Saturday, March 17, 2007

News of Important Conference on Adam Smith Scholarship in 2009

Interesting pre-announcement news of what looks like a cracking conference in 2009 to commemorate the 250th anniversary of ‘The Theory of Moral Sentiments’ (1759). The International Adam Smith Society and its annual publication, ‘The Adam Smith Review’ are the sponsors and it is to beheld at Balliol College, Oxford University, where Adam Smith spent six harrowing years from 1740-46.

Smith’s unhappy experiences at Oxford was not from its difficult academic work, quite the reverse; he found Balliol a complete contrast to his three years as an undergraduate at Glasgow (1737-40), where there were lectures every day, from 7.30 am, followed by tutorials during which students were expected to answer questions and read their essays (some as long as 70 pages) on subjects set by faculty. At Oxford, in contrast, students attended prayers twice a day and hear ‘lectures’ twice a week, given by indifferent faculty, many of whom didn’t bother too much, having students translate passages from set books which, as Scots say, ‘didn’t set the heather on fire’ for their academic rigour. I should say that nothing as slack and third rate as this is experienced at Balliol today. Oxford is one of the world’s premier universities.

The low demands on Smith left him plenty of time for his own studies, which he undertook with some enthusiasm, particularly in his studies of the classical Greek and Latin, English, French and Italian literature, and into the wider theme of moral philosophy, from which gradually he lost his religious convictions. We have a remarkable remnant of these studies in his essay on the philosophical method, published posthumously in 1795, commonly known as his ‘History of Astronomy’, though it is more a critique of religious belief, disguised as pagan superstition.

The opportunity provided by the 2009 conference is seen by the listed speakers and the invitation for Smithian scholars from any discipline to participate. I append the official details below and hope many readers will consider attending:

“A conference to commemorate the 250th anniversary of The Theory of Moral Sentiments (January 6-8, 2009 Balliol College, Oxford / Organised by the International Adam Smith Society and The Adam Smith Review)

Although Adam Smith is better known now for his economics, in his own time it was his first book, The Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759), that established his reputation. Just as scholarly work on Smith has challenged the free market appropriation of Smith’s Wealth of Nations, so it has also come to appreciate the importance of Smith’s moral philosophy for his overall intellectual project. This conference, to be held at the college Smith himself attended from 1740-46, and at the beginning of the year marking the 250th anniversary of the publication of The Theory of Moral Sentiments, will provide an opportunity to re-evaluate the significance of Smith’s moral philosophy and moral psychology, the relationship between them and his other writings on economics, politics, jurisprudence, history, and rhetoric and belles lettres, and the relevance of his thought to current research in these areas. Papers on any of these topics, and from any discipline, are welcome.

Plenary speakers will include:

Steven Darwall (Professor of Philosophy, University of Michigan)
Charles Griswold (Professor of Philosophy, Boston University)
Knud Haakonssen (Professor of Intellectual History, University of Sussex)
David Raphael (Professor Emeritus of Philosophy, Imperial College)
Emma Rothschild (Fellow, King’s College Cambridge; Visiting Professor of History, Harvard)
Geoffrey Sayre-McCord (Professor of Philosophy, University of North Carolina)

Please send detailed abstracts (500-800 words) prepared for blind review by September 15, 2007 to:
Samuel Fleischacker
Philosophy Department (M/C 267)
601 South Morgan Street
University of Illinois at Chicago
Chicago, IL 60607-7114

Or email them (as attachments, prepared for blind review) to:

Participants will be notified that their proposals have been accepted for the conference by December 1, 2007.


A selection of conference papers will be published in a special commemorative volume of The Adam Smith Review (Routledge) [], entitled The Philosophy of Adam Smith, edited by Vivienne Brown and Sam Fleischacker (planned publication date 2009). To meet the publication schedule of the volume, participants who would like their papers to be considered for it should submit complete drafts to the editors by September 15, 2008. Only new, previously unpublished work will be included in the volume.

[Thanks to Phileconomicus ('A Blog on Philosophy and Economics') at]


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