Sunday, September 12, 2010

A Report from My Research Front

A revised version of my paper, ‘The Hidden Adam Smith in his Alleged Theology’, the first versions of which were presented to the Summer Institute, Richmond University, Virginia, June 2009, and to the Annual Conference of the History of Economics Society, June, 2009, at the University of Colorado, Denver, is to be published in the Journal of the History of Economic Thought (JHET).

I am now working on research for an invited chapter for an ‘Adam Smith Handbook’, edited by Chris Berry (Oxford University Press), on ‘Adam Smith and Religion’, taking account of Smith’s alleged belief in Providence, Deism, Natural Religion, and Stoicism, partly in response to a JHET referee’s ‘theological’ criticism of my original paper, presented at Richmond and Colorado, and which he or she complained of because it ‘only’ dealt with Smith’s disdain for Protestant Christianity. (5,000 words necessitates compression!).

Frankly, if immodestly, I would have thought that my papers were a fairly significant departure from many views over the years (repeated with apparent and unabashed authority by a leading historian as recently as 2009, in a paper which I had refereed and approved for publication). My chapter for the Handbook deals with all aspects of various religions and their institutions mentioned by Smith in Moral Sentiments, Wealth Of Nations, the ‘juvenile’ essay on Astronomy, and his Lectures on Jurisprudence, Rhetoric and Belles Lettres, plus some additional remarks on recently revealed new Adam Smith biographical materials. It is my main research project for 2010-2011.

This has been a fairly busy year for my academic work on Adam Smith, interrupted somewhat by my recent short illness, which still affects my mobility primarily (no visits out to the library just yet), hence desk-research and the Internet only.

However, I managed earlier to complete a revision of my book, “Adam Smith: a moral philosopher and his political economy”, (Palgrave Macmillan, 2008) sufficiently for it to be designated as a ‘second edition’, due for publication as a paperback (and at a more popular price of £18.99) this or next month. It’s already advertised in Palgrave’s summer catalogue.

Incidentally, the first (hardback) edition is reviewed in the current, number 6, Adam Smith Review from the International Adam Smith Society, to which I was allowed a short response in the same issue.

Earlier this year, I wrote a paper for the 2010 Summer Institute at the University of Richmond, Virginia, (‘Paul Samuelson and the Invention of the Modern Myth of the Invisible Hand’, May 2010, and since ‘tweaked’ by me from comments, critical or not), but which I was unable to deliver at Richmond this year due to illness.

This was a product of some research into the modern phenomenon of the myth of the “Invisible Hand” from the 1950s, taking its ‘invention’ (there are no other words for it) by Paul Samuelson from his successful ‘Economics: an introductory analysis’, first published in 1948, and continually developed, latterly with co-author William Nordhouse of Yale), through 19 editions (to 2010; yes, I read all 19 and I own many of them), and it achieved 4½ million sales (plus the multi-million second-hand market).

This paper was accepted by a refereed journal in May (but I have heard nothing since; which I am assured by friends is quite common). Several scholars have asked for and received a copy, and their comments have generally been appreciative (one or two have been critical – which is always helpful). Any reader of Lost Legacy may obtain a copy from me by emailing the usual address (critical comments, as always, welcomed).

Lastly, a suggestion by Mark Thornton in an undated paper I ‘found’ in my desk drawer in France (with marginal comments in my hand), but which I had quite forgotten about, has sparked me to look through Cantillon’s [1734] 1755 Essai for his comments about ‘providence’ and ‘proprietors’ allowing slaves their subsistence for comparison with Smith’s use of ‘an invisible hand’ in Moral Sentiments (1759) that the landlord was led to feed them ‘by an IH’.

While I have no doubts about the ‘object’ of Smith’s use of the metaphor (the absolute necessity for the rich landlord to feed his serfs from the output of his fields; see Smith’s Lectures on Rhetoric and Belles lettres, [1762-3] 1980, p 29) I am intrigued with Thornton’s suggestion that Cantillon’s prior example (read by Smith because he quotes from the Essai in Wealth Of Nations) was picked up by Smith in 1759. I read it as confirmation of Smith’s identification of the link between the object and its metaphor, and not something ‘magical’ or ‘spiritual’. Certainly, it had nothing to with competitive markets!

For now, I am reading at home for some other pieces of work, though my Lost Legacy Blog has suffered several interruptions, plus two long car journeys between Edinburgh and France, driven by my son-in-law, my wife, and my daughter, which has clearly, and unsurprisingly, affected visitor ‘hits’- down from the pre-illness absence from 5,000 plus to just over of 2,000 a week.

But another, and main, factor is my general tiredness – a need for short naps - and my marked clumsiness on a keyboard, requiring many more corrections than normal. This post has taken 141 minutes so far. However, I am grateful for those regular readers who visit every day. I am slowly getting physically stronger and hope to get back to more regular Blogging soon.


Blogger Alex said...

Dear Professor Kennedy,

I found out that the paper by Thornton has been published in the Quarterly Journal of Austrian Economics in 2009.The link is


6:34 am  
Blogger Gavin Kennedy said...

I shall note that on my copy, but I cannot remember how I came across it.

I made reference to it in my paper on Samuelson and now I can cite it properly


6:04 pm  
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8:43 am  

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