Saturday, March 26, 2011

Interesting Question on the Authenticity of Smith's Lectures on Jurisprudence

From The New Republic (HERE):

Adam Smith: An Enlightened Life
by Nicholas Phillipson

A Book Review by Yuval Levin: "Morals and Markets"

There are times when Phillipson's conjectures go too far. An entire chapter is devoted to a series of lectures on jurisprudence that we do not actually know whether Smith delivered. Phillipson assumes he did, and builds too much on the assumption.”

I reviewed Nicholas Phillipson’s excellent study of Adam Smith on Lost Legacy when it came out. On the whole Yuval Levin’s review is also excellent, except for the three sentences above, of which I am curious as to the basis for his assertion “that we do not actually know whether Smith delivered” the Lectures on Jurisprudence. This may be just a throw-away line in a book review to give it cod scholarly status.

What we have is the discovery (1895 - Edwin Canaan and the second in 1958 (John Lothian) in two separate multi-volumes of manuscripts claiming to have been taken down verbatim in 1762-3, known as “LJ(A)”, (Smith’s last teaching year at Glasgow University) by an anonymous student, or students, and another manuscript, known as “LJ(B)”, dated ‘1766’ (when Smith was in France and returning to London), in much more polished prose, that follows similar themes, suggesting editing by a student, or some other, though almost definitely from the same source.

In both versions, there are extensive passages that parallel passages in Wealth Of Nations. Both documents were published in 1978 as “Lectures On Jurisprudence” by Oxford University Press, as a volume V in the ‘Glasgow edition of the Works and Correspondence of Adam Smith’ (also reproduced by Liberty Press), and edited by foremost Smithian scholars of the 1970s, Ronald L. Meek, David D. Raphael, and P.G. Stern.

Smith’s actual lecture notes were burned on his instructions just before he died in 1790, though he had promised his readers that he was writing a (third) book on Jurisprudence to join his other two, Moral Sentiments and Wealth Of Nations. Each lecture in the LJ(A) student notes is dated and from casual content he refers to his other lectures on moral philosophy to those students listening to him.

Most scholars consider the evidence for the authenticity of Lectures on Jurisprudence as compelling. If Yuval Levin has other information, I for one sure would like to hear from him to consider his claims.



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