Self-interest in the thought of Adam Ferguson

Smith, C. (2021) Self-interest in the thought of Adam Ferguson. In: Egashira, S., Taishido, M., Hands, D. W. and Mäki, U. (eds.) A Genealogy of Self-Interest in Economics. Springer: Singapore, pp. 31-46. ISBN 9789811593949 (doi: 10.1007/978-981-15-9395-6_3)

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Adam Ferguson (1723–1816) was a prominent member of the Scottish Enlightenment. His most famous work An Essay on the History of Civil Society (1767) has often been read as a dissenting voice from the positive view of commerce found in the work of his friends Adam Smith and David Hume. Readings of Ferguson tend to focus on the Essay and to see him as either a civic republican worried about the impact of commerce on citizenship, or as a precursor to Marxian ideas of alienation and the anti-social impact of economic development. This paper argues against both of these interpretations, and against the practice of reading Ferguson through the Essay alone. Taking his discussion of self-interest as its focus, the paper shows how, in Ferguson’s other writings, he develops a complex and nuanced understanding of the place of self-interest in moral and political life. Central to this is Ferguson’s concept of ambition: an idea crucial to his moral philosophy and one which places Ferguson at the heart of eighteenth century debates about the nature of self-regarding behaviour.

Item Type:Book Sections
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:Smith, Professor Craig
Authors: Smith, C.
College/School:College of Social Sciences > School of Social and Political Sciences > Politics
Published Online:30 January 2021
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