A History of Scottish Philosophy

By Alexander Broadie | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 8
Adam Smith

SECTION 1: A PORTRAIT OF ADAM SMITH

Smith was born in Kirkcaldy, Fife, in 1723.1 His father, also named Adam Smith, an Edinburgh lawyer and later comptroller of customs at Kirkcaldy, died shortly before his son was born, and young Adam was brought up by his mother Margaret Douglas (d. 1784), to whom he remained devoted and with whom he lived for much the greater part of his life.

Smith learned Latin at his school in Kirkcaldy and then at the age of fourteen went up to Glasgow University, where his subjects were Latin, Greek, mathematics, science and philosophy. Thereafter he remembered with affection his Glasgow teacher, the ‘never to be forgotten Dr Hutcheson’, and also spoke very respectfully of another Glasgow professor, the mathematician Robert Simson. Writing of Simpson and of the Edinburgh mathematician Matthew Stewart (father of the philosopher Dugald Stewart), he affirmed that they were ‘the two greatest mathematicians that I ever have had the honour to be known to’ and added that they were ‘the two greatest [mathematicians] that have lived in my time’.2 These references are important as indicating Smith’s early and lasting interest in science including the mathematical sciences. He was not a practising scientist and made no significant contribution to mathematics, physics or the other natural sciences, but he wrote with real sophistication about the philosophical dimension of the great scientific enterprise of western Europe.

After three years at Glasgow he won an exhibition (a scholarship) to Balliol College, Oxford, where he read widely in science, particularly physics and astronomy, as well as in moral philosophy and metaphysics, particularly the classical authors and philosophers of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Britain and France. He was not complimentary about the education then available at Oxford, but he derived immense educational benefit from his six years there in view of his self-imposed programme of study. It was almost certainly

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A History of Scottish Philosophy
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Acknowledgements viii
  • Chapter 1- Introduction 1
  • Chapter 2- John Duns Scotus 7
  • Chapter 3- The Fifteenth Century 34
  • Chapter 4- The Circle of John Mair 47
  • Chapter 5- Humanism and after 87
  • Chapter 6- Scotland Moves into the Age of Enlightenment 104
  • Chapter 7- David Hume 147
  • Chapter 8- Adam Smith 196
  • Chapter 9- The Scottish School of Common Sense Philosophy 235
  • Chapter 10- The Nineteenth Century- Ferrier to Seth 301
  • Chapter 11- Realism and Idealism- Some Twentieth­ Century Narratives 324
  • Chapter 12- Conclusion 365
  • Bibliography 370
  • Index 381
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