Adam Smith and the Classics: The Classical Heritage in Adam by Gloria Vivenza

By Gloria Vivenza

This booklet defines the connection among the concept of Adam Smith and that of the ancients--Plato, Aristotle, Cicero, and the Stoics. Vivenza bargains an entire survey of Smith's writings to demonstrate how classical arguments formed evaluations and scholarship within the eighteenth century.

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Arist. Met. 991 20–2: ‘so to say that they [ideas] are models and that other things share in them, is to voice empty phrases and poetic metaphors’. In addition to this, Smith's phrase ‘to substitute words in the room of ideas’ recalls Cicero's strictures on Stoicism (De fin. iv. 21 and esp. v. 22, precisely repeated at ‘HALM’ 9 in relation to the dependence of the Stoics from Plato and Aristotle). This is an old and polemical line of argument, dating back to antiquity and the distinction between verba and res, whose aim is to discern a purely verbal distinction between two doctrines, which amounts to imputing lack of originality to one of them.

4, where the editorial note states that the epithets ‘rude and inartificial’ are unmerited. The unfavourable evaluation perhaps goes back to Bailly, who called Eudoxus' system ‘absurd’, and derives from the prejudice that, although there was enough source material to reconstruct the system, Eudoxus was not a member of the Alexandrian School and was not accorded the status of a true astronomer: Schiaparelli (1875), 2–3. NATURAL PHILOSOPHY 23 Pythagorean philosophy,67 but the fact is that one cannot say with precision whom Smith intends it to refer to: for all that he includes it in the context of a description of Eudoxus' system, it sounds like a more general comment upon the tendency of ‘these early philosophers’ to maintain the secrecy surrounding their doctrines, which would reveal the causes (simple in themselves) of natural phenomena and endow those who knew them with power.

On Aristarchus see Geymonat (1970), i. 292, and—for a clear statement of his lack of success—Dreyer (1953), 138–41. 87 Such as the lack of any emphasis on the long scientific work that necessarily preceded the system devised by Eudoxus, which in Smith's account springs forth fully formed, like Athene from Zeus' brow. Other gaps are noted by Wightman in his erudite ‘Introduction’ (especially 15–17), though he concludes that despite its omissions and errors the essay is ‘acceptable to a modern historian in its main lines’ (ibid.

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