Thursday, May 01, 2014


Maggie Millar reports on the ‘Adam Smith Lecture 2014’ 
in Kirkcaldy in “Fife Today”, delivered by Professor Michael 
Sandel, Harvard University HERE 

“Is there anything money can’t buy?
The Adam Smith Lecture series, originally launched by Fife College 40 years ago, has brought many leading international figures to Fife.
Professor Sandel, described as “the most famous teacher of philosophy in the world” joins an impressive list of former speakers including Alan Greenspan, Kofi Annan and Mervyn King.
He said: “Having the opportunity to visit Adam Smith’s birthplace and be the guest speaker at this prestigious event in his hometown is a great opportunity and I was delighted to share my views and philosophies with such a warm and welcoming audience.”
Gordon Brown MP, who has known Prof. Sandel for many years, invited him to deliver the historic lecture and introduced him on stage.
He said: “I’m certain Adam Smith would have felt very proud, just as we are, to have someone of Professor Sandel’s global appeal and notoriety visit our hometown to speak at a lecture in his name.”
This year’s event was organised by Kirkcaldy’s Ambitions, a partnership which includes Fife College, Adam Smith Global Foundation, Fife Council, Fife Cultural Trust, Kirkcaldy4All and the Fife Free Press.
Michael Levack, chairman of the Adam Smith Global Foundation, told the packed-out audience that attracting someone of Prof. Sandel’s standing was a “coup” for Kirkcaldy and part of the group’s wider plan to “preserve Kirkcaldy’s social and historic built environment, enhance Adam Smith’s legacy worldwide and benefit the people of Kirkcaldy.”
The Fife Today sub-heading: “Sandel’s lecture delivered a ‘coup’ for Kirkcaldy” is an accurate reflection of the sheer quality of Professor Sandel’s delivery.  The audience was composed of the general public and several scholars whom I know (including Nicholas Phillipson (Edinburgh University) and Craig Smith (Glasgow University) and local Fife citizens, with, of course, Gordon Brown MP (former UK Prime Minister and Kirkcaldy’s local MP), who is fully committed to the raising of the profile of Adam Smith’s connections with Kirkcaldy (his birthplace, 1723, and home until 1737, when he left for 4 years as a student at Glasgow University.  
After Oxford University (1740-46), Smith returned to his Mother’s House in Kirkcaldy’s High Street. And he returned to Kircaldy from his years as the Professsor of Moral Philosophy at Glasgow University (1751-63) and from his tour of France, shepherding the young Duke of Buccleugh, in 1766.  He composed his famous book, “The Wealth Of Nations” in his mother's house in Kirkcaldy 1767-1773, which he completed while in London and published it in 1776.
Professor Sandel’s lecture was panoramic in scope and dealt with Smith’s moral stances in his “Theory of Moral Sentiments” (1759) and their relation to his political economy, using language and examples suitable for both a scholarly and general audience.  
He also invited comments from his (very large audience) on a moral issue - “should children be invited to earn money for reading books in a class of non-readers or should they be taught to read by non-monetary means, such as moral exhortation”.  Two brave people volunteered to argue their case for either proposition and he used questions of them to highlight the moral and practical issues arising from the short speeches each offered.  I considered it a brave, worthwhile, and instructive - even gripping - Socratic teaching device in a public lecture to non-academics. The audience also loved it, as I did.  
Unfortunately, I had to leave right after the lecture, missing the reception afterwards.  I had been taken to Kirkcaldy by car driven by my son and his girl-friend and they needed to get back to Edinburgh to be fit for work next morning.  Hence, I missed any opportunity to listen to Professor Sandel’s informal conversations afterwords. 

Congratulations to Kirkcaldy and the organisers of the ‘Adam Smith Global Foundation’ in Kirkcaldy for promoting the annual series of ‘Adam Smith Lectures’ (I have attended six of them over the years).


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