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: 25 Oct 2019
Date Written: May 15, 2016
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: Suggested Citation