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Adam Smith’s Social and Political Thought

Instructor(s): Jennifer Pitts
Spring 2023

Adam Smith’s thought, and his immense influence, ranged across a remarkable array of subjects: from rhetoric and the art of writing, through the early history of language and thought, through moral philosophy and the history of law and government, to the political economy of the modern commercial state and the politics of global empires. This seminar reads Smith’s Theory of Moral Sentiments and Wealth of Nations in light of his broader intellectual concerns in less well-known works, and in the philosophical and political context of the Enlightenment, especially in relation to the work of David Hume (also Mandeville, Hutcheson, Montesquieu, and others). We will pay particular attention to such topics as Smith’s ambivalent account of progress, his narrative of global history, his critique of European commercial society and imperial expansion, and his polemical and didactic purposes. We will also read selectively from the rich body of new scholarly literature on Smith.

PLSC 22013 | PLSC 42013 | CCCT 22013 | CCCT 42013