17:30 to 18:30
End date
12 November 2019
Leonard Wolfson Auditorium, Wolfson College, Linton Rd, Oxford OX2 6UD
Tuesday, 12 November 2019 - 5:30pm to 6:30pm


Adam Smith as Jurist

Adam Smith is world-famous as a founding father of economics, and well-known to political theorists and philosophers for his Theory of Moral Sentiments (TMS). His work as a jurist is much less well known. As a notorious perfectionist, he worked for decades on a book that would have spanned the ground between the moral philosophy of TMS and the empirical sociology and economics of Wealth of Nations (WN). He never completed it, and on his deathbed he asked his executors to destroy his manuscripts. Which, sadly for us, they did.

But thanks to two near-miraculous survivals we know a great deal about what Adam Smith’s book on jurisprudence would have said. Two of his Glasgow students kept detailed notes of his lectures there between 1762 and 1764. One set was rediscovered in 1895, the other in 1958. They were taken in successive academic years, and they show that Smith shifted the order in which he presented his topics, but not the essentials of his course. The two independent sources validate each other.

Professor Iain McLean will lay out the principles of Smith’s jurisprudence; show how it forms the bridge between TMS and WN; and try to show Smith’s half-submerged influence on the new republic of the United States, in whose revolution he took a great deal of interest.


The lecture opens a one-day workshop on Wednesday 13 November to explore the themes raised in greater depth.


Iain McLean was born and brought up in Edinburgh. He is Senior Research Fellow in Politics at Nuffield College, Oxford. One of his research interests is the interaction of the Scottish, American, and French Enlightenments of the 18th century. His Adam Smith: Radical and Egalitarian (2006) was written at the instigation of Smith’s fellow Fifer Gordon Brown.