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Adam Smith (1723-1790)
One of the most influential social philosophers and political economists in all history is Adam Smith, from Kirkcaldy, Fife, whose master work An Inquiry into the nature of causes of the Wealth of Nations was first published in 1776 but has continued its appeal (and enormous influence) ever since.

First studying mathematics, natural philosophy and moral philosophy at Glasgow University, Smith entered Balliol College, Oxford in 1740. When he returned to Edinburgh to lecture, he met philosopher and skeptic David Hume as well as other leading intellectuals and trendsetters. In 1751, he became Chair of Logic at Glasgow and later of Moral Philosophy.

On a visit to Paris in 1764-5, Smith became acquainted with the ideas of many of the leading French thinkers of the day and was able to experience first-hand the closely controlled economy of France. His Wealth of Nations consequently reflected much of the ideas he had so readily absorbed in that country. It can be said to have marked the transition from a more-or-less late medieval to a modern economy. Smith was able to grasp intuitively what it was that constituted the real wealth of a nation; he advocated the then-revolutionary idea of free trade as a means of increasing that wealth.

The publication of Smith's work greatly influenced the thinking and policies of British Prime Minister William Pitt. For Smith, it was the "invisible hand" of competition that acted as the guiding light for en economic system based on individual self-interests. The idea of free trade dominated British economic policy right up until the 20th century when Smith's ideas were abandoned in favor of the old controls and restrictions that he had rightly condemned as being counterproductive to the acquisition of a country's wealth.

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