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Adam Smith: An Enlightened Life (The Lewis Walpole Series in Eighteenth-Century Culture and History) Hardcover – October 5, 2010
"Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress"
Is the world really falling apart? Is the ideal of progress obsolete? Cognitive scientist and public intellectual Steven Pinker urges us to step back from the gory headlines and prophecies of doom, and instead, follow the data: In seventy-five jaw-dropping graphs, Pinker shows that life, health, prosperity, safety, peace, knowledge, and happiness are on the rise. Learn more
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Adam Smith (1723â90) is celebrated all over the world as the author of The Wealth of Nations and the founder of modern economics. A few of his ideas--that of the âinvisible handâ of the market and that âIt is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interestâ have become iconic. Yet Smith saw himself primarily as a philosopher rather than an economist and would never have predicted that the ideas for which he is now best known were his most important. This book shows the extent to which The Wealth of Nations and Smithâs other great work, The Theory of Moral Sentiments, were part of a larger scheme to establish a grand âScience of Man,â one of the most ambitious projects of the European Enlightenment, which was to encompass law, history, and aesthetics as well as economics and ethics, and which was only half complete on Smithâs death in 1790.
Nick Phillipson reconstructs Smithâs intellectual ancestry and shows what Smith took from, and what he gave to, in the rapidly changing intellectual and commercial cultures of Glasgow and Edinburgh as they entered the great years of the Scottish Enlightenment. Above all he explains how far Smithâs ideas developed in dialogue with those of his closest friend, the other titan of the age, David Hume. (20101018)
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Yale has done justice to this wonderful work. The production is a delight to see and to hold. It provides the best answer to e-books because we buyers will surely enjoying pulling it from our shelves, looking at the illustrations, and reading it again.
In reality, Smith was one of the greatest figures of the Scottish Enlightenment, a disciple of David Hume, and a profound philosopher of human nature and social order. "Adam Smith: An Enlightened Life" restores him to history. It is excellently written and handsomely produced. I enjoyed it a lot. I took off one star for two main reasons: First, it assumes that the reader has considerable knowledge of 18th century British letters and politics; second, it doesn't do justice to the detailed arguments in The Wealth of Nations -- an omission which will disappoint those readers (probably most) who take up a Smith biography in order to learn more about the history of economics.
While there is little in the way of private writing on which to base anything, because Smith instructed that all his private papers be destroyed at his death, Nicholas Phillipson has written an able biography of the development of Smith's ideas based on his public writings, his unpublished writings, and the notes of several of his students taken down in lecture. The story he tells is fascinating, describing the economic and political circumstances around Smith's life.
The author begins, as with all biographies, in Smith's childhood home and city, Kirkcaldy. Smith lived in the time when Scotland was moving from being a poor country reliant on spinning and meager farms for its economic basis through the industrial revolution, and so his education and thinking were grounded in the experience of those times. He began his life in trying to understand how this massive change came in his world. From here, Smith moved into teaching at a growing college that was closely tied to the town and the town's business interests, so he once again remained on the economic side of academic life -- or rather saw life through an economic and mercantile lens.
The economic history is well known, and well plied in various textbooks. What the author next brings to light is the most interesting: Smith's ties to the Enlightenment. It is the combination of Enlightenment thinking and commercial growth that led to Smith's ultimate quest, to explain the rise of the "moral sentiment," or rather the rise of morality in human society. While many today consider the Enlightenment to be a wide growth of knowledge as science threw off the shackles of religion, the reality is far different.
The Enlightenment, in the end, was removing the Judeo-Christian foundation from science to replace it with another set of religious beliefs, a Deistic/Darwinistic world view that places man at the center of all things. When Smith applied Enlightenment thinking to the economic growth he had seen, he came to the conclusion that morality comes about in human communities because of the need for the rich to protect their goods from the poor -- hence, all morality is essentially based on developing economies.
"Till there be property there can be no government, the very end of which is to secure wealth, and to defend the rich from the poor." -quoted on page 174
Smith was essentially attempting to answer the question, "if there is no God, then why are there morals," without asserting there is no God. Based on this biography, he didn't want to argue against God directly, but rather to simply leave God out in the cold, a small, useless figure that doesn't have any real impact in our actual lives. Man has built it all, from civilization to morals; God need not apply. While the division of labor, Smith's fundamental addition to the body of economic theory, is useful and solid, his theory of morality attempted to find solidity in commerce where it could not be found in the various Enlightenment branches of Darwinistic thought.
This is a very solid and readable biography of a man who has impacted our modern worldview in ways very few people actually understand, and well worth reading.
Great read for anyone interested in Smith or history of economic thought in general.
The owl of wisdom flies at night. After it's over, then we understand. About capitalism, that's the feeling I get from this book.