Adam Smith Program
Department of Economics · George Mason University

Adam Smith Reading Group



The reading group meets five Fridays a semester, 11:00 AM - 12:30 PM. The group reads mostly eighteenth-century literature relating to Smith, political economy, natural jurisprudence, and liberalism. The group periodically reads Smith's Essays on Philosophical Subjects, Lectures on Rhetoric and Belles Lettres, Lectures on Jurisprudence, and correspondence.

This term (Spring 2023) we will read David Hume, Essays Moral, Political, and Literary, ed. E.F. Miller, Liberty Fund, 1987.           Essays Moral, Political, Literary (LF ed.)            image-4.png

                                                                Published by Liberty Fund  

Hume's Essays online access link.

We have some copies of the books available for graduate students. Interested students should write to

The Reading Group is graciously supported in part by The Institute for Humane Studies.

The schedule:

11:00 AM – 12:30 PM, Buchanan Hall D180 (The discussion will be in-person only, not online).

Articles in bold are the focal readings for the session, the remainder are optional:

Friday Feb 10: Pages xxxi–xlix; 533–537; 3-79

  • “My Own Life”
  • Adam Smith’s letter to Strahan
  • "Of Essay-Writing" [this is the only essay we list here out of order]
  • “Of the Delicacy of Taste and Passion”
  • “Of the Liberty of the Press”
  • “That Politics May Be Reduced to a Science”
  • “Of the First Principles of Government”
  • “Of the Origin of Government”
  • “Of the Independency of Parliament”
  • “Whether the British Government Inclines More to Absolute Monarchy, or to a Republic”
  • “Of Parties in General”
  • “Of the Parties of Great Britain”
  • “Of Superstition and Enthusiasm”

Friday Feb 24: Pages 80–137; 181-252

  • “Of the Dignity or Meanness of Human Nature"
  • “Of Civil Liberty”
  • “Of Eloquence”
  • “Of the Rise and Progress of the Arts and Sciences”
  • [The four essays "The Epicurean," "The Stoic", "The Platonist," and "The Sceptic" will be treated in an additional optional Zoom meeting.]
  • “Of Polygamy and Divorce”
  • “Of Simplicity and Refinement in Writing”
  • Of National Characters”
  • “Of Tragedy”
  • “Of the Standard of Taste”

Friday March 31: Pages 253–366

  • “Of Commerce”
  • “Of Refinement in the Arts”
  • “Of Money”
  • “Of Interest”
  • “Of the Balance of Trade”
  • “Of the Jealousy of Trade”
  • “Of the Balance of Power”
  • “Of Taxes”
  • “Of Public Credit”

Friday April 14: Pages 366–464

  • “Of Some Remarkable Customs”
  • “Of the Populousness of Ancient Nations”

Friday April 28: Pages 465–598 [the essays beginning with "Of Essay Writing" were either unpublished or redacted in later editions of Hume's works, so they won't be emphasized much in discussion]

  • “Of the Original Contract”
  • “Of Passive Obedience”
  • “Of the Coalition of Parties”
  • “Of the Protestant Succession”
  • “Idea of a Perfect Commonwealth”
  • "Of Essay-Writing" [treated in the first session]
  • "Of Moral Prejudices"
  • “Of the Middle Station of Life”
  • "Of Impudence and Modesty"
  • "Of Love and Marriage"
  • “Of the Study of History”
  • “Of Avarice”
  • "A Character of Sir Robert Wapole"
  • "Of Suicide"
  • "Of the Immortality of the Soul"



Past Reading Groups:

Fall 2022: Max Weber, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, which first appeared in 1904-05 and in a new edition in 1920. The first English translation, by Talcott Parsons, with foreword by R. H. Tawney, was 1930, Scribners; Selections from: The Protestant Ethic Debate : Weber's Replies to His Critics, 1907-1910, edited by D. Chalcraft, A. Harrington, and M. Shields, 2001.

Spring 2022: Adam Smith, Lectures on Rhetoric and Belle Lettres, ed. J.C. Bryce (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1985); The Correspondenceof Adam Smith, ed. E.C. Mossner and I.S. Ross (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1987).

Fall 2021: Adam Smith, Lectures on Jurisprudence, ed R.L. Meek, D.D. Raphael, and P.G. Stein (Liberty Fund republication of OUP volume).

Spring 2021:Adam Smith, Essays on Philosophical Subjects, ed. W.P.D. Wightman (Liberty Fund republication of OUP volume).

Fall 2020: Alexis de Tocqueville, The Ancien Regime and the Revolution. Trans. G. Bevan. Penguin Classics.

Spring 2020: Larry Siedentop, Inventing the Individual: The Origins of Western Liberalism (2014, Belknap Press paperback 2017).

Fall 2019: Edmund Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790). In Vol. 2 of Selected Works of Edmund Burke. Ed. E.J. Payne (1875). New republication Foreword by Francis Canavan (Liberty Fund, 1999).

Spring 2019: Gershom Carmichael (1672-1729): Natural Rights on the Threshold of the Scottish Enlightenment: The Writings of Gershom Carmichael; Francis Hutcheson (1694-1746): A Short Introduction to Moral Philosophy (Philosophiae Moralis Institutio Compendiaria), 1742-5/1747.

Fall 2018: Arthur M. Melzer's Philosophy between the Lines: The Lost History of Esoteric Writing (UChicagoP, 2014); The Hume-Rousseau affair (1766).

Spring 2018: Henry C. Clark, ed., Commerce, Culture, and Liberty: Readings on Capitalism before Adam Smith (Liberty Fund, 2003).

Fall 2017: David Hume's History of England, Vols. III, IV, V, and VI (these four volumes cover the Tudors and the Stuarts up through the Glorious Revolution).

Spring 2017: Adam Smith's 1763-1764 Lectures on Jurisprudence, known as LJ (B).

Fall 2016: Focus on Grotius and Pufendorf; selections from Grotius, The Free Sea; The Rights of War and Peace and from Pufendorf, The Whole Duty of Man, According to the Natural Law.

Spring 2016: Focus on Locke's Second Treatise; selections from the Second Treatise; essays by Michael Zuckert; selections from Leo Strauss, Natural Right and History.

Fall 2015: Arthur M. Melzer's Philosophy between the Lines: The Lost History of Esoteric Writing (UChicagoP, 2014).

Spring 2015: Selections from Rousseau, The Discourses and Other Political Writings, ed. V. Gourevitch; The Social Contract and Other Later Political Writings, ed. V. Gourevitch; Hume, Essays: Moral, Political, and Literary, ed. E. Miller.

Fall 2014: Adam Smith, Essays on Philosophical Subjects, ed. W.P.D. Wightman (Liberty Fund); Daniel Hannan, Inventing Freedom: How the English-Speaking Peoples Made the Modern World.

Spring 2014: Adam Smith, Correspondence; Arthur Herman, How the Scots Invented the Modern World.Fall 2013: Dugald Stewart, Account of Adam Smith; Nicholas Phillipson's Adam Smith: An Enlightened Life(Yale University Press, 2010).

Spring 2013: Adam Smith, Lectures on Jurisprudence.

Fall 2012: Selections from David Hume, Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals; Adam Smith, Lectures on Rhetoric and Belles Lettres.