Thursday, April 27, 2006

Pleasing Snippet in an Unexpected Place

I found a most interesting and surprising snippet about Adam Smith in, of all sources, What PC? – the ‘essential buyer’s guide’.

Andrew Sawers, pens a neat summary of Adam Smith’s ‘History of Astonomy’. He begins, infortunately, with the usual nonsense about Adam Smith and the so-called invisible hand:

Adam Smith may be famous for his book The Wealth of Nations and his theory that an “invisible hand” moves markets and prices. But he was a philosopher who also wrote an essay on the history of astronomy. His intention was to explain how the mind tries to make sense of the world around us by looking for coherent explanations, so as not to “embarrass and confound the imagination”.

Readers will know that Smith did not have a “theory that an 'invisible hand' moves markets and prices.” His singular reference in ‘Wealth of Nations’ to an ‘invisible hand’ had nothing to do with how markets and prices move (see WN IV.ii.9: pp455-6). That it is a theory of markets and prices is a result of an interpolation from the late 19th century, and its widespread repitition in the 20th century, introduced by others long after he died in 1790. There is nothing mysterious or miraculous about Smith's theory of markets and prices, which, of course, does not make either of them properly understood, even today and even by some economists, especially when it comes to prices.

However, Andrew Sawers' brief summary of the Smith’s ‘juvenile’ essay on the 'Philosophical Method illustrated by the History of Astronomy' is worth reading if you only have time for a few minutes reading of a few hundred words.

It is not common that I find people have read or heard of Smith's early work on the 'History of Astronomy' - many have not read his two great books on 'Moral Sentiments' or 'Wealth of Nations' (even many so-called experts have not read his 'Lectures on Jurisprudence') - so to read Andrew Sawers' competent assessment was a surprise and a great pleasure.

In fact, I went through all of Smith's sentiments of 'surprise', 'wonder' and 'admiration'. If you are unaware of the significance of these three states then you must read Smith's Essay. You can start now by reading Andrew Sawers article.

Read it at:


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