after struggling to recover from a severe illness. Shortly before he passed away, Smith burned most of his personal essays and it was also discovered that he donated a significant amount of his wealth to random acts of kindness to the needy. (2,3,7,8,9,10,11)



III. Beliefs


Adam Smith had many beliefs concerning capitalism, libertarianism, and free trade. Many countries in the world today base their government and economy on capitalistic beliefs. Capitalism is what we base our country on today. The thrill of capitalism is the competition, everybody is responsible for making their own money and getting ahead in the game. Free trade is based on an agreement being beneficial for both sides of the trade. Libertarianism is based off of the philosophy that all people should be able to make their own choices about property and people. They may choose their own jobs and own private property, only if all people have those rights for themselves. Adam Smith worked very hard to contribute to making these systems work. He felt strongly about capitalism and promoted it wisely.

Adam Smith believed in demolishing poverty, donating to charities was a big part of his life. This is something Adam was truly passionate about. Although his father was Christian, we don't know what religion he studied, but we do know from "The Wealth of Nations" that he had faith in one personal God, that he believed was enough for his religious studies status.



IV. Writings


"The Wealth of Nations" was Smith's most known work. "The Wealth of Nations" was published in 1776 in London. The book mainly discusses the state of economics during the enlightenment. The theories on economics discussed in this book are still discussed and used today. At the time this book was published, poverty was a common thing and was considered an inevitability for the majority of the public. Governments created monopolies by giving subsidies to farmers, merchants, and manufacturers to protect them from the competition. Laws prohibited the use of new, labor-saving machinery.
Adam Smith strongly opposed this controlled "mercantile" system of economics. He wrote convincingly how the fundamentals of free-trade, competition, and choice would advocate progress in economics as well as limit poverty and improve human life.

Another one of Smith's more popular books is "The Theory of Moral Sentiments". This was published in 1759 and incorporated some of the lectures that he gave while teaching at Glasgow University. "The Theory of Moral Sentiments" is what launched Smith's career and put him into the public spotlight as one of the more known philosophers of The Enlightenment. In "The Theory of Moral Sentiments", Smith discusses why we approve some actions and intentions and why we condone others. Smith also goes onto say that we are born with a sense of what is right and what is wrong. This theory caused much controversy and opinions on it were extremely divided.

Smith wrote dozens of other books and essays, mainly on the subject of social philosophy.



V. Influence


At first Adam Smith made a profound reputation with his work of literature The Theory of Moral Sentiments. It was in The Theory of Moral Sentiments that Adam attempted to explain the forces which were responsible for the socialization of an individual to fit that individual for membership in a social group. Reflecting upon the optimistic Deism of the Scottish Enlightenment, Adam started by stating that God had given humans inborn “moral sentiments” that bound humans together. One of these sentiments was the desire that each person had for the praise and approval of his or her acquaintances: “Nature when she formed man for society, endowed him with an original desire to please, and an original aversion to offend his brethren. She taught him to feel pleasure in their favorable, and pain in their unfavorable regard.” The second sentiment was an individual's capacity for imaginatively identifying with others: “This is the only looking-glass by which we can, in some measure,...scrutinize propriety of our own conduct.”

Adam's Smiths most noted influence was on economics because of the theories in "The Wealth of Nations". "The Wealth of Nations" to many was recognized as a bible to those who favor laissez-faire economics, that is, no meddling by the government with the individual's pursuit of self-interest in the marketplace. Regardless, Adam Smith was not the uncritical devotee of private enterprise that many of his later admires thought him to be. Adam was deeply suspicious about the tendency of businessmen to seek specific privileges from the government to private control. When monopoly was not possible to avoid, Adam preferred government to private control. Nor was Adam dogmatic in his support for laissez-faire. He upheld the responsibility of the state to give public services to that would benefit society as a whole, but only when they were “of such nature, that the profit could never repay the expense to any individual, or a small number of individuals, and which it therefore cannot be expected that any individual or small number of individuals should erect or maintain.”

Adam Smith explicitly endorsed publicly supported compulsory elementary education just to offset the stultifying effects of the partition of labor. Adam also showed his support for international free trade by allowing for protectionist measures when they were needed for national defense, a priority “of much more important than opulence. “

Although Adam's position was distorted by later exponents of laissez-faire, Adam's perspective advisement would not only have a major impact on Great Britain, but also the Western word as well. In 1857 historian H. T. Buckle concluded that “looking at its ultimate results, (The Wealth of Nations) is probably the most important book that has ever been written, and is certainly the most valuable contribution ever made by a single man towards establishing the principles on which government should be based.”The later reaction against laissez-faire sparked the result of a downgrading of Adam Smith, but a new generation of free marketers have found a continued source of inspiration in his writings.

Adam Smith's legacy is that of one of the greatest philosophers and economists ever to live. From a modern perspective, what is most unfortunate about his epic life is the loss of most of his private works. Smith's considerable influence on today's economic systems have been driven by little more than two books and a few records of his lectures. Without Adam Smith, there can be little doubt that concepts such as capitalism, supply and demand, and free trade would be at a significantly less developed stage (9).



VI. Sources


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11. Gull, Richard T. "Smith, Adam." The Encyclopedia Americana. 1959 Edition. 1959.