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Adam SmithSystematic Philosopher and Public Thinker$
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Eric Schliesser

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9780190690120

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: October 2017

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780190690120.001.0001

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PRINTED FROM OXFORD SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (oxford.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Oxford University Press, 2021. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in OSO for personal use. date: 23 April 2021

Smith and Anti-Mathematicism

Smith and Anti-Mathematicism

(p.314) 13 Smith and Anti-Mathematicism
Adam Smith

Eric Schliesser

Oxford University Press

This chapter argues that in general Adam Smith is distinctly reserved about the application of mathematics to political economy and even other terrestrial sciences. Smith endorses a so-called containment strategy—that is, he restricts the application of mathematics to a fairly limited domain of enquiry. Smith was not alone in such a containment strategy: we find instances of it in Locke, Buffon (whom he admired), and Mandeville. Such a containment strategy is part of a wider trend of eighteenth-century “anti-mathematicism,” the expressed reservations about the authority and utility of the application of mathematical sciences. By treating Smith as instantiating such anti-mathematicism, this chapter deviates from the recent tendency of arguing that Smith meant to emulate Isaac Newton.

Keywords:   Adam Smith, Isaac Newton, anti-mathematicism, containment strategy, mathematics

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