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OEconomia (2012), 2012:365-376 (2012), 2012:365-376 NecPlus
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Research Article

Andrew Skinner, the Glasgow Edition, and Adam Smith

Jeffrey T. Younga1

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I have been asked to write a memorial article on Andrew Skinner to recount and celebrate his contributions to our subdiscipline. I am honored to do so. I first met Andrew at the ESHET meetings in 1998, which were held at the University of Bologna. However, I got to know him, and his gracious wife, Mary, quite well during a sabbatical semester I spent under his sponsorship (and guidance) at Glasgow University in 2001. While Andrew is best known to me for his editorial and scholarly work on Adam Smith, he was equally involved in work on Sir James Steuart, and he had a passionate side-interest in Edward Chamberlin and the theory of monopolistic competition.

Moreover, he was no doubt the leading scholar on the economic thought of the Scottish Enlightenment as a whole. In particular, Andrew was strongly attracted to Sir James Steuart. Beginning with his B. Litt thesis written under Ronald Meek and running throughout his life, Andrew continued to be fascinated by this neglected, and he thought seriously under-rated, contemporary of Smith. However, despite Andrew’s attempts to revive interest in Steuart, the fact remains that Smith eclipsed Steuart, and Andrew will probably be remembered more for his work on the Glasgow Edition of the Works and Correspondence of Adam Smith (hereinafter referred to as simply the Glasgow Edition), and for the papers on Smith this work stimulated. It is in this capacity that I want to pay tribute to Andrew’s contributions. I have divided my remarks into three sections: a short biography, an account of the Glasgow Edition, and Andrew’s work on Smith.

1. Andrew Skinner, 1935-2011

Andrew Skinner was a teacher and a scholar of the first rank. His biography, like Smith’s (but unlike Steuart’s) is that of a typical academic of his age—rich with academic achievements and honors, but not much in the way of drama or action.1 Andrew was born 11 January 1935 in Glasgow. He attended Larchfield Preparatory School, Keil School, and Glasgow University. He earned his MA from Glasgow in 1958 and also received a B. Litt degree in 1960. In 1959 he held a Glasgow-Cornell Exchange Fellowship at Cornell University in America. Returning to the UK he held academic appointments at Queen’s University in Belfast and Queen’s College Dundee before returning to Glasgow in 1964. In Glasgow he rose through the ranks eventually ending his career as the Adam Smith Professor of Political Economy, 1994-2000. After retirement he continued to teach his course on “The Age and Ideas of Adam Smith”, which attracted talented students from overseas. In addition to his academic positions, Andrew served in administrative capacities as Head of the Department (1979-1986), Dean of Faculty of Social Sciences (1980-1983), Clerk of Senate (1983-1990), and Vice-Principal (1991-1996).

In 1966 Andrew married Mary Robertson, who survives him today. Together they enjoyed their secluded house in Cardross, caravan in Blair Athol, and holidays in Portugal. They were gracious hosts, frequently entertaining visitors at Glen House in Cardross, and they indulged their passion for dogs and gardening. Andrew passed away peacefully on 22 November 2011. While Mary maintains an active circle of friends and relations, Glen House is a lonely place without him.

2. The Glasgow Edition

Andrew Skinner was not involved with the Glasgow Edition until 1964, when Ronald Meek left Glasgow to become the Tyler Professor in the University of Leicester. Indeed, he was not in Glasgow when the original committee formed and the editors were chosen. Nonetheless, a brief recounting of the history of the project prior to his arrival may be instructive. The Adam Smith Review under Vivienne Brown’s editorship has published a 30th Anniversary retrospective on the history of the Glasgow Edition. David Raphael and Andrew Skinner, being the only surviving editors of the volumes, recounted the history of their involvement with the project. Given this published account, I shall briefly focus on three events: the genesis of the project, the acquisition of the rights to John M. Lothian’s newly discovered notes of Smith’s lectures on Rhetoric and Jurisprudence, and Andrew Skinner’s involvement with the project.

The history of the collected works dates from 1961. In a letter of 17 August, 2001, Raphael wrote to Andrew Skinner:

The first suggestion of a Glasgow edition of the works came from Laurie Hunter in October 1961, when he was a graduate student at Chicago. He wrote to Macfie saying that Professor Stigler thought there should be a collected works edition to celebrate the bicentenary in 1976, and that he (Stigler) would not want to intrude if Glasgow were to do it. (Raphael, 2001, 1; see also 2007, 3)

Looking back on the decisions which followed it seems hard to imagine that first, there should be some doubt that a collected works of Smith was an appropriate project (as opposed, for example, to Alec Macfie’s original idea of a volume of critical essays plus an annotated Theory of Moral Sentiments (TMS)), and, second, that at the time the decision was made the committee had no knowledge of John M. Lothian’s discovery of two sets of Smith’s lecture notes on Rhetoric and Jurisprudence.

Ronald Meek was the “prime mover” at Glasgow. In a memorandum dated 31 October, 1961 he set out two arguments in favor of a collected works:

(a) because others would do it if we didn’t, and (b) because there was scope for going beyond Cannan in considering Smith’s thought in the light of modern interest in economic growth and development… Following upon Meek’s memorandum, a committee was set up (with Meek in the key position of secretary) and a meeting was held on 30 November 1961. (Raphael, 2001, 2)

Thus, was born the committee to oversee the project, with Ronald Meek in the lead.

As I suggested a collected works without The Lectures on Rhetoric and Belle Lettres and relying only on the Cannan edition of the Lectures on Jurisprudence seems unthinkable to us now. However, when Meek wrote his memo no one in Glasgow was aware of John Lothian’s discovery in 1958 of these two sets of student notes, both of which have significantly improved our understanding of Smith and the interconnections between the parts of his thought. On 31 October 1961 in making his case for a collected works Meek acknowledged that “it is very unlikely that any new material, etc., will be discovered.” (ibid., quoting Meek)

In fact, the very next day, Lothian’s discovery was published in two editions of The Scotsman. (ibid.) There followed a long and difficult process of negotiation, which finally resulted in University Court of the University of Glasgow purchasing the manuscripts for £1,800.00 and a promise not to publish its own edition of the lectures on rhetoric prior to 1 January, 1971. (Lothian, 1964)

What struck me about the committee’s approach to these negotiations was, first, a sense that it was altogether fitting that these manuscripts should find a home in Glasgow, where the lectures had originally been given, and, second, the lengths to which they were willing to go to insure that at least the text of the notes would appear in the collected works even if they could not obtain the manuscripts themselves.2

Andrew Skinner returned to Glasgow in 1964, and Ronald Meek departed Glasgow for the Tyler Chair of Economics in the University of Leicester. Andrew replaced Meek as the secretary of the committee. In his own, I think overly modest, account he notes that, “I did not have any academic connection with the project of the Glasgow Edition and in fact worked as the secretary to the Editorial Board for a number of years.” (Skinner, 2008, 212) Raphael explains it somewhat differently:

I should say here that Ronald Meek, at the time a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Political Economy and the secretary of the Bicentenary Committee, soon became the leading spirit of the whole enterprise (as did Andrew Skinner when he was secretary of the committee in later days) (2007, 4).

Given what I know about Andrew, I am inclined to accept Raphael’s account over his. Be that as it may, Andrew’s role was strictly administrative until 1969 when he replaced Meek again, this time as the lead editor of the Wealth of Nations (hereinafter WN).

Andrew was a logical choice as he had just finished editing the first three books of WN for Penguin, a task which followed the reception of his Steuart edition. Andrew had written a long introduction to the Penguin WN, and was a major contributor to the General Introduction to the Glasgow WN, but I will consider these in the next part of the paper.

One final episode in Andrew’s role in the Glasgow Edition begins in the early 1980s when the Liberty Fund is brought into play. In a letter dated 28 July (no year is given, but must be early 1980s) to J. McCargow, Esq., Secretary of the University Court, Tom Wilson pointed out that, “Andrew has been more involved with the Fund than I have been myself because this all blew up when I was ill” (Wilson, 1981?). In his own memoir Andrew recounted how the Liberty Fund became involved with the project:

In the early 1980s we faced a cash flow problem which made it unlikely that the edition could be completed in the short run… Sir Ian [then CEO of Amax, an American company] was aware of the problem and put me in touch with the Director of the Liberty Fund of Indianapolis. The Director, while sympathetic, informed us that they could not give cash, but could commission work. The upshot was an agreement to publish the Works in paperback—at a price of roughly £5 per volume. This development transformed the impact of the edition as a whole. But the Fund went further. In another agreement it became possible to put the whole of the Works onto the internet, with free access. (2008, 213)

Transforming the elegant, but costly, Oxford volumes into the high quality paperback editions that the Liberty Fund has issued, as Andrew noted, was probably the main factor in the “market penetration” of the edition. To me there can be little doubt that the deal Glasgow University made with the Liberty Fund is the single most important event leading to the flowering of scholarly interest in Smith, which continues unabated today. It made it possible for me as an assistant professor at a small college to purchase the entire edition, and I’m sure many other Smith scholars would agree.

In closing this section on the history of the Glasgow Edition, I would offer the following brief comments. First, I am struck by the fact that George Stigler and Ronald Meek, economists from opposite ends of the political spectrum would play such crucial roles in getting the project underway, and in Meek’s case seeing it through to completion. In fact, Ronald Meek’s Marxist influence had led the committee to adopt a policy to exclude personal interpretation of the editors as much as possible from the volumes: “This decision was taken from the fear (1) that Ronald Meek, who was then supposed to be one of the editors of WN, would introduce into his interpretation a Marxist slant…” (Raphael, 1980). This, I believe is a tribute to Smith’s enduring appeal to economists of all persuasions. His work cuts across our political divisions. It is, thus, not surprising that a Stigler and a Meek would both want to be associated with a fitting celebration of the bicentennial of WN.

Second, I am also struck by the fact that the Lothian manuscripts, which proved so difficult to acquire, contain within them Smith’s own thoughts on property rights. There Smith first notes, for example, that property rights present

the only case where the origin of natural rights is not altogether plain… It does not at first appear evident that, e.g. any thing which may suit another as well or better than it does me, would belong to me exclusively of all others barely because I have got it into my power; as for instance, that an apple, which no doubt may be as agreeable and as useful to an other as it is to me, should be altogether appropriated to me and all others excluded from it merely because I had pulled it off the tree. (LJ(A), 1.25)

There is no doubt that Lothian had a claim on the grounds of first possession, and that the greater value of the manuscripts to Glasgow University could not vacate this right. However, in thinking about who should acquire the manuscripts (Glasgow University or some foreign buyer, for example), the committee might have used the following argument. Concerning accession as a form of acquisition of a natural right of property, Smith also noted that, “The action of conceiving, bearing, bringing forth, and suckling appear to produce a much stronger connection betwixt the young and the mother than the transitory act of begetting does with the fathers” (LJ(A) i. 64-65; emphasis added). With respect to subterranean rights, “…the connection betwixt the surface and the subterraneous parts is so great that it would soon come to be the rule that every thing betwixt the surface and to the center of the earth, if he could go so far, should be the property of the owner of the surface” (LJ(A) i. 66; emphasis added). Surely the connection, which the impartial spectator feels between Glasgow University, Adam Smith, and the lecture notes is greater than between the notes and any other possessor, including Lothian. The fact that the committee seems to have felt that the manuscripts ought to reside in Glasgow is a reflection, indeed confirmation, of this Smithian principle.

Thirdly, I would emphasize that the influence the Glasgow Edition has had on the flowering of Smith scholarship since 1976 is, as Andrew himself noted, largely the result of the Liberty Fund’s making the edition accessible to everyone. The paperback reproductions, which came out in the early 1980s followed in the 2000s by the digital reproduction in the online Library of Liberty has converted the pricey Oxford University Press volumes into open source access for all. In addition to his own scholarly output on Smith, which I will survey in the next section, this I think is one of the most significant contributions Andrew made to the collected works. While not himself computer literate, he understood the scholarly value of digitizing the edition, making it easily searchable, and freely available.

3. Andrew Skinner and Adam Smith

I turn in this last section to Andrew’s scholarly output, with primary attention given to his work on Smith. Andrew edited a number of volumes of essays on Smith and the Scottish Enlightenment, edited the WN and Steuart’s Principles twice each with long editorial introductions in each, and produced many papers, chapters in books and encyclopedia entries on Smith, Steuart, and the Scottish Enlightenment. Many of the papers on Smith grew out of his work on the Glasgow edition. They were collected and published (1979, revised edition 1996) in book form as A System of Social Science. They were also the substance of the series of lectures he gave in his course “The Age and Ideas of Adam Smith” in Glasgow University. The pedigree of these papers as lectures designed to teach bright undergraduates the basics of Adam Smith’s system in its historical context is clear in the expository nature of Andrew’s approach to his material. Indeed, I would suggest that Andrew’s greatest strength was as an expositor of the body of ideas with which he was engaged.

We may use as an illustration of Andrew’s expository style his treatment of Smith’s value theory and the paradox of value. After quoting Smith’s famous paragraph in WN which introduces the subject of value theory Andrew asks us to consider Smith’s statement in the following way:

The first problem concerns the forces that determine the rate at which one good, or units of one good, may be exchanged for another; the second is concerned basically with the means by which we can measure the value of the total stock of goods created by an individual, and which is used in exchange for others…As regards the rate of exchange, Smith isolated two relevant factors: the usefulness of the good to be acquired, and the ‘cost’ incurred in creating the commodity to be given up. The first of the relevant relationships is obviously that existing between ‘usefulness’ and value (Skinner, 1996, 146; emphasis in original).

This latter relationship takes us directly to the paradox of value where Andrew states that:

The solution to this paradox can be stated in two stages, where the first involves an explanation as to why two such goods have some value, and the second an explanation as to why the two goods have different values (ibid., 147; emphasis in original).

He then goes on to explain Smith’s two-part solution to the problem, noting first that:

Smith’s handling of the first part of the problem is based on his recognition of the fact that both goods are considered to be ‘useful’ although noting that the ‘utilities’ of each are qualitatively different, although the significant point is seen to be that both have some value precisely because they represent sources of satisfaction to the individual (ibid.; emphasis in original).

The second part of the answer then, “while simple, is clear, embodying the argument that merit (value) is a function of scarcity” (ibid., 147). Andrew’s text then returns to the main argument set out above: the distinction between the rate of exchange between two goods and the measurement of the value of a stock of goods. We need not follow his argument further to see a number of characteristic features of the way Andrew wrote history. I would suggest that Andrew’s approach is characterized by, first, a close attention to the text in which he draws our attention to fine distinctions, which are needed to make sense of the narrative. In this case we may notice the way Andrew restates the value problem in terms of its two logical parts: the rate of exchange and the measure of the value of a stock of goods. We also see this in his handling of the value paradox, where he breaks the solution down into two parts—why goods have some value and why they have different values. There is slight if any reference to secondary literature or scholarly debates. Andrew uses Smith to interpret Smith.

Second, there is clarity of expression, and, thirdly, the treatment is systematic. Andrew breaks the problem down into its constituent elements, and proceeds methodically through the material. He offers a clear and simple interpretation, rooted in wide knowledge not only of Smith’s work taken as a whole, but also of material on the same topic that Smith would have learned as a student of Francis Hutcheson’s. He, thus, clarifies a passage in Smith, which D. P. O’Brien has dubbed one of the most “convoluted” in the history of economic thought (O’Brien, 1978, 82).

A striking feature is that Andrew’s writing is remarkably free of overt personal interpretation. Moreover, there is little, if any, attempt to align either Smith or Andrew with any particular side of debates or locate either on the political spectrum. In fact, Andrew’s view of Smith suggests we must be very cautious in deciding what aspects of Smith’s policy analysis transfers to another time and place. Thus

It is not appropriate uncritically to translate Smith’s policy prescriptions from the eighteenth to the twentieth century—moreover, it is quite inconsistent with Smith’s own teaching. Smith’s work was marked by relativity of perspective—dominant features of the treatment of scientific knowledge in the essay on ‘Astronomy’, and of the analysis of rules of behaviour in the ethics… (Skinner, 1996, 206; emphasis in original)

Andrew’s stance of objectivity, I would suggest, reflects his adoption of maxims for historical writing he learned from Smith’s Lecture on Rhetoric and Belles Lettres (LRBL). “On Smith’s argument, the purpose of historical discourse is to ‘narrate transactions as they happened, without being inclined to any part’“ (ibid., 14; emphasis in original quoting from LRBL ii.13).

Of course, even exposition closely tied to the original text and not “inclined to any part” entails interpretation of some sort, so here I raise the question of whether there is a Skinnerian Smith? I would suggest that there is indeed. While Andrew made important contributions to our understanding of all the facets of Smith’s work taken separately, I want to suggest that we may isolate at least three interconnected themes which characterize Andrew’s view of Smith taken as a whole. Indeed the fact that there was such a whole goes a long way to explaining Andrew’s interest in Smith in the first place. First, there is Smith the system builder, and this on multiple levels. Second, there is a view of how the parts of the system were intended to fit together, and, third, there is an approach to social science, firmly rooted in the philosophical milieu of the Scottish Enlightenment, which is empirical and historical in its method.

Above all Andrew Skinner viewed Smith as the author of an interconnected system of social science, which integrated what we now see as the separate disciplines of moral philosophy, history, and economics. This is evident, for example, in the title he chose to give his collection of papers on Smith and his intellectual context.

Not only is there this grand system, but TMS and WN are systems of moral philosophy and economics in their own right. Each may be studied on its own, and certainly historians of economics need no reminding of the systematic nature of Smith’s analytical structure and how it fits logically into the historical and institutional aspects of WN:

However, precisely because Smith viewed his philosophical, historical and economic work as parts of a single whole, we should perhaps expect that a useful perspective on anyone may be gained by paying at least some attention to the others. (Skinner, 1999, 10)

Thus, TMS provides an analysis of the psychological attributes of human nature, which generate social order, and also provide the assumptions about human motivation used throughout his work.

Equally significant is the fact that it is in The Theory of Moral Sentiments rather than the Wealth of Nations that Smith fully explained the psychological drives which support man’s desire to better his condition, an argument that is linked in turn to the pursuit of wealth, the desire for status, and the admiration of our fellows. (1996, 70)

TMS does more work in the system than provide some assumptions about motivation.

It will be noted that man’s capacity to erect barriers against his self-interested passions, which is so essential for the orderly conduct of economic affairs, depends critically on his capacity for moral judgement. (Skinner, 1996, 70)

The idea that TMS is the foundation of the system is perhaps a commonplace today, but that may to some extent be the result of Andrew’s teaching.

While TMS provides these important philosophical and psychological underpinnings, what we now have as the Lectures on Jurisprudence (hereinafter LJ) provides an important link between the two published works. The progress of society is depicted as following through the four stages of socioeconomic systems, with contemporary commercial society being the fourth of these stages. The historical writing is analytical in that it seeks to explain the transformation of society in terms of causes and effects (ibid., 95). The theory is dynamic in that it sees human societies as undergoing continual change, and it is economic in that economic forces are given significant weight in describing the various stages in terms of their mode of subsistence and in the process of change itself. WN (book III) is an excellent example where Smith explains the process by which the commercial economy emerged. (Skinner, 1996, 87ff)

The upshot is that commercial society is a social system made possible by the attributes of human nature explained in TMS. It has a historically specific institutional structure, the pre-history of which we know of from LJ. Given this, WN seeks to elucidate the laws of motion of such a social system. In moving from TMS to WN, then, Andrew portrays Smith as moving from the general to the specific. From the principles of human nature, which make social order possible to the specific historical entity of modern commercial society.

This in brief (very brief) is Andrew Skinner’s Smith. In putting the parts together the way he does Andrew follows closely Smith’s own statements concerning the system and its interconnections. TMS (in all of its editions) concludes with Smith’s announcement of his plan:

I shall in another discourse endeavour to give an account of the general principles of law and government, and of the different revolutions they have undergone in the different ages and periods of society, not only in what concerns justice, but in what concerns police, revenue, and arms, and whatever else is the object of law. (Smith, [1959] 1976, VII. iv.37)

Smith added an “advertisement” to the sixth edition of TMS, the last piece Smith prepared for publication before he died, in which he explained his decision not to delete the above paragraph from the work. Moreover, he explains that, “In the Enquiry concerning [sic] the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, I have partly executed this promise; at least so far as concerns police, revenue, and arms” (ibid., advertisement 2). Contrary to the as yet to emerge Adam Smith Problem, Smith has told us at least one thread that runs through his work from the virtue of justice in TMS to police, revenue, and arms in WN via natural jurisprudence.

Once again we may note Andrew’s close attention to the text. Refusing to go down the road of the Smith Problem, he simply lets Smith tell him how the system of social science fits together. All of his expositions of Smith follow the same order: moral philosophy, history, economics. Economics, of course, separated itself from its Smithian (and Scottish) philosophical and historical context to become an autonomous discipline in which the laws of motion of commercial society became in some sense universal abstract principles. In a passage from Terrence Hutchison Before Adam Smith, which Andrew was fond of quoting, “Smith himself was ‘led by an invisible hand to promote an end that was no part of his intention’—the end, that is, of establishing political economy as a separate autonomous discipline” (Hutchison, 1988, 355).

Economists have failed Andrew’s course. The first question on the final exam reads as follows: 3

Is it useful to distinguish Adam Smith’s treatment of the ‘principles which lead and direct’ scientific ideas from his analysis of the way in which such knowledge is communicated?

The answer, of course is, “Yes,” but the point I would end with is that Andrew’s question reminds us that the systematic, deductive style of stating and proving principles is the method of communicating a system of science. This does not mean that it is the proper method for attaining scientific truth. Smith was firmly embedded in the Scottish Enlightenment belief in the empirical, historical method. Deduction had its role, but it was not the way the human mind apprehended and made sense of the world. It was the way principles already known could be most effectively taught. Andrew Skinner’s work on Smith, Steuart, and the Scottish Enlightenment may be seen, finally, as a plea to recapture the broader philosophical perspective of Smith’s system of social science.

I wish to acknowledge the helpful assistance of the Glasgow University Archive Search Room and Special Collections in the University Library. Sheila Dow and Donald Winch read and made helpful comments on an earlier draft.


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1 I have relied on Andrew Skinner’s Curriculum Vitae, Rick Trainor’s obituary (Trainor, 2011) published in the Herald Scotland, 30 November 2011, and personal memory for this biography.

2 These impressions are based on an anonymous and undated memorandum entitled “The Glasgow Edition of the Works of Adam Smith”, which is in the Glasgow University Archive 53507.

3 I cannot resist adding a note here. Andrew’s question, just quoted, is one of two questions on Smith which I have found truly provocative. The other is from Kenneth Boulding’s course on the Great Books of Economics, which he taught at the University of Colorado to advanced undergraduates. Question 1 for class discussion on WN reads as follows: “What is the scientific status of an ‘inquiry’?” Perhaps we could use Andrew’s question to answer Boulding’s?

I wish to acknowledge the helpful assistance of the Glasgow University Archive Search Room and Special Collections in the University Library. Sheila Dow and Donald Winch read and made helpful comments on an earlier draft.