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Reading Adam Smith in the 21st Century - Essay Example

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Adam Smith is popularly known as the father of economics. The ongoing recession in the world economy with the fear of a coming depression makes it worthwhile to go back to Smith and see how economics as a branch of study began. Evensky (2001) in his article "Adam Smith's Lost Legacy" has made an interesting point…
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Reading Adam Smith in the 21st Century
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"Reading Adam Smith in the 21st Century"

Download file to see previous pages Adam Smith was born in 1723 in a village called Kirkcaldy in Scotland. His family was influential; his father the elder Adam Smith held several important positions at the time of his death in 1723. At the age of fourteen Smith entered Glasgow College where his teachers included among other famous men, the great Frances Hutcheson. Smith was to discover and foster his talents and abilities in this college. John Rae (1895) in his biography of Smith titled The Life of Adam Smith stated that it was Hutcheson and later Hume who seem to have had the most influence on Smith. Hutcheson was an engaging and powerful speaker who animated Smith's mind. Hutcheson was one of a new breed of philosophers who were perceived to be radical in their thoughts and beliefs by the theological conservatives. In fact Rae credited Hutcheson with the development of Smith's ideas on natural liberty, the value of labor as the source of wealth etc.
Soon after on a Snell scholarship Smith left for Oxford in 1740. In a strong contrast to Glasgow, the atmosphere at Oxford was lax and lackadaisical. Smith found that Oxford, being wealthy through endowments had become inept as a result. Lecturers had no incentive to perform and the students were pretty much left to themselves to learn on their own. However in the six years he spent there he kept himself busy mainly by reading the ancient Greek and Latin classics. After graduating, Smith went back to Scotland. In 1750 he was appointed Professor of Logic at Glasgow College and a short while later shifted to the Chair of Moral Philosophy. It was while he was Professor of Moral Philosophy at Glasgow College that he wrote The Theory of Moral Sentiments in 1759, the book that he himself considered to be his finest accomplishment.
The Theory of Moral Sentiments grounds sympathy as the basis of social relationships and in the larger sense of society itself. The book is believed to share Smith's own belief in Stoicism as well as the influence of Hutcheson. The Theory of Moral Sentiments demonstrates that Stoicism was an important part of the mental make-up of Smith. Smith basically combined the stoic precept of self command with the Christian idea of benevolence. Much like the Stoics, Smith too prefigured the social bond among humans in terms of "sympathy" while the Stoic idea of world citizenship and self-command portend the role of Smith's impartial spectator (p.10).
The Theory of Moral Sentiments tries to understand the function of moral behavior in society. Smith departed from Hutcheson and other philosophers in that tradition like Shaftesbury and Hume by defining motive as an essential element of moral behavior. Hutcheson had rejected that motive had anything to do with morality and instead claimed that man possessed a certain innate sense that propelled him to be moral. Smith makes motive an integral part of moral behavior arguing that people often look to the motives of a benefactor before bestowing their approval of a beneficent action. An act of kindness performed unknowingly without the motive to do good to anyone does not bring the same admiration and esteem that result when it is deemed that the action was performed with the knowledge that it would ...Download file to see next pagesRead More
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