In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Adam Smith: Moral and Political Philosophy

  • Introduction
  • Primary Texts
  • Biographies
  • General Overviews
  • Reference Works
  • Anthologies
  • Journals
  • Intellectual Context
  • Science, Philosophy, and System
  • Aesthetics and Language
  • Smith on Justice and Jurisprudence
  • Religion
  • Luck and Distributive Justice
  • The Invisible Hand
  • Legacy
  • Smith in Contemporary Philosophy

Philosophy Adam Smith: Moral and Political Philosophy
Craig Smith
  • LAST REVIEWED: 01 September 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 September 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396577-0238


Adam Smith (1723–1790) has become known as the father of economics. His reputation as the author of the Wealth of Nations has eclipsed his contributions to other areas of philosophy. Smith was Professor of Moral Philosophy at the University of Glasgow and a key figure in the Scottish Enlightenment. His Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759) was well-regarded at the time but faded from the philosophical canon in the 19th century and has only recently been subject to a revival of interest among philosophers. Smith’s thought was dismissed as moral psychology or as proto-utilitarian political economy until a revival in interest stemming largely from the publication of a critical edition of his works in the 1970s. Recent years have seen a renaissance in interest in Smith among moral philosophers. This has been accompanied by the first serious analysis of Smith’s thinking on rhetoric and the philosophy of science. This bibliography focuses on Smith’s moral and political philosophy. There is a very large literature on the technical details his economic theory and his contribution to the history of that discipline, but that will be mentioned here only when illuminating for discussions of his moral and political thinking.

Primary Texts

There are a number of accessible paperback editions of Smith’s works, but the standard critical edition of his works is the Glasgow Edition of the Works and Correspondence of Adam Smith published in hardback by Oxford University Press and in paperback by The Liberty Fund. Smith 1976a is the now-classical work in political economy, and Smith 1976b contains his moral philosophy. Smith 1980 is based on a posthumously published collection of essays on philosophy and the arts. Smith 1978 and Smith 1983 are student notes of lectures given by Smith during his time as a professor at Glasgow. Smith 1987 includes letters between Smith and his friends David Hume and Adam Ferguson. The whole Glasgow Edition is indexed in Smith 2001a. Two other editions of The Theory of Moral Sentiments, Smith 2001b and Smith 2010, are also of note for their own scholarly notes and introductions.

  • Smith, Adam. An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations. 2 vols. Edited by R. H. Campbell and A. S. Skinner. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1976a.

    A comprehensive version that includes notes on Smith’s revisions to the five editions published during his life.

  • Smith, Adam. The Theory of Moral Sentiments. Edited by D. D. Raphael and A. L. Macfie. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1976b.

    A fully annotated scholarly edition that tracks the significant revisions made by Smith from the first edition of 1759, through the second edition of 1761, to the sixth edition of 1790.

  • Smith, Adam. Lectures on Jurisprudence. Edited by R. L. Meek, D. D. Raphael and P. G. Stein. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1978.

    DOI: 10.1093/actrade/

    The discovery of two sets of students notes based on Smith’s Glasgow jurisprudence lectures (1762–1763 and 1766) allows one to better understand Smith’s teaching and the link between the Theory of Moral Sentiments and the Wealth of Nations.

  • Smith, Adam. Essays on Philosophical Subjects. Edited by W. P. D. Wightman. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1980.

    DOI: 10.1093/actrade/

    Based on Smith’s posthumous (1795) collection of papers. The volume includes “The Principles which lead and direct Philosophical Enquiries illustrated by the History of Astronomy”; “The History of the Ancient Physics”; “The History of the Ancient Logics and Metaphysics”; “The Imitative Arts”; “Of the Affinity between Music, Dancing, and Poetry”; “Of the Affinity between Certain English and Italian Verses”; “Of the External Senses”; Smith’s contributions to the Edinburgh Review; and Smith’s preface to William Hamilton’s Poems on Several Occasions.

  • Smith, Adam. Lectures on Rhetoric and Belles Lettres. Edited by J. C. Bryce. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1983.

    DOI: 10.1093/actrade/

    A collection of notes taken by two students of the rhetoric lectures given at Glasgow by Smith in 1762–1763. Contains interesting reflections on style and argument. The modern edition also includes the text of Smith’s essay “Considerations on the First Formation of Languages” where he outlines his theory of the evolution of language.

  • Smith, Adam. Correspondence of Adam Smith. Edited by E. C. Mossner and I. S. Ross. Rev. ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987.

    Although Smith was not a prolific correspondent, the collection includes several letters between Hume and Smith reflecting on his moral philosophy.

  • Smith, Adam. Index to the Works of Adam Smith. Edited by K. Haakonssen and A. S. Skinner. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001a.

    A comprehensive index of persons and subjects cited by Smith and in the editorial notes of the Glasgow Edition.

  • Smith, Adam. The Theory of Moral Sentiments. Edited by K. Haakonssen. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2001b.

    A clear and well-edited version of the text. Part of the Cambridge Texts in the History of Philosophy Series.

  • Smith, Adam. The Theory of Moral Sentiments. Edited by Ryan P. Hanley. Harmondsworth, UK: Penguin, 2010.

    An accessible paperback edition of the text with excellent notes.

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