Political Social Thought
Adam Smith was a Scottish social philosopher, political economist, educator, scholar, author and journalist. As such, he was one of the most influential figures of the 18th century Scottish Enlightenment. His two most notable works are the Theory of Moral Sentiments, and An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations which is often shortened to simply Wealth of Nations. Smith was known as an Ethicist, and Wealth of Nations was Smith’s first work dedicated to the study of political economy. This work is the reason why Smith is cited as the “father of modern economics” and is credited with the conceptualization of modern day capitalism.
The exact birthdate of Smith is unknown, however, church records put his baptism on June 5, 1723, in Kirkcaldy, Scotland. Smith was a bright young man who entered the University of Glasgow when he was 14 year old. There he studied social philosophy and in 1740, he attended Oxford. In 1748, Smith began giving public lectures at the University of Edinburgh where he later met and began his lifelong friendship with the noted Scottish economist and philosopher David Hume. Smith and Hume collaborated often during the Scottish Enlightenment, and this provided the means for Smith securing a job teaching Moral Philosophy at the University of Glasgow.
During Smith’s time at Glasgow, he completed his first work entitled Theory of Moral Sentiments. The work was initially published in 1759, although he continued revising it until his death. In this work, the accomplished author examines all the great moral thinkers of his time. This work was strongly influenced by Francis Hutcheson, a Scottish reverend who is noted to have influenced many of the great thinkers during the Scottish Enlightenment, including Smith’s friend David Hume. Hutcheson divided moral philosophy into four parts: Ethics and Virtue; Private rights and Natural liberty; Familial rights (called Economics); and State and Individual rights (called Politics). Hutcheson and many other writers at this time believed that man acted in his own self-interest in relation to morality and other issues with little to no influence from other factors. Smith, on the other hand, believed that man has a natural inclination towards self-interest, but there are also other factors which influence man’s moral judgment.
In Theory of Moral Sentiments, Smith proposes that conscience is a result of social relationships. He believed that as humans we have a natural tendency to care about the well-being of others for no other reason than the pleasure one gets from seeing others happy. “How selfish so-ever man may be supposed, there are evidently some principles in his nature, which interest him in the fortunes of others, and render their happiness necessary to him, though he derives nothing from it, except the pleasure of seeing it” (Smith 2). This is how he defines his theory of sympathy. This sympathy occurs either through having firsthand knowledge of one’s fortune or misfortune, or by having a vivid depiction of the fortune or misfortune of others.
On page 2, Section I Chapter I Paragraph 2, Smith writes:
“As we have no immediate experience of what other men feel, we can form no idea of the manner in which they are affected, but by conceiving what we ourselves should feel in the like situation. Though our brother is on the rack, as long as we ourselves are at our ease, our senses will never inform us of what he suffers. They never did, and never can, carry us beyond our own person, and it is by the imagination only that we can form any conception of what are his sensations. Neither can that faculty help us to this any other way, than by representing to us what would be our own, if we were in his case. It is the impressions of our own senses only, not those of his, which our imaginations copy. By the imagination, we place ourselves in his...
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Smith, Adam. An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations. Fifth ed. London: Methuen, 1904. Print.
Smith, Adam. "The Theory of Moral Sentiments PDF." Library of Economics. N.p., n.d. Web. 03 Dec. 2014.
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