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David Hume in his 18th c. Contexts: Part 2, Adam Smith

David Hume in his Eighteenth-Century Contexts: part 2 -- Adam Smith, Major Works in Context

In the wake of our very productive meetings during 2010-11, we propose to reassemble many of last year’s participants in the working group on David Hume and his Eighteenth-Century Contexts, along with several new members, to continue our interdisciplinary investigation into eighteenth-century letters.  The group currently includes faculty and graduate students form the fields of philosophy, law, literary studies (both English and German), politics, and history.  In the coming year we aim to take advantage of the momentum we together built up in 2010-11 and move on from our study of Hume to explore Adam Smith in his contexts.  Smith is another figure whose writings cut across the divisions of the contemporary disciplines.

In 1773, Smith instructed his good friend Hume to destroy all of his unpublished manuscripts and notes upon his death.  He later repeated this charge to his literary executors, who burned sixteen volumes of material, leaving only a few essays to be published posthumously.  Thus Smith left us with two major works, the Theory of Moral Sentiments and The Wealth of Nations, published over fifteen years apart.  Our working group will approach Smith’s two principal books, so often read separately in their respective fields, in the context of his career as a whole, his interaction with contemporary thinkers in Scotland, England, and France, and broader aspects of his relationship to eighteenth-century literature, culture, and thought.

Selections from Smith’s correspondence, from the posthumously published Essays on Philosophical Subjects, and from student notes of his lectures at the University of Glasgow, published as Lectures on Rhetoric and Belles Lettres and Lectures on Jurisprudence, will fill gaps in our knowledge of Smith’s thought before, between, and after the publication of his major works.  We propose to convene every three to four weeks during 2011-12 to discuss such selections alongside works of Smith’s contemporaries.  The review of Samuel Johnson’s A Dictionary of the English Language that Smith published in the Edinburgh Review may, for instance, be read alongside selections from the Dictionary itself.  Smith’s aesthetic and moral philosophy might be placed in dialogue with that of his mentor Francis Hutcheson, while selections from The Wealth of Nations may be considered next to writings of physiocrat economists such as François Quesnay, whom Smith met in Paris.  Such pairings will embed the typically isolated Theory of Moral Sentiments and The Wealth of Nations in the context of Smith’s thought throughout his life, and place that thought in conversation with his predecessors and contemporaries.

We plan to host a small colloquium in April 2012 to bring readers of Smith’s two main books, and those interested in his lesser known works, into dialogue.  The colloquium would involve the entire group, supplemented by visitors, including two leading Smith scholars, each calling a different discipline home.



Edward Andrew, Political Science (Emeritus)
Joseph Berkovitz, History & Philosophy of Science & Technology
Christine Lehleiter, German
Deidre Lynch, English
Simon Stern, Law
David Taylor, UTM English & Drama
Donna Andrew, History, University of Guelph


John Bunner, Philosophy
Michael DaSilva, Law
Melissa Patterson, English
Erin Parker, English
Juan Pineros, Philosophy
Matthew Risling, English
Simone Taylor, English
Zubin Meer, English, York University

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