The Rise of Political Economy in the Scottish Enlightenment

By Tatsuya Sakamoto; Hideo Tanaka | Go to book overview
Save to active project


The 'Scottish Triangle' in the Shaping of Political Economy: David Hume, Sir James Steuart, and Adam Smith

Ikuo Omori

Mid-eighteenth century Scotland was both the birthplace and cradle of political economy. By the 'birth of political economy' is meant the re-integration of knowledge corresponding to the emergence of modern civilized societies under the influence of the Scottish Enlightenment. Separate and distinct from moral philosophy, politics or jurisprudence, a new learning called political economy was first systematized in the academic 'Triangle' made up of three Scotsmen: David Hume, Sir James Steuart and Adam Smith. Two distinct systems of political economy are involved in this 'Triangle', i.e. Steuart's The Principles of Political Economy (1767, Political Economy hereafter) and Smith's The Wealth of Nations (1776, WN hereafter). It goes without saying that their common precursor was Hume's Political Discourses (1752), an epoch-making work that analysed the emerging modern societies of both Scotland and England using the evolutionary and comparative methodology of social science. Besides accepting Hume's view of civilized society characterized by industry, knowledge and liberty, Steuart proposed a new science of political economy to supersede Hume's understanding of economic activities in a free and competitive market. In a sense, Smith did the same as an economist. It has generally been believed that he wrote WN with the strong but implicit aim of refuting Steuartian political economy.

What is the 'Scottish Triangle'?

When historians of economic thought talk of the 'Scottish Triangle', there is a tendency for them to imagine an isosceles triangle with Smith firmly located at the apex. 1 But is this configuration really valid? In other words, is no one but Smith the genuine founder of political economy? Evidence suggests that this is not necessarily the case. In particular, James Steuart should be recognized as the 'political economist' who created the first system of monetary economics. It was Steuart who initially made political economy stand on its own legs, independent from politics and jurisprudence. Smith followed close behind him in this respect. In this chapter I will show that the features in theory and practice of their economic viewpoints are not so much mutually exclusive-mercantile (protective) or classical (liberal)-as alternative to each other. 2

It should be mentioned that the three compatriots faced a common unre-


Notes for this page

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Cite this page

Cited page

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited page

Bookmark this page
The Rise of Political Economy in the Scottish Enlightenment


Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this book

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen
/ 216

matching results for page

Cited passage

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?