Adam Smith was born in 1723 in Kirkcaldy. He entered Glasgow University at the early -but for the time not unusual - age of fourteen. He studied under some of the leading scholars of the day. He was taught mathematics by Robert Simson (the University’s first Clerk of Senate) and moral philosophy by Francis Hutcheson, a significant influence on Smith’s own thought. In 1740 Smith was awarded a Snell Scholarship (still in existence today) to study at Balliol College, Oxford (an experience he was later to compare unfavourably with his time at Glasgow). He returned to the University, first as Professor of Logic in 1751 and then a year later as Professor of Moral Philosophy, a post he held until he left academic life in 1764. In 1787 Smith was elected Rector of the University and in a letter of thanks he remarked that he remembers his professorial days as 'by far the most useful and therefore as by far the happiest and most honourable period of my life.'
Smith is the world-famous author of Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations (WN). This was published in 1776 but we know, from student notes that have survived (and published as Lectures on Jurisprudence), that he had already considered many of its leading themes at Glasgow. Indeed the title page of the book carries the designation ‘Adam Smith, formerly professor of Moral Philosophy in the University of Glasgow’. The great achievement of WN was to discern the principles of order in the seeming chaos of commercial or market behavior – it wasn’t random, it could be reduced to a few simple principles. Smith’s colleague at Glasgow, John Millar Professor of Civil Law, called him the Newton of political economy for that reason.
Smith also published another important book. The Theory of Moral Sentiments (TMS) appeared in 1759 and was based on his Glasgow lectures. It went through six editions in his lifetime. TMS locates moral philosophy in the interaction of human feelings, emotions or sentiments in the real settings of human life. One consequence is that economic behaviour is necessarily situated in a moral context. It is a caricature of Smith’s thought that he was advocate of unbridled capitalism.