The Rise of Political Economy in the Scottish Enlightenment

By Tatsuya Sakamoto; Hideo Tanaka | Go to book overview

Editors' Introduction

This book seeks to provide a comprehensive view of the rise and progress of political economy in eighteenth-century Scotland with a special emphasis upon its internal connections with the Scottish Enlightenment. Apart from numerous works written concerning eighteenth-century Scottish economists or from equally numerous histories of economic thought including accounts of Scottish thinkers of the same period, only a few works have been written on the same subject as the present volume's. A work of distinguished scholarly standard which easily comes to mind is Wealth and Virtue: The Shaping of Political Economy in the Scottish Enlightenment edited by I. Hont and M. Ignatieff (Cambridge University Press, 1983). The book gave rise to a number of substantial academic debates, which continue to be live and unresolved issues. The academic excellence of the book has guaranteed its land-mark status in the literature which remains unchallenged to this day. However, the specific subject matter itself, the ambiguous relationships between wealth and virtue in the shaping of political economy in the Scottish Enlightenment, seems to have curiously faded away from the centre of Scottish Enlightenment studies in the West over the past two decades. We venture to assert that the original point of issue has gradually been stripped of its economic content and its central focus has completely shifted to purely political and philosophical issues centring around the simple dichotomy between wealth and virtue.

It is not difficult to explain the reason this has happened. In the first place, the contributors to Wealth and Virtue were, with just a few exceptions, historians of political, and not of economic, thought. The disciplinary bias undoubtedly had an essential bearing upon the overall problem setting of the book. Notwithstanding the methodological caution with which some contributors like Nicholas Phillipson, John Robertson, Donald Winch and, above all, John Pocock treated the subject, there is a sense in which we can safely claim that a danger of simplistic dichotomy, an either/or approach, between wealth and virtue or between natural jurisprudence and classical republican traditions crept in to the book. This initial methodological limitation of the scope and perspective inevitably determined the way in which all ensuing works addressing the same issue have discussed the tension between wealth and virtue in the Scottish Enlightenment. Indeed we should not forget the

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