Thursday 29 June 2023

Adam Smith’s Legacies and Wellbeing

This year is the 300 year anniversary of the birth of one of Scotland’s greatest thinker. Only in 2008, a statue was erected to this genius and great Scot, Royal Mile, near St Giles. Worldwide every economist, business and politician has relied on Smith’s pioneering science of political economy and almost every major economist has quoted Smith – terms such as the free market and danger of monopolies.


We must also turn more to Smith’s first book his ‘Theory of Moral Sentiment’ – which is equal in every way to his ‘Wealth of Nations’ - “ No society, can surely be flourishing and happy, of which the far greater part of the members are poor and miserable.”


**BUT he was crucially and equally a moral philosopher. 

Smith advocated the free market and drive of merchants, but …..equally balance by concern for all of moral standards. He believed any new law required careful and long considerations.


He believed self-interest should be balanced with concern for the common good – with virtue and ethical – as part of a whole.

“Over the years Smith’s lustre as a social philosopher have been less attended to.”


“Smith’s philosophical, historical and economic work as part of a single whole, and the psychological drives which support man’s desire to better his condition.” Andrew skinner writes (Adam Smith professor of political economy, Glasgow 1994-2020)

Moral philosophy was based on what we would know as psychology. He believed individual self-interest should be balanced with concern for the common good, emphasising the importance of virtue and ethics in society.



Age 14 Smith studied at Glasgow university under professor of moral philosophy Francis Hutchison (one of the founders of the Scottish enlightenment). After he won a scholarship to Balliol college oxford (Snell exhibition scholarship of future clergy of Scottish episcopal church). He considered the standard of tuition at Oxford inferior to Glasgow and educated himself. ‘the greater part of the public professors have given up pretence of teaching. At 27 he took up a post as professor of Logic Glasgow.


Then he was Chair of Moral philosophy , where he met David Hume and James Watt. In 1764, he became tutor to the young Duke of Buccleuch – with travels in Europe, met Voltaire in Paris and wrote the Wealth of Nations.

“Smith is the very epitome of the enlightenment, hopeful but realistic, speculative but practical; always respectful of the classical and past, but ultimately dedicated to the great discovery of his age – progress.”
 Encyclopaedia Britannica


“Over the years Smith’s lustre as a social philosopher have been less attended to.”