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The Authorship of the Abstract Revisited John 0. Nelson More than a dozen years ago, in the pages of The Philosophical Quarterly,1 this writer contested Sraffa and Keynes' claim, advanced in the introduction to their edition ofthe Abstract? that it was Hume and not Adam Smith (as traditionally supposed) who was the author of that work. The traditional view, which might be called the Adam Smith authorship-theory, was largely inspired by and seemed nailed shut by Hume's reference to a "Mr Smith" in a letter to Francis Hutcheson, datedMarch 4, 1740.3There appeared tobe goodreasonsforidentifying this "Mr Smith" with Adam Smith and then the latter with the undivulged author of the Abstract. It was known, for instance, that previous to March 4, 1740, Adam Smith had been a student of Hutcheson's and that Hutcheson was in the habit of setting his students the task of writing abstracts of newly published philosophical works.4 Since Hutcheson had originallylooked with favor on both the Treatise and its author,5 it had to seem more than likely that he had set his students the task ofwriting an abstract ofthe newly published Treatise ofHume. It was known, too, that Adam Smith was in possession of a copy ofthe Treatise soon after the date of H.6 Who, then, might be the "Mr Smith" adverted to in H's "My Bookseller has sent to Mr Smith a Copy of my Book, which I hope he has receive, as well as your Letter," except that same student of Hutcheson's, Adam Smith? What other Smith might have been known to Hutcheson, whom Hume could have wanted to refer to? No other Smith appeared to fit the bill. But why should Hume have wanted to refer in his correspondence with Hutcheson to an obscure, sixteen-year-old student ofHutcheson's, besides going to the trouble of having his bookseller send him a copy of the Treatise, unless that student had in some way made himselfnot only known to Hume but so highly regarded that Hume would want to favor him, presumably at his own expense, with a copy ofthe Treatise? The only tenable answer had to seem to be that this same student had composed such a perceptive and laudatory précis of the Treatise for Hutcheson that the latter had shown it to Hume and Hume, in the honest attempt to excite interest and sales of that languishing work, had seen to its publication as the Abstractl These are the reasonings Volume XVII Number 1 83 JOHN O. NELSON and considerations that inspired and seemed to confirm the Adam Smith authorship-theory.7 As can be perceived, these reasonings and considerations all revolve around the reference to a "Mr Smith"in H andthe identification of that Smith with Adam Smith. When, therefore, Sraffa and Keynes in the introduction to their edition oftheAbstract pointed out that there existed another Smith who might arguably be the Mr Smith referred toin H, namely, the DubUn publisher oftwo ofHutcheson's works, John Smith "at the Philosopher's Head on the Blind Quay," its major prop being seemingly knocked out from under it, the Adam Smith authorship-theory crashed—at least in the eyes of the general world—to the ground. And in thelatter's place, various ofits supporting reasons being given a lease on life, such as Hume's well-known endeavors and desires to excite interest in this first work of his, the Hume authorship-theory, so to speak, seated itself. In my previous venture into this subject, "Has the Authorship of An Abstract ofa Treatise ofHuman Nature Really Been Decided?"8 I tried, I believe with some success, to show that Sraffa and Keynes' arguments were not so unanswerable as they were generally taken to be and that, in fact, they presented various difficulties which the traditional theory avoided. But what then occasions this new excursion into these troubled waters? What more is to be said that I did not say in "Decided"? In "Decided" I presented various arguments and considerations that showed that it was unlikely either that Hume was the author of theAbstract or that the Mr Smith referred to in H...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1947-9921
Print ISSN
0319-7336
Pages
pp. 83-86
Launched on MUSE
2011-01-26
Open Access
No
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