Friday, August 25, 2017

Prospect: "Why David Hume and Adam Smith were the original odd couple"

The date of 4th July 1776 has other claims to fame, of course. But while Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin and their fellow revolutionaries were meeting in Philadelphia to publish the Declaration of Independence and launch a new nation, across the Atlantic a private gathering of even greater intellectual distinction was in progress.

David Hume was dying. Slipping away fast; so fast indeed that in February he told his great friend Adam Smith that he had “fallen five compleat stones.” Hume had installed himself some years before in the New Town in Edinburgh, in a house big enough “to display my great Talent for Cookery, the Science to which I intend to addict the remaining Years of my Life.” Now, knowing he was near his end, he had gathered Smith and a few other friends around him for one last dinner in company.

But although Hume’s famous fleshy frame had gone, his sense of humour—no less renowned—had not. When Smith complained that evening at the cruelty of the world in taking him from them, Hume replied: “No, no. Here am I, who have written on all sorts of subjects calculated to excite hostility, moral, political, and religious, and yet I have no enemies; except, indeed, all the Whigs, all the Tories, and all the Christians.”

With Thomas Hobbes, Hume has good claim to be considered the greatest philosopher ever to have written in English, while Smith is widely regarded as “the father of economics.” But even these descriptions underplay the measure of their achievements, for Hume must also be counted one of the greatest of historians, and Smith with equal justice the father of sociology. ...

1 comment:

Tom Van Dyke said...

Jefferson banned Hume's History from his University of Virginia.

"...he still continues to be put into the hands of all our young people, and to infect them with the poison of his own principles of government. it is this book which has undermined the free principles of the English government, has persuaded readers of all classes that these were usurpations on the legitimate and salutary rights of the crown, and has spread universal toryism over the land, and the book will still continue to be read here as well as there."