Contents Index

Adam Smith

Adam Smith, 1723-1790, Scottish social and political philosopher and economist. Smith is best known for his Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations (1776), the first systematic statement of the principles of modern capitalism. The Wealth of Nations makes an appeal for laissez-faire in the state: while the state is justified in providing justice, defense, and a limited number of public works, it should not interfere with the exchange of capital. Free trade, he argued, would ultimately be to the advantage of the entire nation, as competing merchants would, in the pursuit of their own self-interest, settle on the prices and policies best suited to the well-being of society. Competition would allow the law of supply and demand to set the proper value on goods.

In 1751 Smith was appointed professor at Glasgow University. His first important work was The Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759), a study of the origin of morality in sentiment. The work was indebted to An Enquiry concerning the Principles of Morals by his friend, David Hume, and highly influential in the development of sentimentalism. As a foundational exploration of individual and social ethics for the late Enlightenment, The Theory of Moral Sentiments had a notable impact on English thinkers after Smith, particularly so in the case of Godwin, whose strong sense of individual duty in his Enquiry concerning Political Justice reveals his influence. Smith's treatment of duty in Part III of his discourse likewise resonates a generation later in the moral nuances and ambiguities of Frankenstein. In the first volume, for instance, we sense its relevance for both the father and son in the Frankenstein family, at once touching Alphonse's devotion to the common weal and Victor's contrasting lack of responsibility for the Creature he brings into being. In the second volume of the novel, Smith's treatise may bear an even greater weight on its conception, as the carefully balanced demarcation of the first two sections of Part II, "Of Merit and Demerit," appears to shadow the Creature's account of his coming to an awareness of himself as a sentient being and subsequently as an outcast and a monster. The very fact that Smith takes up the issue of how society constructs its notions of "deformity" in the first chapter of Part V suggests how relevant is this dispassionate ethical treatise to the deepest concerns of Mary Shelley's novel.