Adam Smith

(baptised 16 June 1723 – 17 July 1790)

Adam Smith (1723 - 1790)

Adam Smith

Adam Smith was a Scottish moral philosopher and a pioneer of political economics.

He was one of the key figures of the Scottish Enlightenment and was part of a brilliant intellectual circle that included David Hume, John Home, Lord Hailes and William Robertson.

In 1764, Smith left Glasgow to travel in Europe where met a number of leading European intellectuals including Voltaire, Rousseau and Quesnay.

Religious views

There has been considerable scholarly debate about the nature of Smith’s religious views. Smith’s father had a strong interest in Christianity and belonged to the moderate wing of the Church of Scotland.

Smith received the The Snell Exhibition – an annual scholarship awarded to a student of the University of Glasgow to allow them to undertake postgraduate study at Balliol College, Oxford. There he rejected Christianity and it is generally believed that he returned to Scotland as a deist.

Economist Ronald Coase has challenged the view that Smith was a deist, stating that while Smith may have referred to the “Great Architect of the Universe” in his works, other scholars have “very much exaggerated the extent to which Adam Smith was committed to a belief in a personal God.

He based this on analysis of a remark in The Wealth of Nations where Smith writes that the curiosity of mankind about the “great phenomena of nature” such as “the generation, the life, growth and dissolution of plants and animals” has led men to “enquire into their causes”.

Coase also notes Smith’s observation that “[s]uperstition first attempted to satisfy this curiosity, by referring all those wonderful appearances to the immediate agency of the gods.”

Smith is memorialised by a statue on the rear of Burlington House, London. He is also featured on the British £20 note.

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