Wednesday, December 1, 2010

What Did Adam Smith Believe?

The personal religious beliefs - which are to be distinguished from the private religious beliefs, if any - of Adam Smith are interesting for at least two reasons: first, because they shed some light on his influential economic writings, and second, because Smith, aside from economics, is worth studying, given his multi-disciplinary intellect and his engagement in cultural society of some of the most brilliant minds of history. Kevin Williamson writes:

The exact range and character of Smith's religious beliefs is the subject of some controversy, and the path he took in negotiating what seems to have been the poles in his religious universe - the radical skepticism of his friend David Hume and the Christian Stoicism of his mentor, Francis Hutcheson - is unknown to us. It is presumptuous, and perhaps a little dangerous, to lean too heavily upon Smith's religious beliefs to draw conclusions about his economic analysis.

In any event, Smith seems to have been a member of the Presbyterian Church, gave generously during his life, and left large sums of money to charity upon his death.