Handbook on the History of Economic Analysis Volume II

Handbook on the History of Economic Analysis Volume II

Schools of Thought in Economics

Edited by Gilbert Faccarello and Heinz D. Kurz

Volume II contains entries on the major schools of economic thought and analysis. These schools differ with regard to their 'vision' of the working of the economic system, the major forces and interactions that shape its path, and the policy recommendations proposed. At any moment of time, several such schools typically compete with one another, striving for dominance within the economic and political discourse. Each Handbook can be read individually and acts as a self-contained volume in its own right. It can be purchased separately or as part of a three-volume set.

Chapter 8: Scottish Enlightenment

Anthony Brewer

Subjects: economics and finance, history of economic thought


The second half of the eighteenth century saw an astonishing outburst of intellectual creativity in Scotland covering a great range of disciplines, from the physical sciences to economic and social studies and the humanities – this is what is now called the Scottish Enlightenment. As far as economics is concerned, the main figures in the Scottish Enlightenment are David Hume (1711–1776; his main economic work was included in his Essays, Moral, Political, and Literary, 1752), James Steuart (1712–1780; Inquiry into the Principles of Political Oeconomy, 1767) and Adam Smith (1723–1790; Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, 1776). Other figures who played a lesser but still significant role in the development of economic thinking in Scotland include Francis Hutcheson, Adam Ferguson, John Dalrymple and Lord Kames (Henry Home). A major theme of enlightenment thinking was progress, including, but not limited to, economic progress. A major theme of Hume’s economic writings is an analysis of the emergence and development of a commercial society, that is, a society producing, consuming and trading in a wide variety of manufactured goods. This is an analysis of what we might now call economic development. It is primarily qualitative, not quantitative, and it is not clear whether it is a once-and- for- all process, so that it is not necessarily going to continue into the future. Smith took the next critical step, incorporating capital and capital accumulation as essential elements of a theory of growth. We now take continued economic growth for granted. This way of thinking was largely a product of the Scottish Enlightenment.

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