Adam Smith

Philosopher, Author

1723 – 1790

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Who was Adam Smith?

Adam Smith was a Scottish moral philosopher and a pioneer of political economy. One of the key figures of the Scottish Enlightenment, Smith is best known for two classic works: The Theory of Moral Sentiments, and An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations. The latter, usually abbreviated as The Wealth of Nations, is considered his magnum opus and the first modern work of economics. Smith is cited as the "father of modern economics" and is still among the most influential thinkers in the field of economics today.

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, leading him to collaborate with David Hume during the Scottish Enlightenment. Smith obtained a professorship at Glasgow teaching moral philosophy, and during this time he 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. Smith laid the foundations of classical free market economic theory. The Wealth of Nations was a precursor to the modern academic discipline of economics. In this and other works, he expounded upon how rational self-interest and competition can lead to economic prosperity. Smith was controversial in his own day and his general approach and writing style were often satirized by Tory writers in the moralizing tradition of William Hogarth and Jonathan Swift. In 2005, The Wealth of Nations was named among the 100 Best Scottish Books of all time. Former UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, it is said, used to carry a copy of the book in her handbag.

Famous Quotes:

  • The mind is so rarely disturbed, but that the company of friend will restore it to some degree of tranquility and sedateness.
  • With the great part of rich people, the chief employment of riches consists in the parade of riches.
  • Virtue is more to be feared than vice, because its excesses are not subject to the regulation of conscience.
  • Man, an animal that makes bargains.
  • The real price of everything, what everything really costs to the man who wants to acquire it, is the toil and trouble of acquiring it.
  • Science is the great antidote to the poison of enthusiasm and superstition.
  • Humanity is the virtue of a woman, generosity that of a man.
  • Happiness never lays its finger on its pulse.
  • To found a great empire for the sole purpose of raising up a people of customers, may at first sight appear a project fit only for a nation of shopkeepers. It is, however, a project altogether unfit for a nation of shopkeepers, but extremely fit for a nation that is governed by shopkeepers.
  • What can be added to the happiness of a man who is in health, out of debt, and has a clear conscience?

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Jun 5, 1723
  • Deism
  • Scottish people
  • Scotland
  • University of Glasgow
  • Balliol College
  • University of Edinburgh
  • Kirkcaldy High School
    (1729 - 1737)
  • University of Oxford
  • Rector, University of Glasgow
    (1787 - 1789)
  • University of Edinburgh
  • University of Glasgow
    (1751 - )
Lived in
  • Toulouse
Jul 17, 1790
Resting place
Canongate Kirkyard

on July 23, 2013


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