AdamSmithWorks Teaching Resources
In this month’s Educational Resource Collection we are (re)introducing Adam Smith, the moral philosopher, political thinker, professor of rhetoric and jurisprudence, father of economics and so much more. Adam Smith was a prominent figure of the Scottish Enlightenment and one of the world’s great polymaths.
Adam Smith’s first book is one on moral philosophy: The Theory of Moral Sentiments. Over the course of his life, Smith revisited this work through six editions, indicating the importance he placed on this twenty year project. In this work he depicts us as social beings, who learn sociability through feedback loops from our relationships with others. The expansion of the idea of sympathy to include all fellow feelings we share with others, no matter the passion (grief, misery, joy, happiness) was a significant part of his moral theory, which was influenced by his close friend David Hume but uniquely his own. In Theory of Moral Sentiments Smith also introduces variations of a unique impartial spectator that guides our conduct. Through eloquent stories of human behavior such as ‘The Poor Man’s Son” the lure of ‘The Misfortune of Kings’, and the warning of ‘The Man of System’, Smith richly depicts the multiple points of his multi-layered theory.
A guiding principle and famous quotation from this work is:
“Man naturally desires, not only to be loved, but to be lovely.”
Later in life, after delivering many lectures at the University of Glasgow for which student notes remain, he wrote his most famous work, An Inquiry Into the Nature and Causes of The Wealth of Nations. This Inquiry, so appropriately titled, covers multiple topics that are wrestled with and parsed by scholars and students worldwide, including this book's relationship to his first great book. Why is it that after 250 years, Smith’s work is still widely read? How is it that his writings on division of labor, commerce and competitive enterprise, international trade, political economy, education, religion, jurisprudence, and more engage and resonate with the modern reader? What enabled this man of modest means to rise as an influential philosopher, economist, political thinker, and father of what would later become the study of economics?
Among many well-known quotations from this work are:
“It 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 self-interest.”
“No society can surely be flourishing and happy, of which the greater part of the members are poor and miserable.”
We hope you will join us this school year in exploring a monthly curated collection of AdamSmithWorks Teaching Resources inspired by insights from Adam Smith’s body of work, including posthumously published essays. Each month we will include a primary reading of Smith’s along with related resources in a variety of media that might encourage exploration by both teachers and students. As always, we encourage your feedback to inform our efforts in providing you with useful and timely collections.
Stay tuned for next month’s collection on Sympathy!
~ The AdamSmithWorks Educational Resource Team