Adam Smith: Annotated bibliography (in progress)

Andreas Ortmann
42 min readSep 24, 2023

This is an alphabetically (by last name of author) ordered and annotated bibliography of articles and books on the man and his work, and its interpretation. You are welcome to suggest inclusion of articles that you feel warrant it. The annotations are mine although I reserve the right to cite other people’s assessments, or parts of abstracts. Those occasions will be clearly identified. For a ranked list of must-read books, IMHO, on Smith, see here. My frequent collaborator in matters Smith, Benoit Walraevens, and I recently compiled a must-read list of books for shepherd.com.

This annotated bibliography is work in progress. Latest update: 19 December 2023.

[That’s me with an 1892 copy of The Theory of Moral Sentiments, as edited by Dugald Stewart]

Berry, Christopher J, Maria Pia Paganelli, & Craig Smith (editors), The Oxford Handbook of Adam Smith (Oxford University Press 2014).

Benoit Walraevens and a mysterious Andreas Ormann ;-) reviewed the book as follows:

This handbook follows on from a conference organised for the 250th anniversary of the publication of Smith’s Theory of Moral Sentiments (TMS) although, as the editors emphasise, this is not a proceedings volume. The book is in seven parts, each part featuring four chapters. Berry provides an introductory outline of life, times, and legacy, providing a succinct overview.

In Chapter 1 Nicholas Phillipson presents some key insights that emerged from his work on Smith’s biography. He argues that ‘Smith needs to be thought of as philosopher who published less than he promised’ (p. 24), so that notes taken by students attending his lectures become more important as a source than they would otherwise be. Following this, Leonidas Montes sums up previous research on Smith, Newton, and Newtonianism, drawing heavily on his previous published work. Dennis C. Rasmussen explores ‘Adam Smith and Rousseau: Enlightenment and Counter-Enlightenment’, while Berry presents Adam Smith and Early-Modern Thought’, parading most of the usual suspects (Descartes, Bacon, Hobbes, Locke, Pufendorf, Harrington, Shaftesbury, Mandeville, and Hutcheson). The inclusion of some of these (e.g., Descartes or Bacon or Pufendorf or Harrington) seems curious; the treatments of others (e.g., Shaftesbury and Mandeville) seems perfunctory.

In the second part, Catherine Labio shows convincingly how aesthetics pervades all of Smith’s oeuvre and provides an alternative to the dominant Kantian model in focusing on the socially and culturally determined nature of standards of taste. James Chandler then highlights a previously unnoticed analogy between mimesis or imitation in the Essay on the Imitative Arts and in TMS, and draws an interesting parallel between Smith and Rousseau on imitative arts, showing how it illuminates their different conceptions of pity and sympathy. Michael C. Amrozowicz shows how history, poetics, and certain types of literary fiction provided Smith with factual and valuable information for the science of man and for moral instruction. C. Jan Swearingen then connects sophistication in language and in moral propriety. This is not a completely novel idea, of course: following the publication of Smith’s lectures on rhetoric, a number of people have drawn parallels between Smith’s conceptualisation of rhetoric and ethics. Sympathy, ‘in its older sense of “feeling with” rather than “feeling for”’ (p. 162) is indispensable both for the emergence of languages and morality, or ethics. Rhetorical and ethical propriety are closely related constructs.

In the third part, Christel Fricke explores ‘The Sympathetic Process and the Origin and Function of Conscience’. She provides a summary of the debates over Smith’s concept of impartiality, the main issue being whether Smith’s impartial spectator is a procedure allowing one to go beyond socially and culturally embedded values and norms, hence rationalising universal moral standards. Duncan Kelly then explores the limits of the sympathetic process, ‘which underpins the complexity of Adam Smith’s conjectural history of government and laws, his analysis of the promise and paradox of commercial society, as well as his defence of justice and his ambiguous ambivalence of Christianity and theism, given his avowed desire to construct an ethics independent of theology’ (p. 214). Ryan Patrick Hanley, in contrast to Campbell’s deeply positive reading of Smith, reminds us of the normative side of Smith’s moral theory. Arguing that Smith’s virtue theory is ‘eclectic’ (p. 221), Hanley underlines that its real value is that it does not privilege one set of virtues over another, be they ethical or intellectual. He also provides a deep and innovative analysis of the neglected ‘intellectual virtues’ in Smith. Finally, Eugene Heath analyses Smith’s vocabulary pertaining to self-interest, distinguishing between self-interest proper and self-love, selfishness and self-preservation. His discussion of ambition, however, is limited and unsatisfying.

Tony Aspromourgos’s contribution in the fourth part summarises Smith’s theory of labour and capital, while Nerio Naldi recapitulates the difficulties and ambiguities of Smith’s concepts of value and prices. A discussion of the morality of (natural) prices in Smith would have been desirable. Hugh Rockoff provides an account of Smith’s thoughts on the regulation of money and banking. He argues that Smith’s propositions for interventions in the banking — money — credit market were informed by the ‘small note mania’ and the Ayr Bank Crisis, suggesting that some of Smith ideas reflected the British economic and political context of the second half of the 18th century. Paganelli reviews the way in which Smith conceptualises ways commerce may foster morality, thus providing a moral justification of markets. It is well established that there are limits to the idea of ‘doux commerce’: Smith, for example, was quite blunt about the potentially debilitating effects of the division of labour on workers. Arguing that the moral justification of markets remains a controversial topic (p. 344), Paganelli proposes to relate this discussion to the field experiments that Henrich and more than dozen other colleagues conducted across the globe in various small-scale societies with different economic and cultural characteristics. The validity of these experiments, however, has been contested (see the open commentary to Henrich et al. Citation2005).

In the fifth part, Spiros Tegos shows that Smith’s concept of corruption is both distinctive and innovative (with regards to the dominant, republican conception) and argues that it should not be seen as a forerunner of Marx’s concept of alienation. David M. Levy and Sandra J. Peart, in a somewhat opaque contribution, reflect on ‘Smith and the State: Language and Reform’; and this is followed by Fabrizio Simon’s contribution, which focuses on Smith’s (unfinished) theory of law, and argues that it goes against the utilitarian and contractual approaches of his time. The section is concluded by Edwin Van de Haar, who argues that Smith’s view on Empire and international relations have been largely neglected or misinterpreted. Van de Haar seeks to provide a comprehensive overview of Smith’s theory of international relations.

The sixth part is devoted to Adam Smith on social relations, Richard Boyd pointing out that in Smith’s work civil society is equated with civilised society, while Gavin Kennedy provides direct and indirect evidence of Smith’s fading religiosity. He revisits a number of the arguments made in earlier publications, but this account is the best summary yet of his view on this matter. Phillipson has also argued that Smith, for pragmatic and/or opportunistic reasons, kept his atheism private. Samuel Fleischacker revisits the question of whether Smith is an egalitarian. Identifying a long list of those who supported that notion as well as those questioning it, and then reviewing how equality and hierarchy show up in Smith two major published works, he comes to the conclusion that there exist ‘varieties of egalitarianism’ (pp. 496 and following). Early in the chapter (p. 486), Fleischacker mentions the possibility that Smith was strategically cautious about taking too much of a stance on these issues, because of this risk involved; this argument parallels those of Kennedy and Phillipson regarding why Smith never openly declared his fall from God. Maureen Harkin explores Adam Smith’s apparently curious lack of interest in women’s place in economic, social, and cultural life: ’Any discussion of women in Smith … centres on the discussion of the psychology of sentiment in TMS and the history of political forms and their links to domestic life and partnerships in Lectures on Jurisprudence.’ (p. 504). She also points out an interesting gender-specific problem resulting from women’s excessive sympathy, or empathy.

The final part summarises Smith’s legacy and influence, beginning with Spencer J. Pack’s summary of Marx’s reading of Smith. Craig Smith then examines how key figures of the New Right (Friedman, Buchanan, and Hayek) have claimed a Smithian heritage, especially with respect to the general link between liberty, unintended consequences, and beneficial results, and what they really shared with him. Tom Campbell revisits some of the themes raised in his Adam Smith’s Science of Morals (1971), which Berry credits as having been the first substantial ‘evaluative discussion of TMS’ (p. 16). The major theme is his re-affirmation of Smith’s largely empirical methodology on the one hand, and Smith’s alleged normative moral views on the other. Campbell bluntly questions the kind of arguments advanced by Phillipson (Citation2010) and Kennedy (this volume), suggesting that Smith, late in life, had abandoned his belief into the existence of an Author of Nature.

In conclusion, Amartya Sen pleads for contemporary uses of Smith, the most innovational of which would be to develop a theory of justice from Smith’s concept of impartial spectatorship, in order to avoid the limitations of modern contractualism and its dominant Rawlsian model of ‘closed impartiality’ (see Sen 2009; in which only people from inside the focal group can participate in the debate about justice).

Dow, Sheila (2009) “Knowledge, Communication and the Scottish EnlightenmentRevue de philosphie economique 20.3 pp. 378–95

In Ortmann & Walraevens (2022, p. 2) we say this:

Dow (2009), along similar lines to Tribe (2008), Montes (2019), and for that matter Walraevens (2010), note that Das Adam Smith problem results from an incomplete reading of Smith’s whole oeuvre and traces this understanding of his major works to scholars now “taking seriously his system of rhetoric, and applying it to his own work” (p. 18). She gives Smith a failing grade though, arguing “Had Smith had more confidence in his own thoughts on rhetoric, and his lectures published earlier, then perhaps his own use of rhetoric, and its connection with his moral philosophy, would have led to a different interpretation of his economics” (ibid.).

Be that as it may, the publication of Smith’s complete works did bring renewed attention to other parts of Smith’s work such as …

Fleischacker, Samuel Adam Smith (Routledge 2021)

I just finished a second reading of the book and it is growing on me. This book, too, is part of series meant to cater to “those new to philosophy” while also being “essential reading for those interested in the subject at any level.” Dah. It’s a little bit like squaring the circle. It is almost impossible to do. But somehow Fleischacker (also the author of an excellent book on Smith’s Wealth of Nations almost twenty years back) manages to do so.

There are two important ingredients that make Fleischacker’s latest book such a must-read. First, his outstanding ability to synthesize complicated issues (such as what distinguishes Smith’s and Hume’s theories of self-command) in language accessible to smart and/or motivated laypeople. Second, his outstanding scholarship. Fleischacker really knows his stuff and that is reflected in the richness of the footnotes that comes with each of the chapters. Many of them are little gems and literature reviews of consistently high quality.

One thing he gets wrong IMHO is Smith’s take on religion and Smith’s fading religiosity (and why Smith was not open about it); specifically it is deplorable that in chapter 8, Fleischacker does not engage at all with Gavin Kennedy’s arguments which he knows — see fn 36 and the reference to Kennedy’s chapter in The Oxford Handbook of Adam Smith (Berry et al. 2016)

[I might in due course write a longer review of this book. Stay tuned.]

Hanley, Ryan (editor), Adam Smith. His Life, Thought and Legacy (Princeton University Press 2016)

This book is a collection of contributions edited by one of the prominent current Smith scholars who has managed to assemble an impressive slew of Smith scholars for this book. The book is a complement of sorts to Berry et al (editors), The Oxford Handbook of Adam Smith (Oxford University Press 2014); Hanley’s book features no less than 32 chapters which are grouped into five blocks:

I. Introduction: Texts and Context offers a brief biography of Smith as well as summaries of key texts by well-known scholars: Lectures on Rhetoric and Belles Lettres (V Brown), The Theory of Moral Sentiments (E Schliesser), Lectures on Jurisprudence (K Haakonson), Wealth of Nations (J Evensky), Essays on Philosophical Subjects (C Smith), and a contextualization titled Smith and the Scottish Enlightenment by Nicholas Phillipson.

II. Smith’s Social Vision offers contributions by Hanley himself (Adam Smith on Living a Life), Leonidas Montes (Adam Smith: Self-Interest and the Virtues), Elizabeth Anderson (Adam Smith on Equality), Nicholas Wolterstorff (Adam Smith on Justice and Injustice), Remy Debis (Adam Smith and the Sympathetic Imagination), and David Schmidtz (Adam Smith on Freedom).

III. Smith and Economics offers contributions by Agnar Sandmo (Adam Smith and Modern Economics), Maria P Pagnelli (Adam Smith and the History of Economic Thought: The Case of Banking), Vernon L. Smith (Adam Smith and Experimental Economics: Sentiments to Wealth), and Amartya Sen (Adam Smith and Economic Development).

IV. Smith Beyond Economics offers contribution by Gordon Graham (Adam Smith and Religion), Lisa Hill (Adam Smith and Political Theory), Lisa Herzog (Adam Smith and Modern Ethics), Jacqueline Taylor (Adam Smith and Feminist Ethics: Sympathy, Resentment, and Solidarity), Chad Flanders (Adam Smith’s Jurisprudence: Resentment, Punishment, Justice), Stephen McKenna (Adam Smith and Rhetoric), Karen Valihora (Adam Smith’s Narrative Line), Michael Biziou (Adam Smith and the History of Philosophy), and Frederik A Jonsson (Adam Smith and Enlightenment Studies).

V. Smith Beyond the Academy offers contributions by Gavin Kennedy (Adam Smith: Some Popular Uses and Abuses), Samuel Fleischacker (Adam Smith and the Left), James R Otteson (Adam Smith and the Right), Luo Wei-Dong (Adam Smith in China: From Ideology to Academia), John C. Bogle (Adam Smith and Shareholder Capitalism), and Douglas A. Irwin (Adam Smith and Free Trade).

Most of the contributions are of high quality indeed; the quality of some chapters is questionable. For example, it beats me that someone can write about Adam Smith and religion but not discuss the work of Gavin Kennedy, Nicholas Phillipson, or Dennis Rasmussen on this issue. You definitely want to make sure to read what Gavin Kennedy has to say about this topic.

Hill, Lisa Adam Smith’s Pragmatic Liberalism: The Science of Welfare (palgrave macmillan 2020)

Lisa is a professor at School of Social Sciences, Faculty of Arts, Business, Law and Economics, University of Adelaide, SA, Australia. She has as D.Phil.in Economics from the University of Oxford, United Kingdom, 1994.

Me, Lisa, and Tony (Aspromourgos) at U Syd symposium in 2023

Her book is downloadable, for free, from the Springer link given above.

The 3-point claim-to-fame summary on the publishers’ page says:

  • Shows that Smith had a coherent approach to politics and that he exerted considerable influence over government policy
  • Contends that Smith was far more pragmatic and less ideological in his approach to governing than is commonly thought
  • Argues that Smith was predominantly concerned with practical outcomes that served the welfare of everyone, especially the poor and ‘middling’ classes

And here is the blurb from the back cover of her book:

Adam Smith is commonly conceived as either an economist or a moral philosopher so his importance as a political thinker has been somewhat neglected and, at times, even denied. This book reveals the integrated, deeply political project that lies at the heart of Smith’s thought, showing both the breadth and novelty of Smith’s approach to political thought. A key argument running through the book is that attempts to locate Smith on the left-right spectrum (however that was interpreted in the eighteenth century) are mistaken: his position was ultimately dictated by his social scientific and economic thought rather than by ideology or principle. Through examining Smith’s political interests and positions, this book reveals that apparent tensions in Smith’s thought are generally a function of his willingness to abandon, not only proto-liberal principles, but even the principles of his own social science when the achievement of good outcomes was at stake. Despite the common perception, negative liberty was not the be-all and end-all for Smith; rather, welfare was his main concern and he should therefore be understood as a thinker just as interested in what we would now call positive liberty. The book will uniquely show that Smith’s approach was basically coherent, not muddled, ad hoc, or ‘full of slips’; in other words, that it is a system unified by his social science and his practical desire to maximise welfare.

And that’s indeed what the book does.

Lisa presents 8 chapters titled (1) Introduction: The New Science of Welfare and Happiness, (2) Adam Smith on conventional Political Themes, (3) The System of Natural Liberty and the Science of Welfare (4) Adam Smith’s Political and Economic Sociology: A Quiet State for a Quiet People, (5) Adam Smith on Political Corruption, (6) Adam Smith’s International Thought, (7) A Three-Stage Decision Tool for a Pragmatic Liberal, and (8) Conclusion.

In chapter 1 (pp. 2–3) she states

[Smith’s] politics was radical in the context of how political science was approached in his time. It was a call for government to radically shift its attention from the fortunes of economic, political and military elites to those of the people more generally and especially the poor. It was also a protracted diatribe against elite manipulation of the state, against corruption, Mercantilism, crony capitalism, prejudice, ‘enthusiasm’, blind nationalism and a preference for glory over welfare. He also asked people to think of the wealth of nations, not in terms of gold, a favourable balance of trade or the extent of the conquered territory, but in more human terms: did the people enjoy sufficient freedom, security and social and political stability? Was everyone ‘tolerably well fed, clothed, and lodged’? Was the population growing or declining? Had infant mortality risen to unconscionable levels? Were people paid enough? Were they enabled to live in dignity? Most of all, were they happy? The latter was, Smith insisted, a perfectly legitimate question for a political economist to pose and he repeatedly came back to that question as his standard. …

This is exactly how Smith regarded the system of ‘natural liberty’ that was at the very centre of his political thought: as a beautiful system or machine that badly needed to be untangled from its myriad ‘obstructions’. …

Perfection is all very well but, at the end of the day, ‘all constitutions of government’ are only as good as their tendency ‘to promote the happiness of those who live under them’. Indeed, ‘[t]his is their sole use and end’ (reference). So, let’s by all means make the system of government beautiful but, most of all, we should ensure that it is actually capable of promoting human flourishing and happiness.

This striving for happiness and welfare of the many, steeped deeply in a very modern notion of liberalism, might occasion at times historically conditioned pragmatism and leading to what can confusingly look like a unprincipled stance on issues such as corruption. Hill hence keeps clarifying the particular circumstances under which Smith “happened” and what caused his pragmatism in various circumstances. It’s an extraordinary tour de force and one that distinguishes itself from others in this space.

Hill, Lisa (2023), “Adam Smith’s New Science of Welfare and HappinessHistory of Economics Review (27 Sept 2023) online

This is an elaboration of talks that Prof Hill gave at a symposium at USyd; it is a pretty neat primer of her pol-sci take on Adam Smith.

From the abstract:

Adam Smith wanted to understand how commercialising states ought now to be governed and how their success should be measured. In his efforts to modernise the art of governing — and thereby bring the modern science of political economy into existence — Smith re-defined the concept of national welfare and the whole idea of a successful state. These new conceptions are reflected in his rejection of state-directed morality and his solutions to such important problems as the alleviation of poverty, food insecurity, inequality and declining levels of education. These were all cases that tested the limits of his faith in markets and, in the process, he reveals that he was less libertarian and more utilitarian than is commonly allowed. Whenever the system of natural liberty failed to achieve the desired effect, he sought an engineered solution. Nevertheless, Smith was still broadly committed to liberty, the free market and commercial society.

HOPE (= History of Political Economy journal) (2023) “Smith Scholarship in History of Political Economy” History of Political Economy 55.2 pp. 205–13

A simple listing of the hundred+ articles that were published on Smith and his work in the pages of the journal. The most articles any author managed to attract. Does not contain reviews of books on Smith or the like.

HUMANOMICS — See entries under McCloskey, Paganelli, Smith & Wilson

Kalyvas, Andreas & Ira Katznelson (2001), “The Rhetoric of the Market: Adam Smith on Recognition, Speech, and ExchangeThe Review of Politics 63.3 pp 549–79

One of the real epochal articles on Smith and his work. One of the articles on Smith also that has aged really well. K&K start it by quoting from the pivotal second chapter of Smith’s WN “the often-cited claim that the foundation of modern political economy is the human ‘propensity to truck, barter, and exchange one thing for another.’” (p.549) Two pages later they continue such: “Astonishingly, and disappointingly, most readers of WN fail to attend the very next sentence … Smith immediatedly probed more deeply by asking ‘Whether this propensity be one of these original principles in human nature of which no further account can be given; or whether, as seems more probable, it be the necessary consequence of the faculties or reason and speech.’” (p. 551) They then go on and tease out, referencing Griswold, “the intertwined connections linking the market, speech, and sympathy: ‘Life in a market society is an ongoing exercise in rhetoric.’” Very Klamer & McCloskey-ish that. See Closkey & Klamer (AER Proceedings and Papers 1995), “One Quarter of GDP is Persuasion”.

Kennedy, Gavin Adam Smith’s Lost Legacy (palgrave 2005)

I reviewed this book for History of Political Economy in 2007 (together with another book about which the less is said the better). Said I:

Kennedy … is very likely an unknown. His previous academic work dealt with defense economics and finance. After the collapse of the Warsaw Pact, “he took the ‘peace dividend’” (see www.adamsmithslostlegacy.com) and lectured on negotiation techniques, apparently mostly to nontraditional students (business leaders, managers). Some of the books pertaining to these topics, as well as his book on Captain Bligh, are generously referenced in the select bibliography of the book under review here, which otherwise does not demonstrate any previous Smith scholarship.

Kennedy, it seems fair to say, comes to the party as a surprise guest — and ultimately a welcome one. …

Kennedy … aims to reclaim Smith. Reading the last of the fifty-seven vignettes (titled “Reclaiming Smith’s Legacy”) first, I was — because of the dubious rhetorical tricks in that chapter and the almost missionary zeal that the author displayed — initially apprehensive. It was, however, enjoyable reading from there. Kennedy relies heavily on the Glasgow edition of Smith’s oeuvre and well-known references such as Rae and Ross, all of which he skillfully samples to construct his narrative. … Kennedy draws on TMS, LJ, and WN, which he cleverly identifies with the search for the impartial spectator, impartial justice, and impartial competition (xv), respectively, with liberal quotations from the Correspondence volume of the Glasgow edition thrown in for good measure.

A major theme running through Kennedy’s book is the contextualization of what Smith said. Again and again, he impresses on the reader the particular places (markets, roads), times (e.g., the mores that Smith faced and was, contrary to Hume, smart enough not to take on), and issues. Kennedy does so often to very good effect (e.g., in chapters 41 and 42 on “Smithian” markets and commercial revival, in his discussion of the markets that Smith experienced and wrote about, and in chapter 53 on Smith’s “immodest proposals” for public expenditures). Kennedy often makes, in a very Smithian manner, use of theoretical or conjectural history. In doing so, he makes a number of interesting points about the real Smith — according to Kennedy, someone who understood and worked the system to his own advantage (e.g., chapters 5, 6, and 7), someone who didn’t publish certain things because he feared religious and other forms of persecution (e.g., chapters 3 and 31), and someone who understood, most of all, that one had to watch out for both market failures and government failures (e.g., chapters 40 and 56). Chapters 22 through 25 have an intriguing discussion of the oft-cited butcher-brewer-baker quotation. Kennedy points out, in my view correctly, that this Smithian propensity was seen by many only from a single person’s viewpoint when in fact it is about the reciprocity of services. Unfortunately, Kennedy reveals en passant that his knowledge of game theory is imperfect: it is hardly a zero-sum game if a plunderer kills the victim (102) and, contrary to the statements about Nash equilibria on pages 106 and 110, Nash had a lot to say about the process of negotiation, both theoretically and experimentally, as documented in Kuhn et al. 1994.

These minor criticisms aside, I enjoyed reading this unpretentious little book. It helped that Kennedy, apart from his reader-friendly use of brief vignettes to construct his narrative, has a remarkable way with words and knows how to make a point.

Not everyone agrees with my assessment of Gavin’s book; here is a more skeptical reading of it (which I think misses the point). As to the reviewer’s remarks about Kennedy’s weak case for Smith’s (undeclared) fading religiosity, I refer to Kennedy’s chapter in Berry et al. (2016) which is probably the most succinct and persuasive summary of his view on this issue.

Kennedy, Gavin Adam Smith, A Moral Philosopher and His Political Economy (palgrave 2008/2nd edition 2010)

In the same piece where we reviewed Phillipson’s 2010 Adam Smith: An Enlightened Life (Yale U Press 2010), Benoit Walraevens and I also reviewed Kennedy’s 2008/10 book albeit only briefly. Say we:

One of us has previously reviewed Kennedy’s earlier book on Adam Smith and has done so favorably (Ortmann 2007). Providing a minimum set of biographical details, Kennedy’s new book is explicitly an attempt of sense-making of what Smith actually wrote. The basic message of this sense-making exercise is that Smith is not to be interpreted as the father of laissez-faire economics, and as the inspiration of modern model builders, but as someone who was trained broadly, read broadly and ferociously, and wrote broadly and deeply: «Smith at tempted to root his theories on the mixture of human motivations within their historical and contemporary context, while modern economists built their models on the dominant simplicity of utility maximization and the single dimension of the ‘granite of self-interest’» (Kennedy 2008, 262). That is a fairly silly view of what modern economics, and even today’s model builders, are all about. A toast for experimental and/or behavioral economics anyone? A toast for theories of social preferences anyone?

A previous reviewer of Kennedy’s book (Aspromourgos 2009), who also took issues with some of Kennedy’s interpretation of Smith’s economic theories (especially as discussed in chs 6, and 8–10 of his book), has noted that Kennedy’s book was published in the Great Thinkers in Economics series and — while trying to reflect on the protagonists and their work, against the backdrop of their times — was written in style designed to please, no less, professional economists, students, and interested lay people, and all of that with in apparently tight page limits. Something has to give under these circumstances. Kennedy’s latest book, in our reading, is unlikely to be of interest to Smith scholars.

Liu, Glory M. Adam Smith’s America (Princeton University Press 2022)

Here’s a good review by Zack Rauwald; Amazon also has a number of reviews on it.

Matson, Erik W. (for AdamSmithWorks)

A Brief History of the Editions of TMS: Part I | Adam Smith Works

A Brief History of the Editions of TMS: Part 2 | Adam Smith Works

During his life Smith published six editions of his Theory of Moral Sentiments, the first in 1759 and the sixth in 1790 (the year of his death). It is noteworthy that Smith also published five editions of his Wealth of Nations, and the timing and changes in content are prima-facie evidence that Das Adam-Smith Problem is the figment of the (vivid) imagination of some writers.

Matson does a good job in outlining the changes between editions. Part I deals with the comparatively minor changes in editions 1 through 5 (although from the 3rd edition Smith included his Languages essay which the editors of the Glasgow/Liberty edition curiously removed later, with somewhat questionable arguments, as Matson documents) , Part II deals with the changes in edition 6 which are of considerable interest for example regarding the question of whether (and when) Smith had fallen from faith but also because they followed the last revision of the Wealth of Nations (1789).

McCloskey, Deidre Nansen (2016) “Adam Smith Did Humanomics: So Should WeEastern Economic Journal 42 pp. 503–13.

Originally presented earlier that year at the Eastern Economic Association meetings, in a session by the International Adam Smith Society where one of the panelists was Vernon L. Smith, with an even earlier version presented three years earlier at the AEA meetings 2013 in San Diego, McCloskey here continues to explore further a theme he and Klamer riffed on in 1995: That “one quarter of GDP is persuasion” and that the “Great Fact” of the modern economic growth since 1800 cannot be understood properly without acknowledging its importance:

A new economic history emerges, using all the evidence for the scientific task: books as much as bonds, entrepreneurial courage and hope as much as managerial prudence and temperance. (from the abstract)

As Adam Smith the teacher of rhetoric to Scottish fourteen-year-old boys would have put it, meaning matters, metaphors matter, stories matter, identity matters, ethics matters. Considering that we are humans, not grass, impartial spectators who sometimes climb up on stage for the moral sentiments and the wealth of nations, they matter a great deal. (the concluding paragraph)

McCloskey, Deidre Nansen Humanomics 1&2 (2021 review in progress)

Ortmann, Andreas (2022) “Did He, or Did He Not? And Why Would It Matter? On Adam Smith Possibly Having Lived With Asperger’s” (manuscript)

Rejected by the bofs (oh, sorry, make that old-guard gate-keepers) at History of Political Economy, based on two referee reports:

Ref 1: “This article poses an interesting question, but I’m afraid that it fails to answer it in a convincing fashion.”
Ref 2: “The evidence presented for the proposition … , using the method outlined, is convincing.”

Ortmann, Andreas & Benoit Walraevens Adam Smith’s System. A Re-Interpretation Inspired by Smith’s Lectures on Rhetoric, Game Theory, and Conjectural History (palgrave 2022)

For a summary of reviews that our book has received so far, see here.

Otteson, Jim Adam Smith’s Marketplace of Life (Cambridge U Press 2002)

In Ortmann & Walraevens (2022, pp. 18–19) we say this, 2002a being the book:

Otteson (2002a, 2002b, 2002c) argues that Smith applied the same “market model” to explain the formation and evolution of moral, economic, and linguistic customs, rules and norms, building upon the idea that these institutions are “spontaneous orders.” He identifies on pages 286–287 [2002], 80 [2002a], and 206–207 [2002b] respectively, the motivating desire, rules developed, currency, and resulting “unintended system of order” across TMS, WN , and Considerations . This is very much in the spirit of, for example, Bryce (1985) and Ortmann & Meardon (1995) but as Berry (2003, p. 186) has also noted, there is considerable handwaving here in the details of Otteson’s “single-project” interpretation. In terms of the reasoning routines that we will propose in our chapter 7, Otteson’s focus is on the third that we identify and he more or less ignores what we identify as the second one and there in particular situations of information asymmetry that in our view are extremely important for an understanding of persuasion and self-command. While Otteson’s Marketplace of Life and the related spinoffs offer ideas that go in similar directions (e.g., the “equilibrating” feature of the impartial spectator), he misses the principal-agent aspect which differentiates the processes of the formation of languages and moral sentiments, for example, from the price discovery process.

Kennedy (2010 [2008], specifically chapter 3) has summarized Otteson’s work insightfully and quite reasonably and more generally suggests that Smith’s underlying model, more fundamentally, is one of exchange.

Paganelli, Maria Pia (2015) “Recent Engagement with Adam Smith and the Scottish EnlightenmentHistory of Political Economy 47.3 pp. 363–94

Paganelli’s review was commissioned by the editors of the journal. While acknowledging that much interesting work is done in other countries and languages (e.g., French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, and Japan), she focusses her review on “a necessarily small sample of articles and books from different disciplines on Adam Smith and the Scottish Enlightenment. It cannot possibly be a complete one, but it will give a sense of what I see as some of the relevant themes that are being discussed in the literature. These themes are relevant themes in economics too, but it is impossible for me here to cover also the main economic literature. I limit myself to only the [English-language] literature on Smith and the Scottish Enlightenment.” (p. 364)

Paganelli, Maria Pia (5 November, 2020) “What Is Humanomics?” This is a brief primer of sorts on the term — ‘The new economics has arrived, a ‘humanomics’ that leaves the humans in it’ — as well as the 2019 book by Smith & Wilson.

Pauchant, Thierry (2015) “Adam Smith’s four-stages theory of socio-cultural evolution: New Insights from his 1749 lectureThe Adam Smith Review 9 pp. 49–74

The HEC Montreal working paper version of this chapter was previously published under a slightly different title (“Adam Smith’s Socio-Cultural Theory of Evolution. New Insights from his 1749 Lecture”). Pauchant argues (and in my view he makes a good case) that the four-stages theory of socio-cultural evolution was laid out in a lecture that Smith gave in 1749. Hence the title. The manuscript, now called the “Anderson notes” (after John Anderson, a professor of engineering at the University of Glasgow and there for many years one of Smith’s colleagues), was discovered in 1970 and has been the object of some controversy regarding its timing. Meek established that the notes were indeed a summary of Adam Smith’s lecture but he concluded that the notes were written after 1755, up to 1762, while Pauchant argues — after archival work — that “these notes, taken by Anderson, have been written in 1749 or 1750, from a lecture created by Smith in 1749, for delivery during the fall session.” (p. 19 of the working paper)

Phillipson, Nicholson Adam Smith: An Enlightened Life (Yale U Press 2010)

My frequent co-author in matters Smithian, Benoit Walraevens and I, reviewed this book for the History of Economic Ideas in 2012.

Phillipson’s book … does provide a balanced, overall account of Smith’s economics and wider thought and traces its origins and evolution. It is a very fine read indeed. … Quite possibly it is the most insightful book yet on Smith’s life and work. It is a must-read for Smith scholars.

Samuel Fleischacker also wrote a very positive review of Nick’s book. Worth reading.

Rasmussen, Dennis C. (2017) The Infidel and the Professor. David Hume, Adam Smith and the Friendship that shaped Modern Thought, Princeton University Press.

Rasmussen himself has written a brief primer for AdamSmithWorks.

I reviewed the book for Oeconomica. Wasn’t quite as impressed as some other reviewers (e.g., here [Amazon] and here [Emily C. Nacol] and here [Peter Loptson]). Wrote I:

David Hume is widely considered one of the — arguably the — outstanding philosopher of the Scottish Enlightenment. Born in 1711, four years after the 1707 Act of Union which traded away the Scottish parliament and independence for representation in the English parliament and the Scots’ access to English markets at home and abroad (and which seems to have been instrumental, within decades, in transforming Scotland from the backwater it then was into the economic and cultural showcase of 50–70 years later), he was already a leading philosopher by 1749, when he met Adam Smith, who was at that point lecturing in Edinburgh on belles-lettres, rhetoric, and jurisprudence. In the ensuing near thirty years, a remarkable friendship developed between these two, notwithstanding the fact that Hume, branded by key opponents “the infidel” because of his anti-religious beliefs and writings, never made it into the professoriate, while Smith was elected Professor of Logic and Metaphysics at Glasgow University in 1751, only to transfer one year later to the Chair of Moral Philosophy at the same university.

2Rasmussen sets out to explore their well-known friendship, which was steeped in mutual admiration and their agreement on many key philosophical points: “We will also see them adopt broadly similar views, but very different public postures, with respect to religion and the religious, indeed, this will be a running theme throughout the book.” (xi). This seems broadly correct as it pertains to their views on human nature and the ways the world works, although Smith is known primarily as economist on the strength of his second published book (The Wealth of Nations) which covers ground that Hume, for the most part, did not cover. As it pertains to Smith’s views on religion and the religious, particularly the implication made here that Smith too was a sceptic of sort (if not from early in his life, then towards the end), this point has previously been persuasively made by Kennedy (2005; 2013) and Phillipson (2010), although this view is not uncontested (e.g., Campbell, 2013; or for that matter Rasmussen, 15). Given that the different public postures towards religion and the religious are a running theme throughout the book, it is puzzling (not to mention questionable) that Kennedy’s work on this issue is given very short shrift indeed (non-indexed and perfunctory footnotes 49, 50 on page 262).

3After an Introduction in which he motivates his study (he is the only who has focused in book length on this relationship, although others have done complementary work), Rasmussen dedicates Chapter 1 to “The Cheerful Skeptic (1711–1749)” and follows his development into the prominent, and controversial, thinker Hume was when he met Smith. In Chapter 2 (“Encountering Hume (1723–1749)”), Rasmussen introduces us to Smith who was born a dozen years after Hume and became familiar with Hume’s writings during his education (most likely at Oxford) before, most likely in 1749, finally getting to know him. In Chapter 3, Rasmussen puts together what we know about “A Budding Friendship (1750–1764)”, duly contextualizing how their lives were embedded in their own, quite different, contexts. This period of course spans the time of Smith’s first university professorships and Hume’s failed attempts to follow suit. There is a lot of conjectural history here (e.g., about how often the two saw each other in person during these years).

4In Chapter 4 (“The Historian and the Kirk (1754–1759)”), Rasmussen focuses on Hume’s contentious relationship with church authorities and doctrines. In Chapter 5, he focuses on how Smith theorized The Moral Sentiments (1759), arguing “Virtually the entire inquiry — the questions Smith takes up, the answers he gives, even the examples he uses — show unmistakable signs of Hume’s influence.” (87). This is correct (e.g., importantly in the question of whether moral sentiments are given by some ultimate author of nature or whether they emerge as the equilibrium outcome of repeatedly interacting, self-regarding agents — see Binmore, 1994; Meardon and Ortmann, 1996; 1996a) and certainly is a point that has been made extensively in Phillipson (2010; 2011), among others. Rasmussen identifies “four major topics on which [Smith] deviates from his friend’s views: sympathy, utility, justice, and religion.” (90). Of particular relevance in the current context are pages 101–103 where Rasmussen (see also his Epilogue) lays out where on religion he sees Smith and Hume at variance. It comes down to him characterizing Hume as seeing religion as “almost entirely pernicious” (101) while Smith “insists that religious faith has important practical benefits. … religion tends to underwrite rather than undermine morality.” (102) (Sneak preview: in the Epilogue, Rasmussen argues (233–234) that changes to the 6th edition of the TMS suggest that Smith was converging finally to Hume’s position concerning life, death, and afterlife).

5Chapter 6 (“Feted in France (1759–1766)”) is dedicated to the reversal of fortunes that befell Hume once — in the Fall, 1763, at the tender age of 52 — he decided to move to Paris as private secretary of Britain’s newly appointed Ambassador to France, where his reputation had been soundly established before he even arrived: “The welcome that Hume received in Paris almost beggars belief, even today.” (121). The remainder of the chapter gossips away, based on some fairly well-known sources (e.g., the correspondence between Hume and Smith), and also summarizes what we know about their interaction after Smith himself made his way across the channel. Rasmussen also documents how Hume and Smith tried to coordinate their locational choices as they faced advancing (and in Hume’s case, by the standards of his time, advanced) age: “Let us make short excursions together sometimes to see our friends in France and sometimes to see our friends in Scotland, but let London be the place our ordinary residence.” (Smith to Hume, 30). Quite a bromance, that! Chapter 7 (“Quarrel with a Wild Philosopher (1766–1767)”) recounts the brief friendship-turned-ugly between Hume and Rousseau that Hume apparently felt might threaten his reputation. In the end it did not. It’s another somewhat gossipy chapter that makes for good reading but provides little substantial insight other than Smith never seeming to have wavered in his support for Hume. Chapter 8 (“Mortally Sick at Sea (1767–1775)”) focuses on Hume’s remaining years, after his return to Edinburgh (which was soon to be disrupted by another stay of more than two years in London, in another official function). The title of the chapter makes use of a claim with which Hume tried to entice Smith, who was living across the firth in Kircaldy, to make Edinburgh his place of residence, or at least come more often, arguing that his seasickness would prevent travels in the other direction. Again the chapter is gossipy (but not nearly as juicy as Mossner, 1980 in this respect) and we learn that Hume — already having been a portly dude for decades on account of his savoir-vivre — discovered his “great Talent for Cookery, the Science to which I intend to addict the remaining Years of my Life.” (151). Rasmussen also documents Hume’s growing restlessness about Smith’s seemingly forever forthcoming second book, his continued attempts to get Smith to join him in Edinburgh, and Hume’s sarcastic commentary on his declining health (and increasing girth).

6In Chapter 9, Rasmussen focuses on how Smith inquired into The Wealth of Nations (1776). Rasmussen points out (162) that, in his view, the single most important passage in The Wealth of Nations is the climactic claim of Book 3 that commerce and manufacture gradually introduced order and good government, which in turn begat personal liberty and security domestically and reduced threats from abroad. Rasmussen points out that this claim, “though it has been the least observed, is by far the most important of all their effects” and by Smith’s own recognizance is owed to Hume (163). In Rasmussen’s opinion, this is a well-deserved attribution because much of Smith’s argument buttressing the claim draws on Hume’s work (163–166). Rasmussen also argues that “the most celebrated aspect of The Wealth of Nations, namely Smith’s case in favour of free trade, too was at least anticipated by Hume, if not inspired by him.” (166). That said, Rasmussen acknowledges that Smith’s case was far more comprehensive and that a case can be made for much of Smith’s thinking on these issues having developed decades earlier (168). He highlights that Smith was more sceptical about the drawbacks of commerce and manufacture, that The Wealth of Nations in language and outlook is “notably secular” (173), and that, contra Hume, Smith made the case for free markets and competition in religious matters (and for a separation of church and state) too, since he saw them as means to combat intolerance and fanaticism. In contrast, in their stand on public debt and the conflict between Britain and its American colonies the two seem to have been very much on the same page, undoubtedly driven by their understanding that gold and silver were not what could possibly justify the wealth of a nation. There is nothing really new in this chapter (in comparison, say to Phillipson’s 2010 book), including Hume’s well-documented enthusiastic reaction to The Wealth of Nations.

7In Chapter 10 (“Dialoguing about Natural Religion (1776)”), Rasmussen recounts the episode towards the end of Hume’s life that left formidable scholars such as Phillipson, Ross, Hanley, and Kennedy (see page 186) wonder: why would Smith not honour Hume’s request to posthumously supervise the publication of Hume’s Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion? While the scholars just mentioned tend to be puzzled or dismissive of Smith’s stance, Rasmussen — after reviewing the history and content of the Dialogues — argues that “Smith’s refusal to publish the Dialogues may have been, at least in part, a matter of simple politeness: his mother, the majority of his friends, and indeed almost everyone he knew [but not Smith himself, as Rasmussen stresses] would have been offended by the work, and by his involvement with it.” (196). He then continues, “The more perplexing question, in a way, is not why Smith refused to publish the Dialogues but rather why Hume was suddenly so adamant about publication after holding the work back for twenty-five years, and even more why he sought to foist this obligation on Smith. Hume may have reckoned that he had little left to lose at that point, with one foot in the grave, but obviously Smith was not in the same position.” (198). A good point, me thinks.

8Chapter 11 (“A Philosopher’s Death (1776)”) sketches Hume’s relatively quick decline, his “funeral oration of myself” called My Own Life, and his cheerful, classy, and outright stylish exit. Chapter 12 (“Ten Times More Abuse (1776–1777)”) sketches the fire that Smith drew when he documented Hume’s stylish exit in a Letter to their publisher Strahan that was meant to be published with Hume’s My Own Life and at the same time document the stylishness of that exit, an exit that a non-believer — bereft of other-worldly comforts and consolations — was not supposed to be able to carry off. It did not help matters that Smith spoke effusively in his letter of Hume, “Upon the whole, I have always considered him [Hume], both in his lifetime and since his death, as approaching as nearly to the idea of a perfectly wise and virtuous man, as perhaps the nature human frailty will permit.” (251). This statement did not sit well with many, not surprisingly many of whom were part of the religious mob, and the title of the chapter refers to a well-known statement of Smith about the gale of opinion that he faced in response.

9In the Epilogue (“Smith’s Final Years in Edinburgh (1777–1790)”), Rasmussen recounts Smith’s final well-documented years which he spent, starting in 1778, in the city where he grew up (Kirkcaldy) with a job that left him some, but not enough, time for revisions of existing works and slow progress on others. This chapter covers well-documented territory (again, Phillipson, 2010 comes to mind). Rasmussen seems to suggest that some of the tempered claims on behalf of religion in 6th edition of The Theory of Moral Sentiments might have been due to the abuse that he copped from the religious fanatics, but there are the obvious confounds, such as his mother’s death in 1784, which removed a key constraint for Smith to speak his mind in those matters.

10The Appendix reproduces both Hume’s My Own Life and Smith’s Letter to Strahan.

11In sum then, Rasmussen is the first to focus in book length on a friendship that undoubtedly shaped modern thought. For cognoscenti, there is nothing surprisingly new here. Rasmussen relies heavily on standard resources (see pages 253–255) and it shows. It is a good and quick read and reminder. In a second edition, an explicit timeline of their interactions and encounters, with some clear-cut assessment of the evidence that we have for each of them, would be welcome. Rasmussen mentions that his book is not just meant for academics (xi), and it may indeed be a good read for “anyone interested in learning more about the lives and ideas of these two giants of the Enlightenment, and about what is arguably the greatest of all philosophical friendships.” (xi).

Sagar, Paul (editor), Interpreting Adam Smith: Critical Essays (Cambridge University Press 2023).

Sagar is a Reader in Political Theory at King’s College London. He has assembled the contributors to this collection “with an eye to this long and contested history of Smith interpretation” (p. 1) The contributors — by design — span the gamut from “established voices within Smith scholarship” (Berry, Fleischacker, Hill, Otteson, Paganelli, C. Smith, and Wilson) to “voices who are beginning to make their mark” (prominently, Liu). See a brief entry on her recent book further up.

Liu provides what Sagar calls a “deft treatment” (p. 1) of Smith Scholarship in the past, present, and future. It is indeed a worthwhile read. Starting with Mark Twain’s statement that “there is no such thing as a new idea” and that everything is essentially “the same old pieces of colored glass that have been in use through all the ages”, Liu uses Collini’s “four-stages model” (“Early Engagements with Smith”, “Discipleship”, “Authority”, “Canonization”) to explain the trajectory of Smith’s posthumous reputation. It is stage 4 that an author becomes “canonical”, symbolic references and all. On pages 5–12 Liu reviews past scholarship that led to Smith’s canonization, on pages 12–19 present scholarship, and on pages 19–20 she ponders in conclusion “The Future of Smith Studies”. Regarding the present, she notes that “the center of gravity of Smith scholarship has slowly shifted from economics and towards the fields of political science, philosophy, and history.” (p. 12) and that Smith’s texts are increasingly read as works of philosophy, i.e., instruments of scientific theorizing, and that that theorizing feeds on Smith’s corpus (pp. 12–13) She suggests that this trend is “a constructive critique of the economistic tunnel-vision that dominated Smith interpretation for much of the nineteenth and twentieth century. … But this dramatic shift in focus towards TMS also … [an] immanent critique of contemporary politics and society. … The more important consequence of these interventions has been the renewed attention to … politically salient topics ranging from Smith’s views on poverty and inequality, to moral corruption and normative stakes of economic growth (various references).” (p. 14) Which of course prompts questions about the limits of such interventions and the “temptation to overinterpret the connections between WN and TMS more generally, as Robin Douglass’s essay in this volume suggests.” (p. 14) As fourth trend in new Smith scholarship, Liu identifies the question of Smith’s contribution to liberalism and its histories, and in this context “the centrality of Smith’s moral philosophy for understanding his political thought.” (p. 15) Liu stresses that “the new Smith scholarship has placed Smith within a variety of liberal traditions” (p. 15) including the liberal critique imperialism (cue Jennifer Pitts’s A Turn to Empire), debates about liberal cosmopolitanism and globalization (“just one of many liberal traditions in which Smith is being reinterpreted. … a dizzying array of liberalisms … ”, p. 16), as well as Smith’s take on poverty and globalization. Inevitably these debates touch on the issue of where on the Left-Right political spectrum Smith sat, and ought to be located. In the “Conclusion: The Future of Smith Studies”, Liu points out that the “history (of Smith scholarship) is littered with selective, narrow, and politically fashionable readings” (p. 19) and notes the irony that a major driver of this sorry state of affairs is the division of (intellectual) labor that is the point of departure of Smith’s economics.

Most of the chapter titles are descriptive. I will comment on them in due course.

Berry, “The Wealth of Nations as a Work of Social Science” pp. 21–38

Weingast, “Adam Smith’s ‘Industrial Organization’ of Religion” pp. 39–61

Fleischacker, “Talking to My Butcher: Self-Interest, Exchange, and Freedom in the Wealth of Nations” pp. 62–76

Wilson & Farese, “What Did Adam Smith Mean? The Semantics of the Opening Key Principles in the Wealth of Nations” pp. 77–95. Wherein W&F identify six basic propositions that constitute the cornerstone of Smith’s analysis and argue, “Finally, Smith makes the egalitarian claim that (7) people differ because they do different kind of things, not the contrary.” (p. 95)

Otteson, “Adam Smith and Virtuous Business” pp. 96–110

Paganelli, “Adam Smith and the Morality of Political Economy: A Public Choice Reading” pp. 111–123

Douglass, “A Moral Philosophy for Commercial Society” pp. 124–141. Wherein Douglass dissects what the meaning of the expression “commercial society” and argues that the attempt of many to find coherence in Smith’s work has led, arguably, to an overinterpretation of the connections between WN and TMS and that, specifically, reading TMS as a book about commercial society (whatever that is) is overkill.

Sagar, “Adam Smith, Sufficientarian” pp. 142–159. Wherin the author argues that “at the level of individual ethics Smith enourages us to be sufficientarians: that what matters in distributive questions is not that all approach equality on some relevant metric(s), but that one as an individual has enough, … “ (p. 143)

Scott & Schwarze, “Narrowing the Scope of Resentments in Smith’s Theory of Moral Sentiments” pp. 160–176

Hill, “Adam Smith: Stoic and Epicurean” pp. 177–193. Wherein the author argues that, “Long considered rivals [Epicureanism and Stoicism that is], in Smith’s hands they are reconciled in unexpected ways.” (p. 177) “Despite his attraction to their pragmatism, Smith was a more ambitious and idealistic thinker than the Epicureans. They lacked what Stoicism was able to provide: A Deistic framework that conceived the universe as benign, self-equlibriating system. … But Stoicism lacked what Epicureanism was able to provide: a convincing account of human drives and moral psychology.” (p. 193)

Kopajtic, “‘Much Better Instructors’: Adam Smith and Role of Literature in Moral Education” pp. 194–213

Illert, “Sophie de Grouchy as an Activistm Interpreter of Adam Smith” pp. 214–231. Wherein we learn that an influential translator of Smith’s TMS took considerable and very motivated (by her being “actively involved in Revolutionary politics beside her husband, the marquis de Condorcet”, p. 214) liberties.

Smith (Craig), “Adam Smith and the Limits of Philosophy” pp. 232–244

Bibliography pp. 245–268

Index pp. 269–285

Max Skjönsberg has an online review of the book at AdamSmithWorks.

Shearmur, Jeremy and Daniel B Klein (1997) “Good Conduct in a Great Society: Adam Smith and the Role of Reputation” In: Klein DB (ed) Reputation: Studies in Voluntary Elicitation of Good Conduct. University of Michigan Press, pp. 29–45. Available at ssrn.

In Ortmann & Walraevens (2022, p. 16) we say:

Shearmur & Klein (1997) also underline the link between self-interest, repeated interactions, reputation, and good conduct in Smith’s moral and
economic thought. In line with the argument in
Ortmann & Meardon (1995), they claim, rightly we believe, that “Smith identified problems
similar to those identified by modern theorists” (Shearmur & Klein 1997, pp. 1–2), and that “[w]ithin the setting of commerce, he identified the
essential logic of repeated-game thinking” (ibid., p. 4). Shearmur & Klein also stress that some such conceptualization is attractive because “it is
couched in terms of self-interest” (ibid., p. 8) and hence a way towards a case for the unity of Smith’s oeuvre
.

Smith, Craig (2020) Adam Smith (polity, Classic Thinkers series)

Smith is Professor of the History of Political Thought at the College of Social Sciences, School of Social and Political Sciences, University of Glasgow.

He previously published two books on Adam Smith and the Scottish Enlightenment:

Smith, C. (2019) Adam Ferguson and the Idea of Civil Society: Moral Science in the Scottish Enlightenment. Series: Edinburgh studies in Scottish philosophy. Edinburgh University Press: Edinburgh. ISBN 9781474413275 (doi: 10.3366/edinburgh/9781474413275.001.0001)

Smith, C. (2006) Adam Smith’s Political Philosophy: The Invisible Hand and Spontaneous Order. Series: Routledge studies in social and political thought. Routledge: London, UK. ISBN 9780415360944

He is also co-editor of these four books on Adam Smith and The Scottish Enlightenment:

Mills, R. J. W. and Smith, C. (Eds.) (2021) The Scottish Enlightenment : Human Nature, Social Theory and Moral Philosophy: Essays in Honour of Christopher J. Berry. Edinburgh University Press: Edinburgh. ISBN 9781474467315

Broadie, A. and Smith, C. (Eds.) (2019) The Cambridge Companion to the Scottish Enlightenment. Second Edition. Series: Cambridge companions to philosophy. Cambridge University Press: Cambridge. ISBN 9781108420709

Paganelli, M. P., Rasmussen, D. C. and Smith, C. (Eds.) (2018) Adam Smith and Rousseau: Ethics, Politics, Economics. Series: Edinburgh studies in Scottish philosophy. Edinburgh University Press: Edinburgh. ISBN 9781474422857

Berry, C.J., Paganelli, M.P. and Smith, C. (Eds.) (2013) Oxford Handbook on Adam Smith. Series: Oxford handbooks in economics. Oxford University Press: Corby. ISBN 9780199605064

The present book is meant to introduce readers to “the whole of Smith’s body of thought and, at the same time, made the case for reading that body of thought as a consistent and coherent intellectual project.” (from the acknowledgments)

Smith (Craig) thus wants to address various caricatures of Smith (Adam) that continue to persist in the general public (p. 1, p. 155 and for that matter the whole of chapter on Legacy and Influence). Since Smith (Adam) was a notoriously poor correspondent and also a very private man, Smith (Craig) examines at quite some length in chapter 1 “the intellectual climate in which he [Adam] lived, the so-called ‘Scottish Enlightenment’” (p. 9) We are introduced to key players such as Hutcheson, Lord Kames, Adam Ferguson, Thomas Reid, David Hume, and many others, and learn about what made the Scottish Enlightenment special and allowed for a relative intellectual backwater to become a shining light of intellectual enlightenment in the 18th century. It’s a well-informed narrative that sets the scene well for what is to come.

Chapter 2 is titled “Science and System” and here Smith (Craig) tries to identify Smith’s method of analysis. Drawing also on Smith’s unpublished work, Smith (Craig) states correctly that “Smith (Adam), in line with the mainstream of the Scottish Enlightenment, demands that theorizing must be supported by actual data gained from observation of life as it is, or as it has been lived.” (p. 22) Smith (Craig) talks about the Wonder-Surprise-Admiration mechanism as the driver of our attempts to systematically understand the world around us and what makes for good science (pp. 23–29) Smith (Craig) also discusses the importance to Smith (Adam) of rhetoric and conjectural, or theoretical, history (pp. 29–37).

Chapter 3 (“Morality and Sympathy”, Chapter 5 (“Jurisprudence”), Chapter 6 (“The Nature of Wealth”) and Chapter 7 (“Goverment and the Market”) are basically summaries of Smith’s (Adam’s) The Theory of Moral Sentiments, the (student notes on Smith’s) Lectures on Jurisprudence, and An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations and they are pretty much standard (but well-written) fare for those who are somehow conversant about Smith’s work and an eminently readable introduction for those readers that are not. It is interesting to note that chapter 6 is basically about the first three books in the WN and chapter 7 about Books IV and V, the latter a very substantial book we have identified in Ortmann & Walraevens (2022) as the key book in the WN. Says Smith (Craig):

Smith’s discussion of the role of the government in the economic life of the nation is a pragmatic and evidence-based one. He is not the doctrinaire defender of laissez-faire that he is often supposed to be. More than this, he is downright sceptic about the motivations of the merchants and the effectiveness of corporations. But at the same time he is also sceptic about the ability of government to act effectively in the day-to-day management of the economy. (p. 153)

A scepticism, it is important to stress, very much informed by the Mercantilist governments of Smith’s (Adam’s) place and time.

Chapter 4 (“Justice and Virtue”) is an interesting reflection on things as disparate as Part VI of TMS (which Smith, Adam, added to the 6th edition; see Matsen), the meaning of justice and benevolence, and Smith’s (Adam’s) stance on religion. As Smith (Craig) points out correctly “there is a debate amongst Smith scholars about whether he was a religious believer and the extent to which his theory depends upon the idea of God and providential plan for humanity” (p. 77). Other topics in this chapter deal with moral corruption, the importance of the individual-hand metaphor, and the implications of inequality.

Smith, Vernon Lomax (2018) “Reconnecting Modern Economics with Its Classical Insights: Discovering Adam Smith. In A Life of Experimental Economics, Vol II, chapter 21

Says Vernon:

In this chapter, I want to discuss the Adam Smith that Bart Wilson and I found in the Theory of Moral Sentiments (hereafter referred to as Sentiments), published in 1759. … The Adam Smith that we discovered in Sentiments carries over into the interpretation of his much more famous book, An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations

Think of it as sketch of what became Humanomics Cambridge University Press.

Smith, Vernon & Bart Wilson (2019), Humanomics Cambridge University Press

Tribe, Keith (2008) “‘Das Adam Smith Problem’ and the Origins of Modern Smith Scholarship” History of European Ideas 34.4 pp. 514–25

In Ortmann & Walraevens (2022, p. 2) we say this, in a footnote:

1 The Adam Smith problem is the claim that the author of The Theory of Moral Sentiments and The Wealth of Nations started from different basic assumptions about human nature. Tribe (2008) has summarized masterfully the relevant literature and makes a persuasive case why the problem is ultimately the result of a lack of acknowledgment of biographical details that happen to matter.

West, E(dwin).G. Adam Smith. The Man and his Works (Liberty Press 1976)

In Ortmann & Walraevens (2022, pp. 17) we say this, in a footnote reviewing at length West (1990, Adam Smith and Modern Economics. From Market Behavior to Public Choice, Elgar) which seems out of print:

This is the appropriate place to mention that West (1976) is equally excellent. We find it puzzling that many alleged Smith scholars either ignore, or really do not know, the book which provides a very good discussion of Smith last but not least because West traces — somewhat similar to what the equally outstanding Nicholson and Kennedy have done — some of Smith’s ideas to specific phases in Smith’s life (e.g., the Canal du Midi discussion; see West 1976, pp. 156–158)

West, E(dwin).G. Adam Smith and Modern Economics. From Market Behavior to Public Choice (Edward Elgar 1990)

In Ortmann & Walraevens (2022, pp. 16–17) we say:

West (1990) extracts (in our view, very well) the essence of Smith’s WN when he identifies, for example in his tellingly titled chapter 5 (“Principal-Agent Problems, Moral Hazard and the Theory of the Firm”), issues of asymmetric information and organizational issues. In successive sections, he identifies agency problems in foreign trade, in donor non-profit organizations, and public companies. He discusses, in rather modern language, the need for special incentive structures, as articulated by Smith, and also the theory of the firm: “Smith’s treatment is more comprehensive than that of the neoclassical writing that succeeded him. For even though it is of an embryonic kind, there is a theory of organization in The Wealth of Nations, and rudiments of the modern concepts of transaction costs, principal/agent problems and moral hazard can also be found in the same classic work” (West 1990, p. 63). In chapters 7 and 8, he shows that Smith’s recommendations for government intervention were more systematic and principled than, for example, suggested by Viner (ibid., p. 83). In chapter 9, he argues (quite persuasively in our view) that “no writer in the history of economic thought has placed greater emphasis than Smith on the need to promote free market competition and to eradicate all forms of monopolies” (ibid., p. 131). It is important to remember that West’s excellent book11 was published in 1990, formally two years after Tirole published the English version of his path-breaking Theory of Industrial Organisation (Tirole 1988) which game-theoretically completely reframed industrial organization as it was known at that point (and competently captured by West). One impor-
tant change was that, rather than starting to talk about the limit cases of
perfect competition and monopoly that allow for static analysis, the game-
theoretic reframing of industrial organization highlighted the importance
of beliefs (also about the actions and belief of others) and issues such as
entry, etc.

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Andreas Ortmann

EconProf: I post occasionally on whatever tickles my fancy: Science, evidence production, the Econ tribe, Oz politics, etc. Y’all r entitled to my opinions …