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  • Aspects of the Influence of Francis Hutcheson on Adam Smith
  • Enzo Pesciarelli*

Adam Smith’s so-called Anderson lectures can be most reliably dated to the years between 1751 and 1755 (see Meek 1976, 461). In their order and content they follow Francis Hutcheson’s System of Moral Philosophy (1755; hereafter System), and it is the opinion of the present writer that Smith consistently drew on the notes of his master for this course. (Until 1759, Smith was engaged in writing his Theory of Moral Sentiments ([1759] 1976; hereafter Theory), which, unlike System, was a specialized work of moral philosophy.) This is a thesis confirmed, albeit indirectly, by D. Stewart 1 and coherent with the considerations of another of the “great” biographers of Smith, W. R. Scott (1965, 31), who writes: “when Adam Smith was his student, [Hutcheson] was undoubtedly a very great and a most stimulating teacher. Almost every one of his contemporaries, even when they did not agree with him, acknowledges his influence on the mind and character of the young.”

Hutcheson also exerted considerable influence on Smith’s Lectures on Justice, Police, Revenue, and Arms (1978), not only in the order of [End Page 525] their argument and in much of their content, but also in the author’s choice of a title (Pesciarelli 1986, 74–75). When Hutcheson (System, 317) discusses the aims of polity (i.e., of good government) in System, he lists them in this order: sobriety (the development of the moral virtues that characterize the majority of the population); justice (as the foundation on which “general happiness” is built); industry (as a “natural mine of wealth”); and fortitude (military education and discipline). More generally, the university course taught by Hutcheson had such a broad compass—it ranged among ethics, the general principles of law, the functions of government, and political economy—that some have argued that Smith could easily have used the title of Hutcheson’s major work—System, that is—for his own uncompleted “great plan.”

Less generally, at the level of historical oddity if you like, there are marked affinities between the two authors, a case in point being the well-known passage in the Wealth of Nations ([1776] 1976; hereafter WN) in which Smith defines the animals used in agriculture as productive workers. 2 A passage that is often interpreted as displaying a Physiocratic bias clearly shows, rather, the influence of Hutcheson’s (System, 1:312–13) corresponding thesis: “Some of these kinds, by their greater strength, could bear any given quantity of labour, or effect certain works, with far less pain than men; and by want of forethought and reflection would suffer much less by any labour. By their assistance men might obtain a great increase of happiness, and be freed from evils much superior to those labours imposed on the beasts. Men could thus have leisure, and it would become their interest, to defend and provide for their fellow-labourers, and to encourage their propagating” (emphasis added).

Curiosities apart, authoritative interpreters of Hutcheson’s thought 3 have pointed out the many similarities between his work and that of his pupil. To these we can add others of some significance; I refer in particular to the role that Hutcheson assigned to the “good man,” and to his reflections on the measure and origin of value. [End Page 526]


Hutcheson used a variety of synonyms for “good man,” notably “man of prudence” or “sober virtuous people,” and, as further evidence of his preeminent interest in law, it is significant that he drew on the juridical concept of “good pater familias” in this regard. 4 This comes as no surprise, however, if we remember that Hutcheson performed a crucial role—in the wake of the master Gershom Carmichael—in promoting classical studies in Scotland and especially in strengthening that neo-Stoic current of thought that exerted so much influence on Smith. This was the inspiration—even though, as is so often the case, reference to David Hume is unavoidable—for what T. D. Campbell (1982, 182) has aptly termed “Hutcheson’s confidence in the moral probity of the average citizen” as the driving impulse behind the construction and development of...

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pp. 525-545
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Archived 2005
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