Adam Smith : biography
Adam Smith (5 June 1723 OS (16 June 1723 NS) – 17 July 1790) was a Scottish moral philosopher and a pioneer of political economy. One of the key figures of the Scottish Enlightenment, Adam Smith is best known for two classic works: The Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759), and An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations (1776). The latter, usually abbreviated as The Wealth of Nations, is considered his magnum opus and the first modern work of economics. Smith is cited as the "father of modern economics" and is still among the most influential thinkers in the field of economics today.Davis, William L, Bob Figgins, David Hedengren, and Daniel B. Klein. "Economic Professors’ Favorite Economic Thinkers, Journals, and Blogs," Econ Journal Watch 8(2): 126-146, May 2011.
Smith studied social philosophy at the University of Glasgow and at Balliol College, Oxford, where he was one of the first students to benefit from scholarships set up by his fellow Glaswegian John Snell. After graduating, he delivered a successful series of public lectures at the University of Edinburgh, leading him to collaborate with David Hume during the Scottish Enlightenment. Smith obtained a professorship at Glasgow teaching moral philosophy, and during this time he wrote and published The Theory of Moral Sentiments. In his later life, he took a tutoring position that allowed him to travel throughout Europe, where he met other intellectual leaders of his day. Smith then returned home and spent the next ten years writing The Wealth of Nations, publishing it in 1776. He died in 1790 at the age of 67.
Smith was born in Kirkcaldy, Fife, Scotland. His father, also named Adam Smith, was a lawyer, civil servant, and widower who married Margaret Douglas in 1720 and died two months after Smith was born. Although the date of Smith’s birth is unknown, his baptism was recorded on 5 June 1723 at Kirkcaldy. Though few events in Smith’s early childhood are known, Scottish journalist and Smith’s biographer John Rae recorded that Smith was abducted by gypsies at the age of four and released when others went to rescue him. Smith was close to his mother, who likely encouraged him to pursue his scholarly ambitions. He attended the Burgh School of Kirkcaldy—characterised by Rae as "one of the best secondary schools of Scotland at that period"—from 1729 to 1737. While there, Smith studied Latin, mathematics, history, and writing.
Smith entered the University of Glasgow when he was fourteen and studied moral philosophy under Francis Hutcheson. Here, Smith developed his passion for liberty, reason, and free speech. In 1740 Smith was awarded the Snell exhibition and left to attend Balliol College, Oxford.
Smith considered the teaching at Glasgow far superior to that at Oxford, which he found intellectually stifling. In Book V, Chapter II of The Wealth of Nations, Smith wrote: "In the University of Oxford, the greater part of the public professors have, for these many years, given up altogether even the pretence of teaching." Smith is also reported to have complained to friends that Oxford officials once discovered him reading a copy of David Hume’s Treatise on Human Nature, and they subsequently confiscated his book and punished him severely for reading it. According to William Robert Scott, "The Oxford of [Smith’s] time gave little if any help towards what was to be his lifework." Nevertheless, Smith took the opportunity while at Oxford to teach himself several subjects by reading many books from the shelves of the large Oxford library. When Smith was not studying on his own, his time at Oxford was not a happy one, according to his letters. Near the end of his time at Oxford, Smith began suffering from shaking fits, probably the symptoms of a nervous breakdown. He left Oxford University in 1746, before his scholarship ended.
In Book V of The Wealth of Nations, Smith comments on the low quality of instruction and the meager intellectual activity at English universities, when compared to their Scottish counterparts. He attributes this both to the rich endowments of the colleges at Oxford and Cambridge, which made the income of professors independent of their ability to attract students, and to the fact that distinguished men of letters could make an even more comfortable living as ministers of the Church of England.