Who Was Adam Smith?

Written by: Jerry Evensky

Adam Smith

Jerry Evensky, the author of Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations, clarifies how to read Smith's work not simply as economics, but as a wider piece of social science.


Adam Smith was not an economist. He was a Moral Philosopher. For Smith economics is but one dimension of social science. To do economic analysis in isolation is to do a one dimensional exploration of the human condition. For economic analysis to be fully fruitful it must be complemented by analyses of social and political dimensions. Smith believed that the best context for exploring, and thus understanding, the nexus of these dimensions of the human condition is rich, textured historical analysis.

The lesson Smith takes from his own reading of history is that a liberal, free market society – the most fruitful of all societal systems – is only as successful as the ethical standards of that society are just, and are broadly shared. “Justice … is the main pillar that upholds the whole edifice” of human society (Smith in TMS), it is the foundation of a community of trust and trust is the key to constructive human intercourse.

If there is a hero in Smith’s analysis it is not the capitalist – it is the ethical citizen. One should keep that in mind as one reads his Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations.

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About the Author: Jerry Evensky

Jerry Evensky is the author of Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations. He is Professor of Economics and Meredith Professor for Teaching Excellence at Syracuse University. He has published widely on Adam Smith's work including in History of Political Economy, ...

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