Adam Smith

On this date in 1723, Adam Smith was born in Scotland. He was educated at Glasgow University, where he won an exhibition giving him a scholarship to Oxford on the condition that he become a minister of the Church of Scotland. A rationalist, he ignored the condition. Smith became chair of logic, then moral philosophy, at Glasgow University, where he sought unsuccessfully to discontinue classroom prayers and religious duties. He served as dean of the faculty from 1760-62, when he became vice rector.

He was on friendly terms with Glasgow’s elite freethinkers, including David Hume and deistic engineer James Watt. Smith’s Theory of the Moral Sentiment was published in 1759. As tutor to the young Duke of Buccleuch, he lived in France for a while, where he became friendly with Voltaire, Rousseau and the French Encyclopedists. In 1767 he joined the Royal Society. His master work, Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, was published in two volumes in 1776. The classic explanation of the free market was quickly translated into many other languages. In 1777, Smith’s Life of Hume came out, clearly endorsing Hume’s rationalist views.

After Smith became Lord Rector of Glasgow University in 1787, a position requiring that he bow to convention, he begged off aiding in the posthumous publication of Hume’s Dialogues on Natural Religion. Smith was said to have burned 16 volumes of his own manuscripts before his death. He advised, “Virtue is more to be feared than vice, because its excesses are not subject to the regulation of conscience.” During his lifetime, Smith made many anonymous acts of charity. D. 1790.

Freedom From Religion Foundation