EVEN as we gently approach the 300th anniversary of his birth, the quest to discover more about Adam Smith goes on.
The man who penned the defining ‘Wealth Of Nations’ and ‘Theory Of Moral Sentiment’ continues to fascinate scholars, and even those who have devoted their academic lives to analysing his work still want to know more.
As part of the 2012 Adam Smith Lecture, Nicholas Phillipson returned to Smith’s roots in Kirkcaldy and challenged us to define what it is that makes him one of us rather than belonging to Glasgow, where he lectured, or Edinburgh, where he lived out his later years.
What was Smith’s bond with Kirkcaldy? Why did he choose to pen his masterpieces here rather than at Oxford or Glasgow or while travelling the Continent with the greatest thinkers of the day? What influence did his schooling in Kirkcaldy have?
And, perhaps to a few raised eyebrows, was he simply a mummy’s boy at heart given the formidable role his sole parental figure played throughout every aspect of his work and life?
Widowed before his birth, Mrs Smith never re-married and devoted her life to Adam. She was, said Phillpson, a powerful gatekeeper, leaving the audience in no doubt she called the shots. Perhaps this is why we honour her - rather than Smith - with the plaque which marks their home at the foot of Kirk Wynd.
Phillpson, an honorary research fellow in history at Edinburgh, challenged his audience to help fill in the missing gaps caused by Smith’s decision to start a bonfire of all his personal correspondence prior to his death.
Of particular interest was Smith’s education at a school in Hill Street. It’s no longer there - in fact it’s the car park of the Fife Free Press office.
Three centuries ago, it was an educational hothouse, the equivalent of a modern-day academy where the upper class and the smartest landed gentry came.
Who he studied with - the Oswalds of Dunnikier, for example - and where they came from could yield more clues as to how the young Smith was shaped.
Phillipson, whose acclaimed biogpraphy of Smith was also hailed as the most accessible to date, urged his audience to assist with unearthing any nuggets of information via the newly created Adam Smith Global Foundation.
Fonna Formann, associate professor of political science, University of California, and editor of the Adam Smith Review, spoke with equal enthusiasm for her subject, underlining just how much reputation had been reclaimed in the last 30 years, and how relevant his writings remained in 2012.
The lecture rounded off two days of events devoted to, and centred around, Smith.
Held in the Old Kirk, St Bryce Kirk and Adam Samith College, just a few hundred yards from his home at 2220 High Street, they were all hailed a huge success.
Gordon Brown MP and chancellor of the college said: “The lecture rounded off a fantastic two days of events the result of which are already helping to plan and ignite great opportunities for Kirkcaldy in sport, art and culture, tourism and business.
‘‘I believe that Adam Smith’s worldwide reputation is a fantastic asset for the town and that his name holds the key to a wide range of great developments that Fifers can benefit from.”