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

Straight to the Source.

We are pleased to provide excerpts from original texts that include questions to guide discussion.

  • This excerpt is from Part III Ch II of Theory of Moral Sentiments: Of the love of Praise, and of that of Praise-worthiness; and of the dread of Blame, and of that of Blame-worthiness       
  • This excerpt is from Wealth of Nations Book I, Chapter II, Of the Principle which gives Occasion to the Division of Labour 

P.S. We're busily adding Reading Guides for Smith's texts... Wealth of Nations coming this Fall!

Lesson Plan: What Would Adam Smith Say?    

Many people associate Adam Smith with the idea that greed is good.  A short video clip from Wall Street (Gordon Gekko’s “greed is good” speech) will initially reinforce this fallacy.  This all NEW lesson plan from John S. Morton will disprove the initial impression and show that Smith’s ideas are based on a moral order.  Adam Smith was an advocate for self-interest, not greed.

Listen. Learn. Discuss: Will the Real Adam Smith Please Stand Up???

In this EconTalk episode Nobel Laureate Vernon Smith and James Otteson talk with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about Adam Smith in front of a live audience at Ball State University. Topics discussed include Smith's view of human nature, the relevance of Smith for philosophy and economics today, and the connection between Smith's two books, The Theory of Moral Sentiments and The Wealth of Nations.

After listening to the conversation, you can use these questions to start a discussion or as an assignment with your students.

For Further Exploration

Look for suggested bibliographies by topic, coming soon to AdamSmithWorks!

ASW Virtual Reading Groups

We've been having so much fun with The Infidel and the Professor, we decided to take on Smith's BFF himself next!
Sessions are Wednesdays, September 18, September 25, and October 2, from 5:00 - 6:00pm EST. Participants may acquire their own copy of Hume's book. It is also available online at Econlib. Participants who successfully complete all three sessions will receive an e-gift certificate from amazon after the program concludes.

You can find more information here.
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