This April, the OUP Philosophy team honors Adam Smith (1723-1790) as their Philosopher of the Month. Smith was an eminent Scottish moral philosopher and the founder of modern economics, best-known for his book, The Wealth of Nations (1776) which was highly influential in the development of Western capitalism. In it, he outlined the theory of the division of labour and proposed the theory of laissez-faire. Hence instead of mercantilism, Smith saw that government should not interfere in economic affairs as free trade increased wealth. Smith also wrote the philosophical work The Theory of Moral Sentiment, in which he considered sympathy as the most important moral sentiment – the knowledge that one shares others’ feelings and our ability to understand the situation of the other person – and this fellow feeling we have with others help us to know whether our action or the action of another person is good or bad and conducive towards some good end.
Smith was more of an Epicurean rather than a Stoic. He shared David Hume’s views on morals and economics and inherited from his teacher Francis Hutcheson the spectator theory of virtue, a form of psychological naturalism which views moral good as a particular kind of pleasure, that of a spectator watching virtue at work.
For more on Adam Smith’s life and work, browse our interactive timeline below:
Featured Image: The painting of Edinburgh characters in the eighteenth century. Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.