Adam Smith studied at the University of Glasgow, where he came under the influence of the famous professor of moral philosophy Francis Hutcheson (1694-1746). Smith then studied at Balliol College, Oxford, for six years before returning to Scotland to lecture in rhetoric and polite literature at the University of Edinburgh. His lectures were popular and, unlike those of many of his contemporaries, attracted listeners from the town as well as from the university.
Smith returned to the University of Glasgow in 1751 as professor of logic, and that same year he was appointed to the chair in moral philosophy. At this time Smith was strongly under the influence of his close friend the historian and philosopher David Hume (1711-1776) and shared in a milder form much of Hume’s skepticism. Smith never took holy orders, for example, an unusual circumstance for a professor of moral philosophy in Scotland at that time. In 1759 Smith published The Theory of Moral Sentiments, in which he claimed that sympathy or feeling was the foundation for all moral sentiments or judgments. He felt that evil or wrongdoing was punished by remorse in the individual and that certainly remorse was the most painful of the human sentiments. His position was not very far from that of later philosophers who claim that ethical principles are merely statements of human emotions.
Even at this early date Smith was highly interested in economics. He often talked of trade and political economy in his lectures, and he urged both students and young businessmen from the growing commercial city and port of Glasgow to attend his lectures. Many criticized him, and one of his colleagues later sneered that “he had converted the chair of moral philosophy into a professorship of trade and finance.”
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