Adam Smith

Adam Smith

Adam Smith, whose work The Wealth of Nations has become foundational for modern economics, was born in Kirkcaldy, Fife, Scotland, on June 16, 1723. Smith was raised by his mother, Margaret Douglas, as his father had died six months prior to his birth. With her husband dead, Margaret and her son developed a close relationship, and she was very supportive of his education. He went to a good secondary school until 1737, learning history, mathematics, writing, and Latin. At only fourteen years of age, Smith went to study moral philosophy at the University of Glasgow. This highly impacted his thoughts, and he is said to have ardently loved reason, liberty, and free speech. These things would make Smith a leader in the Scottish branch of the Enlightenment.

In 1740, Smith went down to Oxford to study at Balliol College, but he did not approve of the institution; he deemed their methods and teaching to be stifling, especially when they confiscated his copy of David Hume's Treatise on Human Nature. Still, he took advantage of Oxford's rich library and educated himself. Smith eventually could not stay any longer at Oxford, being unhappy and suffering from nervous fits. Oxford did not leaved Smith with any respect for English schools, and he saw Scottish education as far superior both intellectually and in the richness of the teaching there.

With such opinions in place, Smith himself engaged in a teaching career, beginning as a public lecturer in Edinburgh around 1748. These lectures betrayed the first evidences of his economic philosophy. The year 1750 brought an auspicious meeting between Smith and the philosopher David Hume, also a Scot, who had his own explanation of metaphysics and epistemology. The two became very close friends, and were both important to the Enlightenment project. Smith began teaching at Glasgow University the next year, and soon took over as chair of Moral Philosophy, a position that he delighted in. He was also writing at this time, and published The Theory of Moral Sentiments in 1759, a work that was so popular that many students left their institutions to become students of Smith at Glasgow. All the while, Smith's teaching was giving way to his thoughts on economics. He was highly respected by his students, who insisted that they pay him for a full term of teaching when he resigned mid-term to become a private tutor.

Smith was offered a tutoring job to a young duke, Henry Scott, which he commenced in 1764. This position took him all over Europe, where he was able to confer with leading intellectuals like Benjamin Franklin and Francois Quesnay. Quesnay was particularly interesting to Smith, as he was the leader of the Physiocrat school of political economics. Smith's tutoring ended in 1766 when Scott's brother died, and Smith decided to return to his hometown, where he began writing the extensive Wealth of Nations, the compendium of his economic philosophy. When it was published in 1776, it sold out within six months, sure evidence of its success. Smith was honored with memberships in both the Royal Society of London and the Literary Club.

In 1778, Smith went to live with his mother, and later founded the Royal Society of Edinburgh, not to be outdone by London. Smith was mostly active until his death on July 17, 1790, afflicted with illness. He is still praised for his contributions to economic thought, the Enlightenment movement, and to academia in general.

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Wealth of Nations
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