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Adam Smith

Adam Smith Adam Smith[2†]

Adam Smith (baptized June 5, 1723, Kirkcaldy, Fife, Scotland—died July 17, 1790, Edinburgh) was a Scottish social philosopher and political economist[1†][2†]. He is a towering figure in the history of economic thought[1†]. Known primarily for a single work—An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations (1776), the first comprehensive system of political economy[1†]. He is more properly regarded as a social philosopher whose economic writings constitute only the capstone to an overarching view of political and social evolution[1†].

Smith is instrumental in the rise of classical liberalism[1†]. He is seen by some as “The Father of Economics” or "The Father of Capitalism"[1†][2†]. He wrote two classic works, The Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759) and An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations (1776)[1†][2†]. The latter, often abbreviated as The Wealth of Nations, is considered his magnum opus and the first modern work that treats economics as a comprehensive system and as an academic discipline[1†][2†].

Smith studied social philosophy at the University of Glasgow and at Balliol College, Oxford[1†][2†]. After graduating, he delivered a successful series of public lectures at the University of Edinburgh[1†][2†], leading him to collaborate with David Hume during the Scottish Enlightenment[1†][2†]. Smith obtained a professorship at Glasgow, teaching moral philosophy[1†][2†].

Early Years and Education

Adam Smith was born in 1723 in Kirkcaldy, Scotland[1†][3†][4†][5†]. His father, also named Adam Smith, worked as a customs official, and his mother, Margaret Douglas, inherited a significant amount of land[1†][3†]. Smith’s father passed away two months before he was born[1†][4†][5†].

Smith displayed academic promise from an early age[1†][6†]. He received his elementary schooling in Kirkcaldy[1†]. At the age of 14, he entered the University of Glasgow[1†][5†][6†]. He studied under the influential philosopher Francis Hutcheson[1†][4†]. Smith later attended Balliol College at Oxford, graduating with extensive knowledge of European literature[1†][5†].

After graduating, Smith delivered a successful series of public lectures at the University of Edinburgh[1†][3†]. This led him to collaborate with David Hume during the Scottish Enlightenment[1†][3†]. Smith obtained a professorship at Glasgow, teaching moral philosophy[1†][3†].

Career Development and Achievements

Adam Smith’s career was marked by revolutionary contributions to economics and philosophy[7†][1†][8†][9†]. His economic theories, which challenged the prevailing mercantilist system, revolutionized world economics[7†]. Smith argued that a nation’s wealth is not the sum of its gold and silver, but the total of its commerce and production, what we today term as Gross Domestic Product (GDP)[7†].

Smith’s first major work, The Theory of Moral Sentiments, published in 1759, introduced several major philosophical breakthroughs related to charity and human ethics[7†][8†]. The treatise explained how human communication relies on sympathy; and that even though people are self-interested, they naturally like to help others[7†]. Smith argued that humans have a natural affinity for justice as it promotes the preservation of and propagation of society[7†].

His second work, An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, published in 1776, was one of the world’s first collected descriptions of what builds nations’ wealth[7†][1†][8†][9†]. It shaped the way the world conducted commerce for centuries to come[7†]. Moreover, it is one of the most influential books ever written and is still regarded as a fundamental work in classical economics[7†][1†][8†][9†].

Smith was a philosopher, a historian, and a political theorist[7†][10†]. His life work was dedicated to working out the moral, social, and political consequences – both good and bad – of the emerging capitalist and industrial economy in late 18th-century Britain[7†][10†].

First Publication of His Main Works

Adam Smith’s most significant works are “The Theory of Moral Sentiments” and “An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations”, often abbreviated as "The Wealth of Nations"[1†][11†].

Both of these works are concerned with self-interest and self-governance[1†][12†]. They represent Smith’s overarching view of political and social evolution[1†].

Analysis and Evaluation

Adam Smith’s work has been extensively analyzed and evaluated by scholars and economists over the years[13†][14†].

Smith’s success can be attributed not only to what he wrote but also to his use of language[13†][14†]. He engaged creatively in writing about the economy, and he tried to ensure that the reader is drawn into the text and informed by it[13†][14†]. His work is set in the cultural context of the eighteenth century, and he explored the lexical and conceptual inter-relations between his own work and the sources he consulted[13†][14†].

In “The Wealth of Nations”, Smith’s analysis of value and prices pivots on the concepts of real price, real measure of exchangeable value, natural price, market price, wages, rate of profits, and rents[13†][15†]. This structure is important for understanding the evolution of the way Smith presented his analysis from his earlier “Lectures on Jurisprudence” to "The Wealth of Nations"[13†][15†].

Smith’s work, particularly “The Wealth of Nations”, has been subject to various interpretations and evaluations, leading to ongoing debates among scholars, often referred to as "The Adam Smith Problem"[13†][16†].

Personal Life

Adam Smith was known to be a private individual and not much is known about his personal life[1†][2†]. He never married[1†][17†]. He was very close to his mother, who passed away six years before his own death[1†][17†]. Smith died after a painful illness and was buried in Canongate Kirkyard[1†][17†].

It’s important to note that while we know a bit about his personal life, much of Adam Smith’s life outside of his professional career remains a mystery[1†][2†].

Conclusion and Legacy

Adam Smith’s legacy is profound and far-reaching. He is hailed globally as the founder of modern economics[18†]. His ideas about the promise and pitfalls of globalization, his steadfast belief in the preservation of human dignity, and his concept of the “invisible hand” — the tendency of free markets to regulate themselves using competition, supply and demand, and self-interest — have formed the basis for theories of classical economics[18†][19†][20†].

Smith’s most notable contribution to the field of economics was his 1776 book, "An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations"[18†][19†]. This work is considered the first comprehensive system of political economy and is widely regarded as the founding text of economic science[18†][19†]. Smith argued that wealth is created via labor, and self-interest spurs people to use their resources to earn money[18†][19†].

Smith’s writings were studied by 20th-century philosophers, writers, and economists[18†][19†]. His ideas continue to influence economics today[18†][19†]. Smith suggested for the first time that “the wealth — and the health — of a nation was its ability to fund the consumption of average people, not the sovereign.” Smith argued that ordinary people pursuing their own — rather than a monarch’s or state’s — interests would result in a more productive society[18†][21†].

Despite his reputation, there was more to Adam Smith than a single book. His importance as a moral philosopher is now far better understood through recent study of "The Theory of Moral Sentiments"[18†]. His other works, on the nature of justice, science, and the expressive arts, are also recognized as major contributions to Enlightenment thought[18†].

In conclusion, Adam Smith’s work has left an indelible mark on the field of economics and continues to shape our understanding of economic principles today[18†][19†][18†][20†].

Key Information

References and Citations:

  1. Britannica - Adam Smith: Scottish philosopher [website] - link
  2. Wikipedia (English) - Adam Smith [website] - link
  3. World History - Adam Smith [website] - link
  4. Great Thinkers - Biography - Adam Smith [website] - link
  5. ThoughtCo - Biography of Adam Smith, Founding Father of Economics [website] - link
  6. University of Glasgow - Explore - Adam Smith - Life, work and legacy - Life [website] - link
  7. Learnodo Newtonic - 10 Major Achievements of Scottish Economist Adam Smith [website] - link
  8. Biography, Achievements, Facts & Quotations - Adam Smith [website] - link
  9. Adam Smith Institute - About Adam Smith [website] - link
  10. The Conversation - Five reasons Adam Smith remains Britain's most important economist, 300 years on [website] - link
  11. Britannica - The life and works of Adam Smith [website] - link
  12. History Hit - 10 Facts About Pioneering Economist Adam Smith [website] - link
  13. Taylor and Francis - Evaluating Adam Smith [website] - link
  14. Routledge - Evaluating Adam Smith - 1st Edition - William Henderson - Routledge Bo [website] - link
  15. Oxford Academic - The Oxford Handbook of Adam Smith - Adam Smith on Value and Prices [website] - link
  16. De Gruyter - The Adam Smith Problem Revisited: A Methodological Resolution [website] - link
  17. The Famous People - Adam Smith Biography [website] - link
  18. Panmure House - Adam Smith's Legacy [website] - link
  19. Investopedia - Adam Smith: Who He Was, Early Life, Accomplishments and Legacy [website] - link
  20. Google Books - Adam Smith: His Life, Thought, and Legacy [website] - link
  21. CBS Insights - Adam Smith’s 300th Birthday: Why His Legacy Is More Relevant Than Ever [website] - link
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