The Elevated Imagination: Contemplation and Action in David Hume and Adam Smith

Journal of Scottish Philosophy, Forthcoming

27 Pages Posted: 20 Sep 2016 Last revised: 10 Dec 2016

See all articles by Erik Matson

Erik Matson

New York University - Department of Economics

Colin Doran

George Mason University - Department of Economics

Date Written: May 15, 2016

Abstract

In this paper we seek to draw attention to some striking and heretofore unnoticed textual connections between Adam Smith’s Theory of Moral Sentiments and David Hume’s A Treatise of Human Nature. We find significant textual parallels between the parable of TMS 4.1 (TMS 4.1.8-4.1.10) and the famous conclusion to Book 1 of Hume’s Treatise. These passages are often regarded as especially intense and moving parts of their respective works. We explore the nature and substance of these connections and comment on their larger significance. The nature of the connections suggests that Smith consciously engaged Hume in his work through philosophical conversation. We suggest that these related passages show both Hume and Smith exploring and developing a particular dialectic between contemplation and action in human life. Both move to invert the classical relationship between contemplation and action through what we call the elevated imagination.

Keywords: Adam Smith, David Hume, The Theory of Moral Sentiments, A Treatise of Human Nature

JEL Classification: B12

Suggested Citation

Matson, Erik and Doran, Colin, The Elevated Imagination: Contemplation and Action in David Hume and Adam Smith (May 15, 2016). Journal of Scottish Philosophy, Forthcoming. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2840471

Erik Matson (Contact Author)

New York University - Department of Economics ( email )

Bobst Library, E-resource Acquisitions
20 Cooper Square 3rd Floor
New York, NY 10003-711
United States

Colin Doran

George Mason University - Department of Economics ( email )

4400 University Drive
Fairfax, VA 22030
United States

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