Smith and Rousseau, after Hume and Mandeville

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This essay re-examines Adam Smith?s encounter with Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Against the grain of present scholarship it contends that when Smith read and reviewed Rousseau?s Second Discourse, he neither registered it as a particularly important challenge, nor was especially influenced by, or subsequently preoccupied with responding to, Rousseau. The case for this is made by examining the British context of Smith?s own intervention in his 1759 Theory of Moral Sentiments, where a proper appreciation of the roles of David Hume and Bernard Mandeville in the formation of Smith?s thought pushes Rousseau firmly into the background. Realising this, however, forces us to re-consider our evaluations of Rousseau?s and Smith?s very different political visions. Given that questions of individual recognition, economic inequality, and political stability remain at the heart of today?s social challenges, the implications of this are not just historical but of direct contemporary import.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)29-58
Number of pages30
Issue number1
Early online date29 Jun 2016
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2018


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