Indispensable Hume: From Isaac Newton's Natural Philosophy to Adam Smith's "Science of Man"

Dissertation, The University of Chicago (2002)

Eric Schliesser
University of Amsterdam
Chapter one is an introduction. In chapter two, I argue that, due to a lack of knowledge of Newton, Hume is unable to use the "Science of Man" to provide a foundation for the other sciences. Hume's account of causality and the missing shade of blue receive special attention. Hume tries, without paying attention to scientific practice, to constrain what science can be about. ;In chapter three, I reconstruct Adam Smith's epistemology. The major theoretical concept of Smith's moral psychology, the "Impartial Spectator," illuminates his views on the articulation and reception of scientific theories; it brings out the open-ended, social and norm-governed nature of science. Sentiments motivate inquiry, but adopting its results can still be reasonable. After Newton, Smith is not a skeptic, but a realist. ;In chapter four, I explain Smith's methodology in Wealth of Nations . Smith employs a model to enable observed deviations from expected regularities to uncover genuine social causes and aid in improving theory in a potentially open-ended process of successive approximation. I draw on The History of Astronomy where Smith attacks Descartes for trying to explain away deviations from general rules. ;In Chapter five, I explain the political aims of Smith's WN. Smith is an Incremental Redistributionist . Smith's reform proposals and the values that guide his theorizing are in aid of the working poor. I attack a possible political counter-argument against this by attending to Smith's historical understanding of property; Smith's defense of property rights, following Hume's critique of Locke, is by no means absolute. Yet, Smith's appeals to "humanity" appear without justification in WN. ;In chapter six, I investigate the purpose of philosophy in commercial society. In the debate between Rousseau and Hume on philosophic self-understanding, between self-sufficiency and independence, Smith sides with the latter. Smith emphasizes, however, that once basic needs are met, friendship among equals is a more valuable than wealth; it provides happiness and is within every one's reach. Philosophers can enjoy immortality after death if they attempt to be benefactors to humanity, but Smith believes that philosophic friendship is its own and highest reward
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