Smith, Adam
(1723–1790)
Scottish philosopher and economist. Although best remembered as an economist, Smith was a polymath, and an eminent social theorist and moral philosopher. Born in Kirkcaldy, he was educated at Glasgow university and Balliol College, Oxford. He resided in Edinburgh, and became friends with Hume and his circle, from 1748 until 1751, in which year he was appointed professor of logic at the university of Glasgow. In the following year he changed to the chair of moral philosophy. On publication of The Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759), he received patronage from the Duke of Buccleuch, enabling him to resign his chair, and subsequently devote himself to scholarship. An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations was published in 1776. Smith's moral philosophy differs from that of Hutcheson and Hume in its emphasis on Stoic virtues, and in particular that of self-command. Smith's man of perfect virtue ‘joins, to the most perfect command of his own original and selfish feelings, the most exquisite sensibility both to the original and sympathetic feelings of others’ (The Theory of Moral Sentiments, ii. 3. 34). His system hinges on the operation of sympathy, arising from an intellectual or moral appreciation of the situation of one who is aroused, and provoking a fellow-feeling or analogous sensation in the attentive spectator. The ‘ impartial spectator ’ is introduced as an explanation of the working of conscience: it is an internalization of the gaze of others, whereby I imagine what I should feel were I to have an unprejudiced and undistorted view of my own actions. The impartial spectator functions as a ‘tribunal within the breast’ whose authority derives from the censure of the world, but which nevertheless has the power to overturn the judgements of others (iii. 2. 31).
The ‘invisible hand’ for which Smith is famous first appears as a phrase in an essay he wrote on the history of astronomy. It recurs in The Theory of Moral Sentiments at iv. 1. 11. In spite of their insatiable greed and rapacity, the rich are unable actually to consume much more than anyone else, and so are led by the invisible hand to make ‘nearly the same distribution of the necessaries of life, which would have been made, had the earth been divided into equal portions among all its inhabitants’. In The Wealth of Nations the emphasis is less on equal distribution and more on the promotion of the common good that arises from the pursuit of self-interest (see also Mandeville ). In economics, Smith gives the pioneering analysis of the structure of a functioning economy, and the first discussion of the benefits of the ‘division of labour’. His general optimism about the economic results of free markets has given his name a lustre in libertarian political circles that he might not have entirely welcomed, given his low opinion of the motives that lead to economic activity (see vanity ). In fact, in Pt. v of the book he allows for the provision of public services out of general taxation where market mechanisms fail, and argues that the state has a vital role in providing educational services for the poor, both to ward off the ‘mental mutilation’ consequent upon industrial working conditions, and to enable them to become better workers and citizens.

Philosophy dictionary. . 2011.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Smith,Adam — Smith (smĭth), Adam. 1723 1790. Scottish political economist and philosopher. His Wealth of Nations (1776) laid the foundations of classical free market economic theory. * * * …   Universalium

  • Smith, Adam — (1723–1790)    The founding theorist of classical political economy, Adam Smith was educated at Glasgow, where he came to know many of the key figures of the Scottish enlightenment, and at Balliol, Oxford. He became friends with David Hume and,… …   Encyclopedia of the Age of Imperialism, 1800–1914

  • Smith, Adam — (baptized June 5, 1723, Kirkcaldy, Fife, Scot. died July 17, 1790, Edinburgh) Scottish social philosopher and political economist. The son of a customs official, he studied at the Universities of Glasgow and Oxford. A series of public lectures in …   Universalium

  • Smith, Adam — (1723 90) An eminent Scottish philosopher and social theorist, Professor of Logic then Moral Philosophy at the University of Glasgow, whose influential publications include The Theory of Moral Sentiments(1759), An Inquiry into the Nature and… …   Dictionary of sociology

  • Smith, Adam — ► (1723 90) Filósofo y economista escocés. Publicó Theory of Moral Sentiments, en la que establece el fundamento de toda moral: la simpatía hacia nuestros semejantes. La naturaleza, mediante la simpatía, nos hace solidarios con los demás. Afirma… …   Enciclopedia Universal

  • SMITH, Adam — (1723 1790)    Scottish moral philosopher and founder of the discipline of economics through his book The Wealth of Nations (1776) which is often seen as the textbook of CAPITALISM. Although he argued for a free market economy, Smith was highly… …   Concise dictionary of Religion

  • SMITH, ADAM —    political economist, born in Kirkcaldy, Fife; studied at Glasgow and Oxford, went to Edinburgh and became acquainted with David Hume and his confrères; was appointed to the chair of Logic in Glasgow in 1751, and the year after of Moral… …   The Nuttall Encyclopaedia

  • Smith, Adam — (1723 1790)    Political economist. Filled successively the chairs of logic and of moral philosophy at Glasgow. In 1766 published his great work, The Wealth of Nations.    Index: Sy His economic views receive attention, 11.    Bib.: Dict. Nat.… …   The makers of Canada

  • Smith, Adam — (1723 1790)    Philosopher and economist, b. at Kirkcaldy, Fife, the s. of the Controller of Customs there. His f. d. shortly before his birth. The first and only adventure in his tranquil life was his being kidnapped by gipsies. After being at… …   Short biographical dictionary of English literature

  • Smith — Smith, Adam …   Philosophy dictionary

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”