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Adam Smith

Universally acknowledged as the father of capitalism, the eighteenth-century Scottish thinker Adam Smith is best known for his “invisible hand” theory. This theory argued in favor of setting individuals free to pursue their self-interests for the good of all and has helped to make Smith's name synonymous with unfettered free market capitalism. In this book, Jonathan Conlin rescues Smith from the straight-jacket of economics, reattaching the “invisible hand” to Smith’s philosophy of ethics.
As Conlin shows, Smith rooted our instincts to trade in human psychology. Analyzing the contrasts he saw between the industrializing Scottish lowlands and the clan-based pastoralism of the Scottish highlands—as well as the contrasts between the ideas of contemporary thinkers such as Jean-Jacques Rousseau and David Hume—Smith advanced a system of ethics founded on sympathy. Weaving together Smith’s life and ideas, Conlin shows how the latter anticipated much more recent developments surrounding behavioral economics, virtue ethics, and social inequality. Ultimately, Conlin argues, Adam Smith offers us a set of tools to face today's challenges and become better and happier human beings. 

224 pages | 30 halftones | 5 x 8 | © 2016

Critical Lives

Economics and Business: Economics--General Theory and Principles

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“In a well-written and consistently interesting study, Jonathan Conlin shows how Adam Smith, key thinker in the development of economics, is directly relevant not only for the late 18th century but also for today. . . . A valuable, interesting and well-written book. Conlin deserves congratulations.”

BBC History

"Conlin’s Adam Smith in under two hundred pages provides a guide for readers who do not have the time to plumb the depths of Smithology and brings Smith to life by showing how he came to think the way he did by taking cues from the world he lived in. . . . Conlin has been teaching Smith at universities in the United Kingdom and France and his exposure to questions raised by twenty-somethings shines through.Conlin encourages reading Smith not as a monument on display but as a manual encouraging readers to look at the world we have before our eyes and use our mind to draw our own conclusions."

Journal of the Adam Smith Institute

"Presents an introduction to the thought of Adam Smith, integrating his life with such key Smithian concepts as sympathy and the passions, the historical account of the development of society, and moral philosophy."

Journal of Economic Literature

"Conlin has taken it upon himself to reconstruct an integrated analysis of Smith’s vision of humankind’s invisible connecting principles for undergraduates, as well as for any thoughtful reader who is interested in Adam Smith’s work. In his contribution to the Critical Lives series, Conlin does a very admirable job of this in a small space."


Table of Contents

Note on the Text
1. The Theater of Nature, 1723-50
2. Spectatorship and Sympathy, 1751-63
3. Trading Places, 1764-6
4. Golden Dreams
5. The Machine of Government, 1776-89
Conclusion: Head, Heart and Hand, 1790

Further Reading
Photo Acknowledgements

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