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Adam Smith

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Adam Smith And Jean Jacques Rousseau


Adam Smith(1723-1790) and Jean Jacques Rousseau(1712-1770) each provide their own distinctive social thought. Smith, political economist and moral philosopher, is regarded as the father of modern economics. Rousseau, a Franco-Swiss social and political philosopher, combines enlightenment and semi-romantic themes in his work. Thus Smith's work places emphasis on the relationship between economics and society, whereas, Rousseau focuses his attention on the social inequalities within society. Therefore, Smith and Rousseau, of the Scottish and Continental Enlightenment respectively, provide unique insights on their existing society.

Adam Smith is one of the main figures in the Scottish Enlightenment. Smith's main concern was the establishment of the free market, as laid out in his work "The Wealth of Nations"(1776). In the "Wealth of Nations", Smith is very critical of the division of labour. The emphasis falls equally on the economic and social consequences of the division of labour(Smith, 1998:26). Moreover, "What is significant about the contribution of the Scottish Enlightenment to Sociology is the clear awareness that society constituted a process, the product of specific economic, social, and historical forces that could be identified and analyzed through methods of empirical science. Society was a category of historical investigation, the result of objective, material causes"(Smith, 1998:26). Smith believed that society would benefit from individuals who were self-interested in their own personal economic gains. Furthermore, Smith believed that the division of labour had a negative impact on society. He thus was very critical of the division

of labour. For Smith, "the man whose life is spent in performing a few simple operations, of which the effects too are, perhaps, always the same, has no occasion to exert his understandingÐ'...He naturally loses, therefore, the habit of such exertion and becomes as stupid as it is possible for a human creature to become"(Lecture Notes, 2001:5). Smith clearly argues that the division of labour halted the growth and development of the people. If the people are unable to progress, Smith believes that society suffers as well. In essence, for the society to progress and development, the people must do so first. Therefore, the division of labour, in Smith's perspective, conflicts with the ideals of the Scottish Enlightenment thinking of individual progress and development.

"For Adam Smith, the development of a commercial society produced a social structure divided into three classes, landowners, capitalists, and labourers, Ð''the three great constituent orders of every civilized society'"(Smith, 1998:27). Thus, Smith's ideal society would be of people would work for themselves. He was a strong advocate for free market and posed strong opposition to the feudal system. He, along with other Enilghtenment thinkers, believed that the State had no legitimate

role in the free market. Smith's defence of the free market was tied to the belief that state interference with the market benefits the rich and hurts the poor(Lecture Notes, 2001:5). Therefore, Adam Smith's vision of an ideal society was one in which most people are involved in independent commodity production(Lecture Notes, 2001:5). Thus for society to develop and prosper as a whole, its individual members must serve their self-interests.

Jean Jacques Rousseau's work, in contrast to Smith's, gives attention to the social inequalities within society created by social development. Rousseau believes



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