The Infidel and the Professor
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The Infidel and the Professor : David Hume, Adam Smith, and the Friendship That Shaped Modern Thought

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The story of the greatest of all philosophical friendships--and how it influenced modern thought David Hume is widely regarded as the most important philosopher ever to write in English, but during his lifetime he was attacked as "the Great Infidel" for his skeptical religious views and deemed unfit to teach the young. In contrast, Adam Smith was a revered professor of moral philosophy, and is now often hailed as the founding father of capitalism. Remarkably, the two were best friends for most of their adult lives, sharing what Dennis Rasmussen calls the greatest of all philosophical friendships. The Infidel and the Professor is the first book to tell the fascinating story of the friendship of these towering Enlightenment thinkers--and how it influenced their world-changing ideas. The book follows Hume and Smith's relationship from their first meeting in 1749 until Hume's death in 1776. It describes how they commented on each other's writings, supported each other's careers and literary ambitions, and advised each other on personal matters, most notably after Hume's quarrel with Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Members of a vibrant intellectual scene in Enlightenment Scotland, Hume and Smith made many of the same friends (and enemies), joined the same clubs, and were interested in many of the same subjects well beyond philosophy and economics--from psychology and history to politics and Britain's conflict with the American colonies. The book reveals that Smith's private religious views were considerably closer to Hume's public ones than is usually believed. It also shows that Hume contributed more to economics--and Smith contributed more to philosophy--than is generally recognized. Vividly written, The Infidel and the Professor is a compelling account of a great friendship that had great consequences for modern thought.show more

Product details

  • Hardback | 336 pages
  • 152 x 235 x 35.56mm | 680g
  • Princeton University Press
  • New Jersey, United States
  • English
  • 8 b&w illus.
  • 0691177015
  • 9780691177014
  • 8,704

Review quote

"This is a chatty account of the friendship between David Hume and the 12-years younger Adam Smith, discussing the extent to which Smith's thought was influenced by Hume (a lot, Rasmussen argues) and analysing the differences between them (he identifies four areas of disagreement: the nature of sympathy, the role of utility, the foundation of justice, and the effects of religion). As a total Hume fan, I enjoyed reading it, and it's a well-written book. You don't need to be an expert on either to enjoy it, and get some flavour of the milieu of the Scottish Enlightenment."--Enlightened Economist "What his book does offer . . . is a clearer, more exhaustive picture of the common ground that existed between the two thinkers, a map of the intersections, echoes and mirroring perspectives that connect their works. The Infidel and the Professor is written in a style that makes it accessible to non-specialists, who can discover through it the story of two exceptional and very engaging personalities. But it is also of interest for those who are already familiar with Hume's and Smith's lives and works, as it allows us to see them as part of a collective intellectual project. Above all, it reminds us of what the social sciences were originally meant to be: a broad critical reflection on the condition of human beings exposed to the bewildering transformations that modernity brought to their lives."--Biancamaria Fontana, Times Higher Education "A beautifully written book, with wonderful balance, about a beautiful friendship. Recommended."--Tyler Cowen, Marginal Revolution "The Infidel and the Professor is a lean, easy to digest read that is rich in interesting detail. It is anchored in weighty scholarship but not burdened by excessive demonstrations of it. . . . [Rasmussen] makes the distinctive qualities of each more evident. Pick up his book and you might find yourself agreeing with Hume that `reading and sauntering and lownging and dozing, which I call thinking, is my supreme Happiness'."--Julian Baggini, Literary Review "[Rasmussen] deftly examines not only Hume and Smith's personal relationship, but also the indispensable part that they played in shaping the Scottish Enlightenment. The result is a valuable study of the rise of the liberal tradition."--Jacob Heilbrunn, National Interest "In The Infidel and the Professor: David Hume, Adam Smith, and the Friendship that Shaped Modern Thought, Dennis Rasmussen . . . tells the story of their friendship well. Fourteen nicely-judged chapters take the reader through the overlapping lives of the two men, including such incidents as Hume's notorious falling-out with Rousseau, through to the natural climax of their friendship at Hume's death, and Smith's own demise 14 years later. . . . A short and lively book that sustains the interest not merely of the general reader but the specialist to the end. That is a considerable achievement."--Jesse Norman, Prospect "Masterly. . . . Easy to digest and smart. Recommended."--Mark Spencer, Library Journal "Lively and accessible--of broad interest to readers in philosophy, economics, political science, and other disciplines."--Kirkusshow more

About Dennis C. Rasmussen

Dennis C. Rasmussen is associate professor of political science at Tufts University. His books include The Pragmatic Enlightenment. He lives in Charlestown, Massachusetts.show more

Back cover copy

"This engagingly written book tells the story of a remarkable friendship between two giants of eighteenth-century thought and heroes of the Scottish Enlightenment. Rasmussen is a historically and philosophically astute guide to the lives and ideas of Hume and Smith--as well as those of a large cast of supporting characters. His highly readable narrative offers great insights into an influential intellectual and social world."--Steven Nadler, author of A Book Forged in Hell: Spinoza's Scandalous Treatise and the Birth of the Secular Age "After Hobbes, David Hume and Adam Smith are the two most important philosophers and social scientists in the English-speaking world. This cleverly constructed, learned yet eminently readable account uses their friendship to illuminate the ways in which their ideas converged and diverged. An appealing introduction for the novice, with plenty of added value for the well versed."--Jerry Z. Muller, author of Adam Smith in His Time and Ours: Designing the Decent Society "In this impressive account of the close relationship between the two giants of the Scottish Enlightenment, Dennis Rasmussen brings out the full significance of the warm lifelong friendship and intellectual dialogue between David Hume and Adam Smith."--Leo Damrosch, author of Jean-Jacques Rousseau: Restless Genius "The Infidel and the Professor is the first book on the fascinating subject of the friendship between David Hume and Adam Smith. Masterfully weaving together the historical evidence, Dennis Rasmussen does justice to both the ideas of these two men and their larger social and intellectual context. The resulting account is erudite, absorbing, witty, and smoothly narrated."--Andrew Sabl, author of Hume's Politics "This account of the friendship between two of the most important and famous thinkers of the eighteenth century--David Hume and Adam Smith--also provides an accessible introduction to their thought and writings."--John T. Scott, coauthor of The Philosophers' Quarrelshow more

Table of contents

Illustrations ixPreface xiAcknowledgments xiiiIntroduction Dearest Friends 11 The Cheerful Skeptic (1711-1749) 182 Encountering Hume (1723-1749) 363 A Budding Friendship (1750-1754) 504 The Historian and the Kirk (1754-1759) 715 Theorizing the Moral Sentiments (1759) 866 Feted in France (1759-1766) 1137 Quarrel with a Wild Philosopher (1766-1767) 1338 Mortally Sick at Sea (1767-1775) 1469 Inquiring into the Wealth of Nations (1776) 16010 Dialoguing about Natural Religion (1776) 18611 A Philosopher's Death (1776) 19912 Ten Times More Abuse (1776-1777) 215Epilogue Smith's Final Years in Edinburgh (1777-1790) 229Appendix Hume's My Own Life and Smith's Letter from Adam Smith, LL.D. to William Strahan, Esq. 239Notes on Works Cited 253Notes 257Index 309show more

Review Text

"This engagingly written book tells the story of a remarkable friendship between two giants of eighteenth-century thought and heroes of the Scottish Enlightenment. Rasmussen is a historically and philosophically astute guide to the lives and ideas of Hume and Smith--as well as those of a large cast of supporting characters. His highly readable narrative offers great insights into an influential intellectual and social world."--Steven Nadler, author of A Book Forged in Hell: Spinoza's Scandalous Treatise and the Birth of the Secular Ageshow more

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