Choose one of the following contributors to Enlightenment thought and research that person in greater detail. Your aim is to:
- Summarise the key ideas of the individual
- Suggest what you think was his main significance in terms of advancing the ideals of the Enlightenment.
Adam Smith was one of the key figures of the Scottish Enlightenment. He is best known for economic theories laid out in the seminal treatise The Wealth of Nations (1776).
He was a founder of a pioneering doctrine called economic liberalism which challenged mercantilism and feudalism. According to him, pursuing egoistic self-interest could be a motive power for progress and development. In his vision of economy, the nation's wealth could only be created when a free market existed. Therefore, he claimed, economic freedom was an essential condition that lead to nation's well-being. Adam Smith coined the concept of the 'invisible hand of the market', and argued that the market could regulate itself for the benefit and well-being of people, and that state interference in the economy should be minimized. He developed the idea of division of labour to increase the effectiveness of production.
Smith was a "polymath, and an eminent social theorist and moral philosopher"(Oxford Reference). He lectured in Scottish universities, travelled around Europe meeting other enlighteners like Voltaire and worked as a commissioner of customs in Edinburgh. There is no doubt he was a brilliant and enlightened man.
Adam Smith is considered to be 'the first economist' and the father of capitalism and economic liberalism. His legacy continues to inspire and his theories are the subject of frequent discussions, although others question the validity of his assumptions.
As for advancing the ideals of Enlightenment, I think Smith, when working on his concepts, was led both by rational analysis and observation of the mechanisms occurring in societies. It appears that he was an idealist and altruist deeply concerned with the welfare of humankind.