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Adam Smith (1) (1723–1790)

Author of The Wealth of Nations

For other authors named Adam Smith, see the disambiguation page.

119+ Works 11,372 Members 74 Reviews 17 Favorited

About the Author

Adam Smith (1723-1790) was a key figure in the Scottish Enlightenment. Born in Scotland and educated at Glasgow and Oxford universities, he was a professor of logic and later chair of moral philosophy at Glasgow University. Smith wrote two major classics, The Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759) and show more The Wealth of Nations (1776), earning him a reputation as "the Father of Economics." show less
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Works by Adam Smith

The Wealth of Nations (1776) 6,199 copies, 47 reviews
The Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759) 1,553 copies, 14 reviews
Wealth of Nations (Great Minds Series) (1986) 249 copies, 2 reviews
The Invisible Hand (2008) 162 copies
Lectures on Jurisprudence (1976) 132 copies
The Essential Adam Smith (1986) 115 copies, 2 reviews
The Wisdom of Adam Smith (1976) 47 copies
Vive l'Etat ! (2012) 3 copies
Wealth of Nations 3 copies, 1 review
Poverty and wealth (1982) 1 copy
Essays 1 copy
Mano invisible, La (2013) 1 copy
Economistas Políticos (2001) 1 copy

Associated Works

An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding (1748) — Contributor, some editions — 3,895 copies, 27 reviews
The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind (1895) — Introduction, some editions — 996 copies, 7 reviews
Taking Sides: Clashing Views in Business Ethics and Society (1990) — Contributor, some editions — 72 copies, 1 review
The Grim Reader: Writings on Death, Dying, and Living On (1997) — Contributor — 61 copies
Classics of Modern Political Theory : Machiavelli to Mill (1996) — Contributor — 49 copies
British Moralists 1650-1800, Vol. 1 Hobbes-Gay (1969) — Contributor — 20 copies


Common Knowledge



There are two non-religious books that have impacted the world in the last two and a half centuries, both dealing with economics that would result in dueling worldviews. The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith was published the same year as the signing of the Declaration of Independence by the nation that would be his “champion” in the 20th century.

The predominate economic thought of the 18th century was mercantilism that sought to maximize exports and minimize imports to accumulate resources, i.e. money. Yet Smith viewed this theory and the French theory that focused solely on land value as inadequate for the growing Industrial Revolution that is just commencing, and this his magnum opus was a paradigm shift for economics. However, for many of certain of today’s defenders and proponents of Smith, they claim fly in the face of the author’s actual words including the very lauded phrase “invisible hand”. But even as Smith’s defenders twist his words, some of his detractors overlook many of his passages that support their critiques of him or what is thought he says by those who use his words out of context. Though this is primarily a philosophical treatise on economics that doesn’t stop Smith from revealing his antislavery views as well as his belief that competition in religion would lead to a more tolerate government—this later point would influence James Madison and the separation of church and state. While these two non-economic points were interwoven within the text as a way to emphasize Smith’s economic arguments, Smith’s use of economic data—or overabundant use—was detrimental to the book especially in his digressions and in the last chapter of Book V when covering Public Debt when he went over the history of England/Great Britain’s debt he could have literally halved the section and had a stronger argument to end his treatise. Smith’s very readable treatise comes in at over 1200 pages in this edition and there are many chapters that like the chapter on Public Debt could have been shortened and been just as, if not more, powerful in argument.

The Wealth of Nations is Adam Smith’s magnum opus that resulted in him becoming the “Father of Capitalism” and has been one of the most important economic books of all time, along with Karl Marx’s Das Kapital, and the world has been debating his work ever since.
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mattries37315 | 46 other reviews | Jun 25, 2024 |
An exposition relying on common sense moral realism to explore why people maintain the moral frameworks and structures they do. Smith seems to rely heavily on the premise that sympathy/empathy is a primary driver for the kind of ways people behave.

That's a very short summary of a much longer and expansive presentation. Much of the time I was not quite really sure what I was reading. There's not much appeal to any other kind of authority other than what an 18th century Scotsman who traveled around the United Kingdom and France and heard some stories about America would accept based on his experience. In this respect the difference between the past and present proves quite vast; one comes to realize quickly how much of what we today accept and believe about people and their behaviors should have some kind of basis in psychiatry, sociology, and results from experiments and studies in those domains. Granted, neither existed in the middle of the 18th century, and so that's not exactly Smith's fault.

Thus, as a relic of a former age and part of the heritage upon which later belief systems were built, this volume has value. Just accepting his conclusions based on his premises would, however, prove woefully insufficient today.
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deusvitae | 13 other reviews | May 4, 2024 |
Theory of Moral Sentiments by Adam Smith

-PRINT: COPYRIGHT: (1759) 10/3/2009 ; ISBN979-8767293278; PUBLISHER: Independently published; LENGTH: 311 pages) [Info from Amazon]
-DIGITAL: COPYRIGHT: (1759) 11/14/2021 ; ISBN: 1090273142; PUBLISHER: Uplifting Publications; LENGTH: 440 pages; 563 KB) [Info from Amazon]
*AUDIO: COPYRIGHT: (1759) 7/30/2020; PUBLISHER: Author’s Republic; LENGTH: 16 hours (approx.); Unabridged. [Info from Libby-LAPL--the primary version I consumed-Goodreads doesn't list this version]
(Film: No).


-SELECTION: I learned of this publication when reading “Wealth of Nations”. This was said to be a foundation for that.
-ABOUT: Descriptions of sympathy, passions, vices, strengths, gaining society’s approval. . There are 188 (give or take one or two) instances of “approbation” and 40 (give or take one or two) instances of “disapprobation”. The approval of one’s fellow man seems to be the primary theme.
-LIKED: At some point, this reminded me a little of “Emotional Intelligence”. Smith references many philosophers, both ancient and what would have been current for him. Of interest is that he does not refer to God, but seems to assign a feminine Director of Nature that position-
-DISLIKED: The narration was sometimes difficult to follow--an occasional slur of a word, an occasional intonation that sounded disconnected from the subject, by either being assigned to the sentence before or the sentence after the one it seemed it should belong to, but I can’t imagine this was an easy work to read. It was long, at times seeming repetitive-or unnecessarily so.
-OVERALL: Enjoyed. I’m a novice to philosophy so this was always interesting but at times incomprehensible.

AUTHOR: Adam Smith: “Adam Smith FRSA (baptised 16 June [O.S. 5 June] 1723[5] – 17 July 1790) was a Scottish[a] economist and philosopher who was a pioneer in the thinking of political economy and key figure during the Scottish Enlightenment.[7] Seen by some as "The Father of Economics"[8] or "The Father of Capitalism",[9] he wrote two classic works, The Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759) and An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations (1776). The latter, often abbreviated as The Wealth of Nations, is considered his magnum opus and the first modern work that treats economics as a comprehensive system and as an academic discipline. Smith refuses to explain the distribution of wealth and power in terms of God's will and instead appeals to natural, political, social, economic and technological factors and the interactions between them. Among other economic theories, the work introduced Smith's idea of absolute advantage.[10]
Smith studied social philosophy at the University of Glasgow and at Balliol College, Oxford, where he was one of the first students to benefit from scholarships set up by fellow Scot John Snell. After graduating, he delivered a successful series of public lectures at the University of Edinburgh,[11] leading him to collaborate with David Hume during the Scottish Enlightenment. Smith obtained a professorship at Glasgow, teaching moral philosophy and during this time, wrote and published The Theory of Moral Sentiments. In his later life, he took a tutoring position that allowed him to travel throughout Europe, where he met other intellectual leaders of his day.” [ ___Amazon.com ]

NARRATOR: John Klickman: [No bio info found online.]

GENRE: Nonfiction; Philosophy



SUBJECTS: Approbation, sympathy, empathy, morality, honesty, deceit, philosophy; casuistry; psychology; sociology; history;

SAMPLE QUOTATION: From “Of the Manner in Which Different Authors Have Treated of the Practical Rules of Morality”
“Frankness and openness conciliate confidence. We trust the man who seems willing to trust us. We see clearly, we think, the road by which he means to conduct us, and we abandon ourselves with pleasure to his guidance and direction. Reserve and concealment, on the contrary, call forth diffidence. We are afraid to follow the man who is going we do not know where. The great pleasure of conversation and society, besides, arises from a certain correspondence of sentiments and opinions, from a certain harmony of minds, which, like so many musical, instruments coincide and keep time with one another. But this most delightful harmony cannot be obtained unless there is a free communication of sentiments and opinions. We all desire, upon this account, to feel how each other is affected, to penetrate into each other’s bosoms, and to observe the sentiments and affections which really subsist there. The man who indulges us in this natural passion, who invites us into his heart, who, as it were, sets open the gates of his breast to us, seems to exercise a species of hospitality more delightful than any other. No man, who is in ordinary good temper, can fail of pleasing, if he has the courage to utter his real sentiments as he feels them, and because he feels them. It is this unreserved sincerity which renders even the prattle of a child agreeable. How weak and imperfect soever the views of the open-hearted, we take pleasure to enter into them, and endeavour, as much as we can, to bring down our own understanding to the level of their capacities, and to regard every subject in the particular light in which they appear to have considered it. This passion to discover the real sentiments of others is naturally so strong, that it often degenerates into a troublesome and impertinent curiosity to pry into those secrets of our neighbours which they have very justifiable reasons for concealing; and upon many occasions it requires prudence and a strong sense of propriety to govern this, as well as all the other passions of human nature, and to reduce it to that pitch which any impartial spectator can approve of. To disappoint this curiosity, however, when it is kept within proper bounds, and aims at nothing which there can be any just reason for concealing, is equally disagreeable in its turn. The man who eludes our most innocent questions, who gives no satisfaction to our most inoffensive inquiries, who plainly wraps himself up in impenetrable obscurity, seems, as it were, to build a wall about his breast. We run forward to get within it with all the eagerness of harmless curiosity, and feel ourselves all at once pushed back with the rudest and most offensive violence.

The man of reserve and concealment, though seldom a very amiable character, is not disrespected or despised. He seems to feel coldly towards us, and we feel as coldly towards him; he is not much praised or beloved, but he is as little hated or blamed. He very seldom, however, has occasion to repent of his caution, and is generally disposed rather to value himself upon the prudence of his reserve. Though his conduct, therefore, may have been very faulty, and sometimes even hurtful, he can very seldom be disposed to lay his case before the casuists, or to fancy that he has any occasion for their acquittal or approbation.

It is not always so with the man who, from false information, from inadvertency, from precipitancy and rashness, has involuntarily deceived. Though it should be in a matter of little consequence, in telling a piece of common news, for example, if he is a real lover of truth, he is ashamed of his own carelessness, and never fails to embrace the first opportunity of making the fullest acknowledgments. If it is in a matter of some consequence, his contrition is still greater; and if any unlucky or fatal consequence has followed from his misinformation, he can scarce ever forgive himself. Though not guilty, he feels himself to be in the highest degree what the ancients called piacular, and is anxious and eager to make every sort of atonement in his power. Such a person might frequently be disposed to lay his case before the casuists, who have in general been very favourable to him, and though they have sometimes justly condemned him for rashness, they have universally acquitted him of the ignominy of falsehood.

But the man who had the most frequent occasion to consult them was the man of equivocation and mental reservation, the man who seriously and deliberately meant to deceive, but who, at the same time, wished to flatter himself that he had really told the truth. With him they have dealt variously. When they approved very much of the motives of his deceit, they have sometimes acquitted him, though, to do them justice, they have in general, and much more frequently condemned him.

The chief subjects of the works of the casuists, therefore, were the conscientious regard that is due to the rules of justice; how far we ought to respect the life and property of our neighbour; the duty of restitution; the laws of chastity and modesty, and wherein consisted what in their language are called the sins of concupiscence; the rules of veracity, and the obligation of oaths, promises, and contracts of all kinds.

It may be said in general of the works of the casuists, that they attempted, to no purpose, to direct, by precise rules, what it belongs to feeling and sentiment only to judge of. How is it possible to ascertain by rules the exact point at which, in every case, a delicate sense of justice begins to run into a frivolous and weak scrupulosity of conscience? When it is that secrecy and reserve begin to grow into dissimulation? How far an agreeable irony may be carried, and at what precise point it begins to degenerate into a detestable lie? What is the highest pitch of freedom and ease of behaviour which can be regarded as graceful and becoming, and when it is that it first begins to run into a negligent and thoughtless licentiousness? With regard to all such matters, what would hold good in any one case would scarce do so exactly in any other, and what constitutes the propriety and happiness of behaviour varies in every case with the smallest variety of situation. Books of casuistry, therefore, are generally as useless as they are commonly tiresome. They could be of little use to one who should consult them upon occasion, even supposing their decisions to be just; because, notwithstanding the multitude of cases collected in them, yet, upon account of the still greater variety of possible circumstances, it is a chance if, among all those cases, there be found one exactly parallel to that under consideration. One who is really anxious to do his duty, must be very weak if he can imagine that he has much occasion for them; and with regard to one who is negligent of it, the style of those writings is not such as is likely to awaken him to more attention. None of them tend to animate us to what is generous and noble. None of them tend to soften us to what is gentle and humane. Many of them, on the contrary, tend rather to teach us to chicane with our own consciences, and, by their vain subtilties, serve to authorize innumerable evasive refinements with regard to the most essential articles of our duty. That frivolous accuracy which they attempted to introduce into subjects which do not admit of it, almost necessarily betrayed them into those dangerous errors, and at the same time rendered their works dry and disagreeable, abounding in abtruse and metaphysical distinctions, but incapable of exciting in the heart any of those emotions which it is the principal use of books of morality to excite.”

RATING: 3.5 stars. As always, this reflects my understanding more than the author’s writing.

STARTED-FINISHED 6/19/23 - 7/2/23

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TraSea | 13 other reviews | Apr 29, 2024 |
A great book, but not for everyone. Amazing insights which are still as valid today as 1775 when the book was written.

Very detailed, great analysis and I really learned a lot from this book. Hard to read in sections, as it is written in very verbose, antiquated English.

I would recommend it if you are interested in Economics and want to gain a perspective from first principles.
rendier | 46 other reviews | Jan 25, 2024 |



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