Tuesday, January 13, 2009

A Surprise Invitation

Unexpected invitations can be exhilarating, as well as risky. Mine yesterday afternoon was both.

The US John Templeton Foundation has sponsored a 2-day meeting in Edinburgh of a small group of senior scholars interested and well qualified in “Adam Smith as Theologian”, some from the UK nnd the rest of Europe, many from the USA and Canada, and a few from Australia.

Judging from the agenda, this is an intensive, high-level seminar. The titles show the range and depth of the events:

Theological Readings of Adam Smith;
The Influence of Religious Thinking on the Smithian Revolution;
Divine Action, Providence and Smith’s Invisible Hand;
Theology and Natural Law Ethics;
A Divine Economy: assessing Adam Smith’s Theology;
Adam Smith’s Theodicy;
Man and Society in Adam Smith’s Natural Morality: the impartial spectator, the man in the system, and the invisible hand;
The Contemporary Developments of Adam Smith today;
A Visible Hand: modern lessons from Smith’s Theory of Moral Sentiments.

Yesterday afternoon, Paul Oslington, Professor of Economics at Australian Catholic University (Sydney), called me from the conference (held at the Royal Society of Edinburgh, in George Street – of which Adam Smith as a founder member in 1783), to invite me to a dinner that evening and to give a short biographical talk on Adam Smith in Edinburgh. Naturally I accepted.

Those readers following my post and the comments on Monday will be aware of my current research topic on the extent to which, if at all, that Adam Smith was a Deist.

Until I arrived at the dinner at Fisher’s, Thistle Street, one of Edinburgh finest restaurants (at least to my palate), I was unaware of the serious nature of the conference to which Paul was headed when I conducted him on the ‘Adam Smith Tour’ under the tender attentions of Edinburgh at its coldest, wettest, and windiest.

The John Templeton Foundation is a serious contributor to the dissemination of knowledge.

However, I was not there to discuss religion and Adam Smith, and I steered well clear of the topic, as propriety dictates (see Moral Sentiments - don't argue with your hosts!). I listened to diners discussing their academic work and observed their serious demeanours.

My short talk on Adam Smith’s time in Edinburgh was received reasonably well and I returned home feeling I had enjoyed a lovely evening with several strangers and the one or two whom I knew from History of Economic Thought Meetings, or from their writings on Adam Smith, feeling that with all of whom I could be friends.

The Republic of Letters is sometimes an illusive reality which is made real in such meetings.



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