Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Phillipson's Good Work Continues

Britannica Blog (HERE) contains a most interesting and authoritative, because thoughtful, Q & A with Nicholas Phillipson on Adam Smith:

Rediscovering Adam Smith: 5 Questions for Biographer Nicholas Phillipson

"Britannica: Why do you suppose it is that Adam Smith, though renowned in his day for breadth of scope and moral philosophizing, is today remembered only for ideas such as the invisible hand and the importance of self-interest in the economy?"

"Phillipson: History hasn’t been kind to Smith. Contemporaries knew him for his moral philosophy as well as his political economy, and his Scottish friends knew him for major university courses on jurisprudence and rhetoric which he would have published if time and health hadn’t run out on him. After his death, memory of his lectures faded—and has only recently been revived by the discovery of sets of student notes. His moral philosophy went out of fashion, and Smith became known simply as the author of The Wealth of Nations, a one-book man. Even that became increasingly selectively read by successive generations of economists who were more anxious to distill scientific laws out of his economic principles than to attend to his concerns with the role of governments in managing economies."

"Britannica: What do you regard as Smith’s most important idea—or, perhaps better, the one, to use the overworked term, that remains most relevant to us today?

Phillipson: If Smith’s philosophy is read as a whole and seen as an extraordinary attempt to develop a Science of Man, his most enduring insights are into the business of social exchange. He saw that exchanging goods, services, and sentiments is the activity that shapes and socializes our lives and makes it possible for us to acquire characters and identities. It’s an activity that has profound unintended consequences, too. For the effect of these individual actions will be to shape the customs, conventions, and culture of the societies to which we belong. It’s an idea that involves seeing economic activity as part of a civilizing process, and Smith’s enduring message is that economic life will work for the betterment of society only when citizens and their rulers treat the pursuit of wealth as a means of seeking that feeling of happiness which comes when we feel at ease with society and with ourselves."

Plus three more questions and answers of similar value (respect for copyright precludes me offering them all.

These exchanges are among the gradual rise in presentations of the authentic Adam Smith that encourages Lost Legacy to keep plugging away at the usual rather sad renditions of Adam Smith's thinking that passes for normal in today's media and economic commentary.

Later today I shall add some comments on a recent professional article on Adam Smith that has been sent to me by its author that makes the effort to be accurate as well as instructive.

The more that the profession takes not of the authentic Adam Smith, the greater the assistance of his ideas to current policy discussions. Recently, the epigones have divided into those recanting their earlier beliefs (not yet realising they were in error to start with) and those brazenly carryon on as if nothing has happened in the real world to their epigonic, not accurate, beliefs about Adam Smith).

So, follow the link and enjoy.



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