Adam Smith 300 Academic Workshops to be held on 8 June 2023

Mazumdar-Shaw Advanced Research Centre (ARC)
11 Chapel Lane
G11 6EW
United Kingdom
Thursday, 8 June, 2023 - 00:00 to 23:45
Adam Smith 300 Academic Workshops to be held on 8 June 2023

The Adam Smith 300 Academic Workshops, to be held on 8 June 2023 within the Advanced Research Centre, 11 Chapel Lane, Glasgow G11 6EW, are part of a week-long series of activities to commemorate the tercentenary of alumnus Adam Smith being organised by the College of Social Sciences at the University of Glasgow with the support of the Templeton Foundation. Details of how to register are found on the website.

The School of Education at the university is making a contribution entitled, Smith and Education, which will place from 11.30-12.50. 

The details of that contribution are as follows:

Chair: Dr Jennifer Farrar. 

Speakers: Professor James Conroy, Professor Robert Davis, Dr Philip Tonner. 


Adam Smith is a towering figure of the Scottish Enlightenment, a period that his older contemporary, the philosopher David Hume, referred to as ‘the historical Age’ of the ‘historical Nation’. Smith is perhaps most famous for his writings on political economy, his monumental An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations (1776), has proven to be a classic of the developing field of economic thought, and his investigation into Homo economicus remains a starting point for subsequent investigations of the behaviour of human beings in economic and political contexts. As a moral philosopher, questions of economic and social justice were never far from Smith’s mind, and educational considerations would play a key role in his thinking on these issues. Connecting his Wealth of Nations and his earlier The Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759) is a concern for moral education, together with a concern for religion and justice. Smith argues that economics can be assessed in moral terms: ‘economic policy is bad policy if it has morally unacceptable consequences’ (A. Broadie, A History of Scottish Philosophy, (EUP 2009), p199). One unacceptable consequence of the division of labour is the potential moral and spiritual damage it will do to people in the performance of endlessly repetitive microtasks. To ameliorate this, Smith proposed that, along with defence of the realm and the administration of justice, governments should support a system of schooling that would protect workers moral lives. This workshop will explore this crucial educational dimension of Smith’s thought. 

Professor Davis and Professor Conroy will make a presentation entitled,  Adam Smith, Enthusiasm and State Education.

The rediscovery of Adam Smith as a philosopher of education in the last 25 years has tended to locate him in classical constructions of the Scottish and European Enlightenments and the detailed debates surrounding the extension of appropriate forms of education to increasingly diverse sections of the general population.  Drawing chiefly on both The Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759) and The Wealth of Nations (1776), discussion has centred upon Smith’s shifting and sometimes ambivalent perceptions in these works of the styles and the content of education that ought to be provided by schools and universities for distinct social demographies and specific economic ends. Taking the measure of these reassessments, this paper focuses on a still commonly neglected dimension of Smith’s interest in the expanded provision of education––religion and its relationship to both sovereignty and civil society.  Historicising his motivations through a deeply destructive national experience of ecclesial and dynastic strife (1640-1746), which still haunted the Scottish Enlightenment, the paper argues for a fresh historical and philosophical appraisal of Smith’s understanding of ‘religious enthusiasm’: its perceived menace to the social fabric, its militant impact on Church politics, and the presumed role of popular state-sponsored education in containing and neutralising it.  The paper concludes by arguing that deeper appreciation of these features of Smith’s philosophy of education strengthens our understanding of Scotland’s subsequent journey between 1780 and 1918 towards a system of mass schooling which became almost entirely dominated by the secular state.

Dr Tonner's paper is entitled, Adam Smith and Education for the Good

Adam Smith seems to have been genuinely ambivalent towards the development of modern commercial society. He could see the benefits that rising commerce would bring. The competitive nature of commercial activity in markets could produce significant material and social advances, bringing about unprecedented enhancements in human life. Modern commercial society tends to increase human freedom, but it does so in such a way that, as Smith says, “everyman” becomes ‘in some measure a merchant’. This phrase was taken up by the young Karl Marx and would be quoted by him in his account of the commodification of human labour. Smith’s words are complex; they should not be read as a straightforward endorsement of the situation that freer workers found themselves in, for he was acutely aware of how commercial society could tend towards the fabrication of real cruelty and indignity in human life. For this reason, Smith argued for the provision of universal public education to be paid for by government, and he did so on moral and social grounds. For, ‘A man without the proper use of the intellectual faculties of a man…seems to be mutilated and deformed in a still more essential part of the character of human nature’; and, because education leads people to be ‘less liable’ to socially harmful ‘delusions of enthusiasm and superstition’. A localist egalitarian, Smith thought that children were ‘very alike’ in their credulousness. As such, education and schooling are necessary for the individual’s and society’s good. This paper explores Smith’s educational philosophy. 




Dr Jennifer Farrar is Senior Lecturer in children’s literature and literacies at the University of Glasgow. Much of her teaching and scholarship is located within initial teacher education (ITE). She has published on ITE, literacy and children’s literature; parent and child readers’ responses to metafictive picturebooks; the relationship between picturebook and literacy studies, and critical literacies within Scottish policy and beyond. Jennifer Leads the PGDE Primary and Secondary, one-year routes into the teaching profession. 

Professor James Conroy is Professor of Religious and Philosophical Education in the School of Education at the University of Glasgow. He is Vice Principal Emeritus at the University of Glasgow and Director of the European Centre for Advanced Studies. Professor Conroy has published extensively in the areas of philosophy of education, religion, education, and liberal democracy.

Professor Robert Davis is Professor of Religious and Cultural Education in the School of Education of the University of Glasgow.  He has taught, researched, and written extensively on the history of Scottish Educational thought and was from 2011-2021 Editor of the Journal of Philosophy of Education.  

Dr Philip Tonner is Lecturer in Education (History) in the School of Education, at the University of Glasgow. He is a former student of historian of Scottish philosophy, Professor Alexander Broadie, with whom he pursued a PhD on Duns Scotus and modern philosophy. He is the author of three books, and was a researcher for Andrew Marr’s documentary, ‘The Age Of Genius’ (BBC, 2006), which focussed on the lives and thought of David Hume and Adam Smith.

This project/publication was made possible through the support of Grant 62660 from the John Templeton Foundation and the Institute of Humane Studies.



Discussion topics: 

CR&DALL Themes: