A System of Social Science: Papers Relating to Adam Smith

A System of Social Science: Papers Relating to Adam Smith

A System of Social Science: Papers Relating to Adam Smith

A System of Social Science: Papers Relating to Adam Smith


The second edition of this guide to Adam Smith's system of thought has been fully updated to reflect recent developments in Smith scholarship and Professor Skinner's experience of teaching Smith to a student audience. The material from the first edition has been extensively rewritten, and four new chapters have been added, covering Smith's essays on the exercise of human understanding, and his relationship to Francis Hutcheson, David Hume, and Sir James Steuart. Skinner places Smith's system of social, and moral, science firmly within the context of contemporary British and Continental intellectual history, dealing in particular detail with the founders of the Scottish Enlightenment and with the French Physiocrats.


The first edition of this book was published by Oxford University Press in 1979. It contained nine essays, all of which were the by-products of editorial work done on the Glasgow edition of Smith Works and Correspondence (Oxford, 1976-83).

Subsequently, the original papers were used as the basis of a lecture course entitled 'The Age and Ideas of Adam Smith' which was designed for senior undergraduates and for postgraduates taking classes in Political Economy. The organization and content of the present volume reflects what I have learned from the students I have been privileged to teach, and is aimed at the same audience.

This introductory text is divided into six parts and eleven chapters.

Part I addresses those essays that bear upon the exercise of the human understanding as illustrated by Smith's treatment of the theory of communication of ideas in LRBL and by his analysis of the 'principles which lead and direct' philosophical enquiries (EPS).

Part II contains essays that deal with the treatment of ethics and of the emergence of the 'present establishments' in Europe, both of which prepare the way for a discussion of political economy which is introduced via an examination of the contributions of some of Smith's predecessors.

Part III contains an essay on Francis Hutcheson, in which emphasis is placed on the contribution to the theory of value, and an essay concerning Smith's account of the Physiocratic system and the influence that it may have had upon his thought.

Part IV consists of a single chapter and aims to provide a summary account of Smith's 'conceptual system' i.e. his vision of a theoretical structure which provided a basis for the classical system.

Part V features essays that address Smith's treatment of the functions of government and his critique of the mercantile system as illustrated by the colonial relationship with America. It is argued in the latter case that there is a rhetorical dimension to Smith's argument, which returns us to themes examined in Chapter 1. Smith's analysis is also interesting in that it emphasizes the problems presented by differential rates of growth, a theme that was developed more systematically by Hume and Steuart.

Part VI comprises papers on David Hume and Sir James Steuart. The latter paper is concerned to expound Steuart's system as a subject that is important in its own right. But the argument also explores the link with Hume, who exerted a marked influence on his two friends. The argument taken as a whole is designed to provide an opportunity further to . . .

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