Great Economists Since Petty and Boisguilbert
Edited by Gilbert Faccarello and Heinz D. Kurz
Chapter 11: Adam Smith (1723–1790)
Adam Smith is one of the great founding figures of the modern social sciences; indeed, he is commonly regarded as the seminal figure in the creation of one particular social science, economics or political economy. Smith also stands high in the pantheon of economic and political liberalism. The intertwining of these two dimensions of the retrospective image of Smith is itself symptomatic of the particular proneness of social science to ideological influence. Two roughly coinciding events of the 1970s reflect this characteristic of Smith’s standing as a social theorist. From the bicentenary year of his most famous work, An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations (Smith 1776 ; hereafter WN), the publication of the “Glasgow Edition of the Works and Correspondence of Adam Smith” (6 vols, 1976–83) provided a comprehensive scholarly edition of all his extant writings. At about the same time, in the anglophone world in particular, there occurs the rise of “neo-conservatism” or “neo-liberalism”, with these resurgent conservative or liberal political currents claiming to be in the intellectual tradition of Adam Smith, and aligning themselves with the 1976 celebrations of his book. This intertwining of social science and politics invites some scepticism concerning the contemporary image of Smith and a quest for the historical Adam Smith. Life Adam Smith was born in Kirkcaldy, Scotland (baptized 5 June), into a moderately well off family, though his father died five months before Smith was born. From the age of 14 he attended the University...
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