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date: 09 July 2020

(p. v) Preface

(p. v) Preface

Adam Smith (1723–90) is one of those iconic thinkers, like (say) Marx or Freud, whose name invokes a particular, distinctive perspective on human behaviour and social institutions. Also like Marx and Freud, Smith's work is name-checked more often than it is read. That is to say there is a ‘popular’ awareness, but typically it is of an uninformed nature. The Adam Smith of popular repute is often referred to as the advocate of ‘market forces’, the enemy of government regulation, and believer in something called the ‘invisible hand’ to produce optimum economic outcomes.

Yet if Smith is actually read, then this popular picture can be seen to be more a caricature than a faithful portrait. When Smith is indeed ‘actually read’ then what is uncovered is a sophisticated thinker, with many shades and many interests. It is worth recalling that Smith's ambit as a professor at Glasgow University was extensive. Beyond courses in philosophy and jurisprudence he also discoursed on history, literature, and language. The economic component of his vision is only one of many and was itself interwoven into the total fabric of his thought, as the notes of his lectures at Glasgow testify. Smith, this is to say, was not only the first economist (the ‘father of economics’ as he frequently appears in undergraduate textbooks of economics); he was also a subtle and significant philosopher, an informed and sophisticated historian, an attentive and insightful sociologist, and a perceptive analyst of culture. In short, he offers a view of the world and of human behaviour that is rich and complex. Only recently has this full richness and complexity, the depth and breadth of his work, come to be recognized.

This Handbook acknowledges and contributes to that recognition. Drawing on the expertise of leading Smith scholars from around the world, it serves, through a series of new essays, to enhance an appreciation of his actual contribution across a range of subjects, to raise the level of contemporary commentary and to inspire more and better analysis of the gamut of human institutions. To reflect the breadth of Smith's intellectual interests, the volume is divided into seven Parts (plus an Introduction). Each Part comprises four chapters around a broad theme. Although the individual chapters can be read as stand-alone essays, the volume is designed to form a coherent whole and stand as a testament to Smith's status as a thinker of world-historical significance.

2009 was the 250th anniversary of the publication of the Theory of Moral Sentiments Smith's first great book. This event was marked by a number of conferences, including one in Glasgow, at the University where the seeds not only of the Moral Sentiments but also Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations (1776) were sown. Chris (p. vi) Berry was the organizer of this conference and Craig Smith and Maria Pia Paganelli were participants. This Handbook is not a publication of the proceedings but a number of the Glasgow participants are also contributors to this volume. The editors are grateful to all the contributors for their support and to the Press for its decision, and subsequent backing, that Adam Smith is a fitting subject for an Oxford Handbook.

Christopher J. Berry, Maria Pia Paganelli, Craig Smith.

Glasgow, San Antonio, St Andrews