Saturday, February 03, 2007

An Educator Explains

I think I should explain a little about how I see the function of the ‘Lost legacy’ Blog, both to review it in my mind and perhaps to elucidate my approach for readers.

I am an educator, primarily, and have sought to explain complex ideas to a wide audience both for and beyond the special interest groups within the discipline of economics.

Hence, I do not solely comment for professional colleagues, though, of course, I welcome their interest in Adam Smith’s writings. Mostly, this is because Smith’s works and ideas are also purveyed by varying degrees of inaccuracy by experts beyond specialist economists in the media, as well as the professional journals.

Smith’s ideas have been so transformed by two centuries of the epigones that we are not faced merely with presenting interesting ideas that may be unknown beyond the circle of specialists, like, for instance, if I was to research and write about other figures from the hinterland of the history of ideas in economics.

A Blog devoted to the economic thinking of Richard Cantillon, or Charles Davenant, or even a front-ranker in 'fame' such as David Hume, would be interesting to a small groups of academics and, perhaps, a select group of general readers, but they are not names associated with wild perversions of their ideas by, sadly, some of the brightest economists, modern policy makers and their advisors, in the manner that happened to Adam Smith. There is a 'Chicago Adam Smith' and a 'Kirkcaldy Adam Smith', but not similarly for Cantillon, Davenant and Hume. Their intellectual legacies have not been purloined (not too strong a word!) for ends alien to their writings, as they have been with Smith’s.

Thus, when an obviously 'partially educated' contribution is put out from any author and I come across it, I look at the ideas and their degree of variance from Smith’s Works, ignore the status of their authors, and put their ideas about Smith under scrutiny for those readers of ‘Lost Legacy’ who may be interested, and hope to educate them, if they need it (many don’t), in both the correct writings of Adam Smith and of the subject with which the wrong ideas have become associated his name.

I try to keep this non-technical, without being flippant; the aim is educational, not academic precision worthy of peer review. It is a daily Blog, not a draft article for one of our journals. I aim also to be scholarly enough to avoid dismissal of what I say about Smith’s writings, and I am confident that on most, if not all, occasions I can source my interpretations accurately from within the primary Smithian texts.

Bear also in mind that I am also engaged in writing a serious account of Smith’s thinking that in due course will be published and, thereby, under scrutiny from my colleagues, and that writing on aspects of his thinking, under fire from daily abuses from epigones, from media authors using second- and third-hand sources, dimly remembered sound bites, and en passant muddled interpretations of isolated quotations devoid of context at Economics 101 from long ago, has the virtue that I practise explaining what Smith did say as against what he is alleged to have said on this or that subject, sometimes repetitiously I know, but it is excellent preparation for writing understandable prose, and for correcting the turgid in what I have already written in my manuscript.

If some readers learn something they did not know, or have confirmed for them what they do know, then they may be satisfied, which shows in the increasing numbers of visitors to the site, many of whom become regular readers and willing apparently to spend their scarce time to this task. I am also doubly satisfied that I have benefited from my time spent writing and rewriting as above, and I hope it will show, eventually, in what I publish later this year.

If I appear somewhat ‘emotional’, impatient', and less than ‘calm’ on occasion, over issues that should be treated in a more detached manner, with the usual professorial gravitas, that probably reflects my teaching style at the universities I lectured in before retirement – I was never known, since the early days of my academic career, for teaching in monotone.


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