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POL8: Adam Smith
• 5 June 1723: born in Kirkcaldy
• 1737-1740: studied in U of Glasgow
• 1740-1746: a Snell exhibitioner at Balliol College, Oxford
◦ 1745: Jacobite Rebellion
• 1748-51: Edinburgh Lectures
◦ 1749-50: met Hume
• 1751-64: Professor of Logic and Metaphysics in Glasgow
◦ 1759: publication of TMS
• 1764-66: his years in Europe
• 9 March 1776: publication of WN
• born in minor gentry, Presbyterian family. Father educated in law and was involved in
Scottish politics. Died before Smith was born. Smith raised by mother Margaret Smith. His family was interested in 'improving' their estates and the local economy.
• Kirkcaldy in economic downturn. Mercantile economy was weak. No. of ship registered declined to only 3 in 1760. Size of town shrank by half compared to the century before.
Though there were signs of economic recovery, led by growth of linen industry in the early years of Anglo-Scottish Union. Seeing firsthand the profound economic transformation the
Union was brining to his town (14) in WN, Smith was to pay attention to the role a small town can play in shaping the commerce of the state.
• Friendship: family close with the Oswalds of Dunnikier, the most important local landed family. Played a signifiant role in Kirkcaldy's economic recovery. He was particular close to
James Oswald, who was later to become an MP. Not into party politics, but studied the workings of government diligently
• School: as a schoolboy read the Enchiridion of Epictetus—where his Stoic influence came from. Tempered by Cicero's ethics. Shows that contemplation is not the only way to virtue—
it is possible to live with regards to public good. Smith calls it 'imperfect, but attainable virtues' and 'the practical morality of the Stoics'
◦ The Spectator (drawing direct Stoic influence in the name: ethics is seeing ourselves as other see us) edited by Addison and Steele, taught Smith how the teachings of ancients can be adapted to the modern commercial society. Emphasised the friendship of strangers instead of isolating oneself by following austere Epictetan values, because strangers cultivate tolerance, a wider world view and the respect for sense of propriety— 'sociable Stoicism' ==> Smith developed a view of seeing human beings as 'agents whose lives and happiness depend on their ability to cultivate the moral and intellectual skills they need to live sociably'
As a student
• Glasgow: spectacular transformation at the time. Pop was growing rapidly, sea trade rivalled
Bristol and Liverpool. It was tobacco trade that floated the city's economy. By 1760s tobacco trade controlled by three giant syndicates—Alexander Spears, John Glassford and William
Cunninghame. They played an important role not only in econ development but in development of infrastructure too—who Smith had in mind when he talked about the spirit of the merchants. A lot of these merchants were also purchasing agricultural land for improvement. He had this in mind when talking about the retrograde order of Europe.
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In U of Glasgow: taught by Robert Simson on geometry. But most important influence was
Francis Hutcheson, the Chair of Moral Philosophy at the time.
In U of Oxford: he read Marivaux, a French moralist. Published the French version of the
Spectator (Spectateur Français). Marivaux wrote about psychology, which was useful to
Smith in understanding humans as beings of passions, and our desire to be approved and to approve—developed a more complex view of morality. Commented in TMS that in that instance Marivaus and the like more important than Epictetus. It was also where he encountered Hume. Funny anecdote—he was caught reading Treatise of Human Nature,
and was reprimanded because it was heretical.
• no doubt hat Scotland was a 'failing nation' at the time, with underdeveloped feudal economy and inefficient international trade. No one doubted that problem lied in the exiting union with England. A new union was to be negotiated. Some thought Scot
Parliament could be reincorporated, some opted for a federal union, where Scot parliament retained its freedom. Anxieties about the nation and esp the landed elite were to underpin
• Attitude to commerce was an important question then. The greatest appeal to the union was the free access to English markets at home and abroad. But some worried that
Scotland's wealth and independence will be compromised in favour of luxury.
• Culturally: Edinburgh was becoming a cultural centre. There were clubs and coffee meeting inspired by Spectator. Societies like the Philosophical Society was established then.
• Jacobite Rebellion of 1745 destroyed much of the Scottish Highlands.
• Church of Scotland at the time was Presbyterian. They were Calvinist—austere morality. The true Christian is a sceptic, doesn't engage in the world, luxury and comfort. In order to be virtuous, one must deny their self-interest. Young moderate Presbyterians started calling for reforms in Church. They want the church to coexist with the civil lecture, they wanted to be developed as polite gentlemen, wanted religion to be about practical morality, wanted followers to judge others based on manners and morals not religious beliefs.
• Edinburgh Lectures (1748-51):
◦ taught rhetorics and belles lettres. His understanding of systems of rhetoric was useful in understand the sense of propriety we develop to improve our communication with others. Rhetoric seen in the context of sociability.
Communications maintain the society and was crucial in understanding trading too.
He saw sociability in developmental terms based on the development and learning of rhetoric.
• Lectures on Jurisprudence delivered in Glasgow (1762-63). Where he talked about the fourstage theory. First developed insight into division of labour, and was already thinking about how government's actions can impact that, and thus the process of exchange. The basis on his attack on monopolies and other forms of govt restrictions.
• Letter to the Authors of the Edinburgh Review (1756) — short-lived literary adventure
◦ urged the authors to look to France for philosophical enquiries
◦ recommended The Encyclopedia of D'Alembert and Diderot, Buffon's Natural History and Rousseau's Discourse of Inequality
2 POL8: Adam Smith
His years in Europe:
• basically major event was that he met Quesnay and the économistes in 1766. Who is
Quesnay? He believes the land is the sole source of a nation's wealth. WN would have been dedicated to Quesnay if he was alive then.
◦ similarities: believe in free economy, and that nation's wealth is to satisfy the needs of its subjects
◦ however: Smith saw that Quesnay was only looking at the problem in the French context. It was reactionary to Colbert's attempt to turn France into a trading and manufacturing country.
▪ Smith disagreed with Quesnay believe that by replacing the tax siesta.
removing legislative obstacles, improving agriculture —basically a 'legal despotism'—was the way to go forward for French economy
◦ that agriculture was 'the mother of all goods'. In fact he believes in the division of labour, and the free, reciprocal exchange between town and country. He recognised the importance of landowners, wage earners and manufactures and merchants are
'the three great, original and constituent orders of every civlised society', where revenues of a country are defined
◦ contribution: stock of investable capital was essential for progress. Integral to
Smith's thinking about money and banking as a means of circulating the stock and capital which can maximise the progress of division of labour.
• Francis Hutcheson:
◦ reputation based on principles of human nature, nature of virtue and meaning of sociability.
◦ important influence from Shaftesbury. Human beings are benevolent agents.
Exercises in self-improvement can foster sociability and public spirit.
◦ Moral action motivated by disinterested feeling of benevolence. The morally best action is one that produces the greatest happiness (utility). Approval of virtue is like the appreciation of aesthetics in a spectator.
◦ Reasons and calculations have no place in shaping our moral personality. There are natural feelings in our heart he calls 'the moral sense'
◦ Greatest bête noire—Mandeville, who suggested that all our passions are to serve our 'self-liking'. We are deluded by Politicians to curb our passions to gratify our pride. Virtue, justice and liberty are simply delusions and product of our hypocrisy. Hutchison was shocked by the cynicism.
◦ Goes on to argue that in benevolently inclined society there can be less regulation.
Subjects have the right to change their rulers whenever they feel like it. —put him in the radical Whiggery thinking.
◦ Influence on Smith
▪ Smith would constantly return to the problem of sociability. However, he thought that Hutcheson's thinking lacked historical vision, and the image of benevolent agents too arcane. Smith is closer to Hume on this issue.
▪ Aesthetics from Hutcheson remains v. important. Explains the value attached to utility. Sheer efficiency can charm humans, and that is what sustains economic and political planning—v. original
3 POL8: Adam Smith
Smith's Glasgow lectures were closely modelled on Hutcheson's lectures—
dealing with economic subjects within the frame of moral philosophy.
John Rae, Smith's biographer suggests that his deep love for liberty must have been kindled or strengthened by contact with Hutcheson.
◦ he was a Humean by the time he met Hume. Follow him in understanding human nature
◦ Hume put the question of morality and justice in relation to the civil society. Shows that reason has no role to play in morality was to influence the Scottish intellectual community for the next half-century.
◦ Influence from Hutcheson too, but differed in that he differentiated between natural virtues and acquire/artificial virtues. Hume distinguishes natural virtue from artificial virtue. Hutchinson's benevolence is the former, and justice belongs to the latter. Idea of justice underpins sociability and government. Moral approval explained by sympathy. Artificial virtue depends on utility.
◦ The most influential concepts
▪ Smith followed Hume's improvement on Hutcheson, but Smith differs from
Hume in that the first moral approval is incurred by the person's motive.
Sympathising with someone's motive approves of the action as proper. A
benevolent action induces double sympathy—also sympathy with the gratitude felt by the person benefitted. Justice is built on sympathy with resentment for harm. Consideration of utility is the last determinant of moral judgment.
▪ sympathy, which humans' capacity for sociability is based on (for Hume)
▪ government is to preserve the property of subjects. All attempts to redistribute property is detrimental to both material and moral progress of society. 'Property was the mother of the civilising process'
▪ essays on commerce, money, interest and balance of trade. He saw humans as naturally active species who use they labour to secure the 'necessities' and
'conveniences' of life (Hume's quotes). We are driven by our desires to satisfy our needs.
◦ Hume was much more optimistic about commercial society. He wrote about commercial society in 'Of Commerce', 'Of Luxury' primarily, but also in 'Of the Rise and Progress of the Arts and Sciences' and 'Of Civil Liberty'. Winch agrees with
Forbes that Hume had an unquestioning view that good life is dependent on economic progress—he was at his least sceptical.
Lack of manufactures make people slothful for lack of incentives and opportunities.
He found that luxury is not incompatible with virtue, rather it may be a conditions for its realisation. People's temper would become milder, but this does not undermine the martial spirit, as men would be more willing and able to defend their country and their own liberties, because now they are not accustomed to servitude. Free governments, same as the arts and sciences, is likely to thrive under a commercial society.
However, he conceded that there could be exceptions. Luxury could be vicious and debilitating, but it is still better than idleness.
Jean-Jacques Rousseau (according to Istvan Hont 2015):
4 POL8: Adam Smith
o Easy to see Smith and Rousseau as opposite side of the aisle when it comes to state and commerce. Since Rousseau seems to be critical of inequality that gives commercial society its fundamental attributes—'enemy of modernity'
o by showing how Smith is engaged w/ Rousseau in TMS, shows how Smith arrived at the concept of the impartial spectator; by showing how Rousseau is engaged w/
Locke, shows how Smith arrived that unusual historical and political vision underlying WN
o Continuity between Smith and Rousseau
the genealogy of human emotions that Rousseau presented in the SD gave
Smith the analytical means to move beyond the antagonistic positions in the moral and political philosophy of Hutcheson and Hume, his most important intellectual interlocutors.
It was Rousseau's study of Mandeville that elevated the Anglophone study of sociability, morality and politics. While reviewing Rousseau's SD (published in 1755), he pointed out clearly the link between Rousseau and Vol. 2 of Fables
the Bees (1728). They both suppose that humans have no powerful instincts to form society. Both recognise the importance of the emotion of pity, an other-regarding passion, but for Mandeville, it is based on selfishness and for Rouseau it is a source of virtue (though not being a virtue itself).
Smith thinks Rousseau is a superior Mandeville, and subsequently developed the idea of pity into sympathy in TMS. However, whether this constitutes a true moral theory is disputed. Hont concludes that they share moral foundations.
both of them see the importance of language as a communicative medium of sociability
SD is a natural history of amour-propre, and TMS is a natural history of sympathy.
o Differences between the two
the fundamental difference is that, although they worked upwards from the same moral foundations, they resulted in two different visions of politics.
Rousseau's description of the transition from state of nature to govt is very close to the one Locke laid down in the Second Treatise. Inequality and property—>social contract—>govt. For Smith however, government comes before law. It is due to the influence he received from Hume's account of property formation and justice as artificial virtue.
It was Smith who was the true republican, and the writer that points out the gulf between the ancients and the moderns.
Smith disapproves of Rousseau's (and Mandeville's) theory of the origin of justice. For him it is an artifice developed from amour-propre, whereas for
They also disagreed on the origin of inequality. Inequality and ranks are the natural operation of our sentiments.
o Hont thinks both Rousseau and Smith failed to find a type of politics that best fits a commercial society
Stoicism (according to D. D. Raphael and A. L. Macfie :
o the primary influence on his ethical philosophy and subsequently economic theory too.
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o Epictetus and Marus Aurelius. Aurelius was called 'the great Conductor' of 'the whole machine of the world'—the stoic idea of a harmonious society (7) These phrases have appeared even more than 'invisible hand', which has appeared only once in each of Smith's books (7)
o Self-command in his three virtues (prudence, beneficence and self-command) chiefly
Stoic (6). All three are a combination of Stoic and Christian virtues, and by Christian it is Hutcheson, who condenses all virtue into benevolence, a philosophical equivalent of the Christian ethic of love (6) Among the three, self-command is the most important one—all virtues are derived from self-command (6)
o chiefly responsible for his view that society is a harmonious system. Stoic concept of social harmony does not mean that everyone behaves virtuously. Though it is wrong to take advantage of others, Stoic metaphysics allow good to come out of evil. Since the world is governed by an all-powerful God, every single event is a part of His plan for the universe, so all 'vices and follies' will contribute to the 'prosperity and perfection of the great system of nature' (Smith's quotes I.ii.3.4)
more importance given to prudence in edition 6. Normal because he has written WN at that point.
In edition, longer treatment of self-command. Shows even warmer feelings towards Stoic philosophy
follows the Stoics in holding that self-preservation is 'the first task committed to us by nature' and prudence is a virtue as long as it doesn't injure others
he offers a psychological explanation for how self-love can lead to the perfection of the system apart from the invisible hands—pleasure can be induced by the admiration of spectators
to better our condition is natural and proper. In TMS, it's related to class distinctions and attribute to vanity, in WN, the approach is more economic
only criticism of Stoicism is that not all virtuous and vicious actions are equal, and that we shouldn't obliterate ties to smaller groups over world citizenship, because they are natural.
Istvan Hont (2015) argues that Smith should be classified as an Epicurean
According to what Kant taught, Epicureans believe that happiness is the end, and morality is the means to achieve it. The other way round for Stoics
Hutchison described himself as a 'Christian Stoic'. His prime enemies are Mandeville,
but also Hobbes and Pufendorf (whom he sees as a Hobbist)—they are all Epicureans
—deriving sociability from utility and denying man natural sociability and morality.
o However, Smith is also dubbed to be a refined Epicurean. That means he subscribes more to the Cynics, who although saw happiness as the end, do not define happiness as luxury or artificial needs, but the bare satisfaction of physical needs. (It is also this belief in human nature that guides the invisible hands—the rich give away their possession because their needs can be fulfilled by less.)
• Science of Man, like Bacon, Hobbes, Grotius and Pufendorf, Hutcheson and Hume that came before him
• esprit systématique: developed from his time studying maths and natural sciences in
Glasgow and the Stoics
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