Monday, February 7, 2011

Scotland's Other Great Export - Ideas

Adam Smith

One of Scotland's greatest exports was it's people. Another was ideas, specifically those of the Scottish Enlightenment. I know a fair bit about the first export, but not as much about the second.

On an unrelated note, my favorite podcast is Planet Money from NPR. This group of reporters file stories on all aspects of economics. While they cover serious subjects, like the reprecussions of the financial meltdown of 2008, their attitude is lighthearted and their aim to understand and to educate. I find listening to their podcasts enjoyable and useful; I used to know nothing about economics. Now, thanks to the Planet Money team, I know a little.

So imagine my surprise and delight when catching up on podcasts today at the gym, I heard one from Planet Money that legitamately had some connection, admittedly tenuous, to this blog. Last Tuesday's episode was an interview with Nicholas Phillipson, the author of the recently published biography Adam Smith: An Enlightened Life (The Lewis Walpole Series in Eighteenth-C). Smith (1723-1790) is best known for An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations: Premium Edition, but during his life he was  interested in social behavior and our ability to form moral judgments. He was an important part of the Scottish Englightenment: he was a student of Francis Hutchinson's, a friend of David Hume's, and a professor of moral philosophy at Glasgow University.

The discussion touches on many aspects of Adam Smith - his personality, his relationship with his mother, his friends and his philosophy. One interesting component of the interview was Phillipson's description of eighteenth-century Scotland. He points out that Smith was trying to figure out how to govern Scotland in a world in which the church and nobility lacked authority and in which war and empire were enriching a vast number of the middling-ranks.

The podcast provides a description of the world of ideas that many Scots would have inhabited - those who stayed and those who left. Many emigrants left in part due to the many oppotunities afforded by the First British Empire. Those that came to the United States  brought with them the ideas of the Scottish Enlightenment, which undoubtely had some influence on the development of the country. This is a fact that has been largely overlooked as the Founding Fathers have traditionally been seen as children of the English Enlightenment. This view has been modified slightly over the past several decades. If you are interested in learning more about the influence of the Scottish Enlighenment on the United States, a good place to start is Andrew Hook's work From Goosecreek to Gandercleugh: Studies in Scottish American Literary and Cultural History.

No comments:


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...