Adam Smith (1723-1790)

Adam Smith FRSA (16 June 1723 NS (5 June 1723 OS) – 17 July 1790) was a Scottish moral philosopher, pioneer of political economy, and a key figure in the Scottish Enlightenment. He is best known for 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, usually abbreviated as The Wealth of Nations, is considered his magnum opus and the first modern work of economics.


(∗ indicates especially relevant reading.)

I. The Founding Statement

*Smith, A., Theory of Moral Sentiments, 1759, (Prometheus Books, 2000).
*Smith, A. Wealth of Nations, 1776, (Modern Library, ed. E. Cannan. (1937)) Schumpeter, J., History of Economic Analysis, Oxford University Press, 1954,
Viner, J., “Adam Smith and Laissez-faire,” Journal of Political Economy, 1927, 35,
Rosenberg, N. “The Institutional Aspects of the Wealth of Nations”, Journal of

Political Economy, 1960, 68, 557–570.

Hayek, F., “Dr. Bernard Mandeville” and “Adam Smith’s Message in Today’s
Language,” in New Studies in Philosophy, Politics, …, Chicago, 1978.
Fleischacker, S., On Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations, Princeton University Press,
Phillipson, N., Adam Smith: An Englightened Life, Yale University Press, 2010.

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 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 developed the concept of division of labour, and 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 satirised by Tory writers in the moralising tradition of William Hogarth and Jonathan Swift. In 2005, The Wealth of Nations was named among the 100 Best Scottish Books of all time.

The minor planet 12838 Adamsmith was named in his memory.

Theory Of Moral Sentiments (1759)

Lectures on Jurisprudence (1762-1764)

The Wealth of Nations (1776)

Essays and Lectures (1762-1795)

Secondary Literature