ADAM SMITH'S MORAL PHILOSOPHY AND ROBERT BURNS POETRY
I sent this letter to The Scotsman (Edinburgh) yesterday that may be of interest to Lost Legacy readers.
Robert Burns, of course, is a classic Scottish lierary icon, weel known to readers of poetry. What is less well known is Burns shared an admiration for the moral philosophy of Adam Smith. Robert Burn’s father gave to his son a copy of Adam Smith’s ‘Theory of Model Sentiments’, of which he read and was also sympthetic.
“To the editor:
Michael Fry’s [a contemporary Scottish historian] reference to Robert Burns and Adam Smith in the Scottish Enlightenment. It brought to mind their compatibity in moral philosophy.
Smith wrote: “This self deceit, this fatal weakness of mankind, is the souce of half the disorders of human life. If we saw ourselves in the light in which others see us, in which they would if they knew all, a reformation would generally be unavoidable. We could not otherwise endure the sight.” (Smith, “Theory of Moral Sentiments” (1759).
Compare this with Burns famous lines (1785):
To see oursels as ithers see us!
It wad frae mony a blunder free us,
An' foolish notion.”
We know Burns had read Smith’s “Moral Sentiments” and may have drawn poetic inspiration from it.
An important element that made the Scottish Enlightenment distinctive was the close overlapping, linked contacts among its contributing members in and around Edinburgh during those heady decades.
Emeritus Prof. Gavin Kennedy.”