The Great Change

Ian Simpson Ross

in The Life of Adam Smith

Published in print October 1995 | ISBN: 9780198288213
Published online November 2003 | e-ISBN: 9780191596827 | DOI:
 The Great Change

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Smith's last illness is described, along with his final order to have his unfinished manuscripts burned shortly before he died on 17 July 1790. His character is summed up as two‐sided: benevolent yet prudent, also firm and decisive, from one point of view; but from another darker one, that of a melancholy or, at times, volatile personality, subject to psychosomatic illness arising from his intense concentration on chains of abstract ideas. Nevertheless, he remained a tireless inquirer into human nature, particularly its emotional range, and into its expressive forms and institutions. His free‐market system showed, he believed, how people in a relatively early phase of commerce and manufacturing might prosper within a framework of justice and equality before the law. He thought that self‐interest was centrally involved in economic transactions, but also held that the happiness of others is necessary to us, and he devoted his last years to moral philosophy, believing that he might help us aspire for virtue rather than wealth, and so become members of a truly civil society.

Keywords: civil society; happiness; illness; manuscripts; melancholy

Chapter.  10424 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: History of Economic Thought

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