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Adam Smith, Adam Ferguson, and the Division of Labour

John Rae, in his biography of Adam Smith, reports that when Adam Ferguson’s Essay on the History of Civil Society was published in 1767, Smith accused Ferguson of “having borrowed some of his ideas without owning them,”[1] to which Ferguson is said to have replied that he had borrowed nothing from Smith, but much from some unnamed French source “where Smith had been before him.”

The nature of the dispute has never been fully reported, although we know that it was of sufficient importance to Smith to cause him to break off his close and long-standing friendship with Ferguson until Smith’s fatal illness in 1790.[2] Several interpretations and speculative arguments have been offered concerning the nature of the dispute, despite the cloudiness of the issue and the lack of any more concrete evidence than that provided by Dr. Alexander Carlyle in his Autobiography[3] and repeated by Rae. Perhaps the most important, because the most widely accepted, of these is that proposed by the German critic, August Oncken, in an article published in 1909.[4]

Oncken suggests the following:

(1) The “French source” alluded to by Ferguson must have been either Quesnay or another of the Physiocrats, or Montesquieu. (2) It is unlikely that Ferguson was referring to any of the Physiocrats since he does not mention them in any of his writings, nor does his Essay reveal that he was influenced by the physiocratic spirit. (3) It is further unlikely that Ferguson was referring to an economist of this school since Smith had only that year come into contact with physiocratic thought and Ferguson must have been aware of this. (4) Therefore, the common connection to whom Ferguson must have been referring was Montesquieu. (5) The issue in dispute, continues Oncken, must almost certainly have been the division of labour, an idea common to both Ferguson’s Essay[5] and Smith’s writings, and one which would have been felt by Smith to have been of great enough importance to warrant that he be credited. (6) Further evidence concerning the issue involved comes from the fact that Smith, in the Wealth of Nations, does not credit Ferguson with the idea of the division of labour, although it was not published until nine years after the first appearance of Ferguson’s Essay. (7) Edwin Cannan’s researches[6] indicate that Smith’s lecture notes (which circulated and could even be bought from some booksellers) contained the idea of the division of labour, as it later appeared in the Wealth of Nations, as early as 1763. And Oncken categorically declared that Ferguson utilized Smith’s circulated notes when working on his Essay.[7] (8) Montesquieu does not raise the issue of the division of labour, so Ferguson was clearly unjustified in suggesting to Smith that his (Ferguson’s) source was French. Ferguson took the idea of the division of labour from Smith. (9) There is evidence that Ferguson developed a bad conscience over this act of plagiarism, for the fourth (1773) and all subsequent editions of his Essay carry a footnote in which Ferguson adds a blurb for Smith’s forthcoming “theory of national economy,” the Wealth of Nations.[8]

The above, in summary, is Oncken’s argument for the position that the issue in dispute between Smith and Ferguson—which occurred in 1767—concerned the idea of the division of labour which Smith, with some justification, claimed was taken from him without acknowledgment and which Ferguson, perhaps out of oversight, incorrectly suggested came jointly to them via Montesquieu. Oncken’s argument, at least on the face of it, appears convincing and has led the latest commentator on Ferguson to agree that Smith’s charges of plagiarism were not unfounded;[9] and one of the leading Smith scholars has reached a similar conclusion.[10] In point of fact, however, there seems little reason to suppose that—if, in fact, the argument between Smith and Ferguson was over the division of labour—Smith could be considered to have a legitimate complaint.

The same idea had, before Smith’s time, been adopted by a number of writers who dealt with economic questions. It can, for example, be found in Hume’s Treatise on Human Nature (1739) and in his Political Discourses (1752),[11] in James Harris’ Dialogue concerning Happiness (1741),[12] in Mandeville’s Fable of the Bees (1714—published in slightly different form in 1705 under the title of The Grumbling Hive),[13] and in an anonymous treatise on trade in 1701.[14] It is discussed extensively in the works of Sir William Petty, of which Schumpeter writes: “On division of labor . . . we find all the essentials of what Adam Smith was to say of it, including its dependence upon the size of markets.”[15] The benefits of territorial division of labour are discussed in contemporaneous mercantilist literature.[16] Nor did the idea of the division of labour escape the notice of classical writers, particularly Plato and Aristotle.[17]

Smith, we know, was familiar with the writings of most of these thinkers; certainly he knew Petty, Harris and Hume well.[18] How, then, can his anger with Ferguson be explained over the question of priority concerning the idea of the division of labour?

It is known that Smith was particularly sensitive to the possibility of having his ideas appropriated by some other author. In 1755, when delivering a paper before the Glasgow Economic Society in which he expounded his system of natural liberty, Smith publicly asserted his claim to the authorship of that system.[19] According to Dugald Stewart, Smith “was anxious to establish his exclusive right . . . to certain leading principles both political and literary . . . in order to prevent the possibility of some rival claims which he thought he had reason to apprehend, and to which his situation as a professor, added to his unreserved communications in private companies, rendered him peculiarly liable.”[20] On this occasion, Smith manifested “a good deal of that honest and indignant warmth which is perhaps unavoidable by a man who is conscious of the purity of his intentions when he suspects that advantages have been taken of the frankness of his temper.”[21] [22]

It is also reported[23] that when Robertson’s History of the Reign of Charles V appeared in print in 1769, Smith and/or his friends levelled charges similar to those with which Ferguson was earlier confronted against Robertson, although no evidence survives of exactly what, in Robertson’s work, was claimed as having originally come from Smith.

Rae’s biography refers to the obituary notice of Smith published in the Monthly Review of 1790, where the author of the notice alleges that during this period “Smith lived in such constant apprehension of being robbed of his ideas that, if he saw any of his students take notes of his lectures, he would instantly stop him and say ‘I hate scribblers.’”[24] As Rae goes on to point out, such an attack is controverted by other evidence which suggests that Smith was, in fact, fairly permissive in allowing note-taking in his classes.[25] But the fact remains that he three times found it necessary to allude to the possibility of plagiarism: in 1755, in the manifesto delivered to the Glasgow Economic Society; in 1767, in a personal accusation levelled at Ferguson; and in 1769, in a charge against Principal Robertson. Further, he left not a few of his students with the impression that the threat of someone stealing his ideas was a serious worry to him, and Dr. Carlyle reports that he had “some little jealousy in his temper.”[26]

What I hope to suggest is not that Smith was suffering from paranoia, but, rather, that he was peculiarly excitable about the idea of plagiarism—which might easily have led him to find it where none existed. That he seems to have been unjustified in claiming priority in 1755 has been persuasively argued by Schumpeter.[27] It seems clear that a similar case could be made for the incident with Ferguson in 1767.[28]

What, then, of Oncken’s argument? That the issue in dispute between Smith and Ferguson was the idea of the division of labour seems likely, on the basis of some of the evidence furnished by Oncken. But there is no reason for believing that Ferguson took this idea from Smith-the notion of the division of labour was fairly commonly held at the time of the writing of the Essay—and it seems a pure act of fantasy, if, in fact, the dispute did occur in 1767, to suppose that Ferguson’s 1773 footnote announcing Smith’s forthcoming Wealth of Nations was done to assuage a guilty conscience. After all, Ferguson never felt badly towards Smith, even after their personal friendship had cooled, and always held his views in the highest regard.[29]

There is a further complication, however, which concerns the date of the dispute. There is some reason to doubt that it took place in 1767, rather than some much later year, despite Rae’s report.[30] In 1772, for instance, Smith and Ferguson still appear to be on the best of terms. In a letter to William Pulteney, Smith mentions that he has recently spoken with Ferguson—about Pulteney’s views on “the proper remedy for the disorders of the coin in Bengal.”[31] In the same year, Hume reports in a letter to Smith that Ferguson has returned in good health from a recent trip and asks Smith to join them some time during the winter, indicating that the friendship between these three thinkers remained unbroken.[32]

Ferguson was still corresponding with Smith in the following year, 1773.[33] Further, Fay writes that a year’s trip which Ferguson took and from which he returned in 1776 was taken “at Adam Smith’s instance.”[34] When Ferguson returned, the Wealth of Nations had already appeared and Ferguson penned a very warm letter to Smith concerning it, in which he writes: “I have been for some time so busy reading you, and recommending and quoting you to my students, that I have not had leisure to trouble you with letters. I suppose that of all the opinions on which you have any curiosity, mine is among the least doubtful. . . . You are surely to reign alone on these subjects, to form opinions, and I hope, to govern at least the coming generations.”[35] Ferguson again wrote to Smith in 1777, concerning Smith’s part in recommending Ferguson to the tutorship of Lord Stanhope’s ward, the Earl of Chesterfield.[36] As late as 1779, in a letter to Lord Carlisle, Smith refers to “my friend Ferguson.”[37] And during the same year, Ferguson in the company of Blair and Smith often visited with Princess Catherine Romanovna Dashkov, who was living in Edinburgh while her son was attending the University.[38]

We also know from Rae that Smith and Ferguson—in 1780—were both active members of a weekly dining club which met every Friday in the Grassmarket in Edinburgh.[39] This would hardly be in keeping with the seriousness with which the participants took the dispute which ended their close friendship.

Herta Jogland, in her study of Ferguson, claims—on the basis of some of the evidence offered above—that there is no reason to suppose that the date of the dispute was 1767 rather than, say, 1784–1790.[40] Scott’s suggestion[41] that the rupture between the two friends occurred in 1767 but was healed by 1777 cannot stand since we definitely know that Smith and Ferguson were distant just prior to Smith’s death in 1790. We are left with the conclusion that the dispute probably occurred some time between 1780 and Smith’s death in 1790. This re-dating of the dispute allows a consideration of other factors than those offered by Oncken in establishing the nature of the altercation between Smith and Ferguson.

The example of the division of labour which Smith uses in his Glasgow lectures and repeats in the Wealth of Nations concerns the number of operations employed in the manufacture of a pin. This is the same example employed by Ferguson in his Principles of Moral and Political Science[42] published in 1792, two years after Smith’s death. However, the preparation of the manuscript of this work occupied much of Ferguson’s time from 1781 until its publication,[43] and doubtless was under his consideration even a year or two before this. Inasmuch as both these men were members of the same dining club, it is likely that a discussion of Ferguson’s lecture notes, which form the basis of the Principles and which he was in the process of preparing for publication, was brought up in conversation, at which point Smith might have made an allusion to Ferguson having got the idea of the division of labour from his Glasgow notes or from the Wealth of Nations—inasmuch as both Ferguson’s and his own works use the manufacture of pins as the illustrative example. As we know, Ferguson responded to this accusation by suggesting that both he and Smith had got the idea from some “French source.” What is this source?

In point of fact, there is every indication that Smith took his example—the manufacture of pins—from the Encyclopédie, where, in the article Épingle, the description of the manufacture of a pin is reported to consist of eighteen operations,[44] the same number of operations reported by Smith in his Glasgow Lectures.[45] Cannan, who, in a footnote to the Lectures, offers the French article as Smith’s source, adds that “if Adam Smith had relied on an English authority, he might have mentioned a larger number,”[46] and goes on to cite Ephraim Chambers’ Cyclopaedia,[47] wherein the author reckons that there are “twenty-five workmen” employed in distinct operations in making a pin. The conclusion strongly suggests itself that Ferguson was alluding to this article on pins by M. Delaire in the Éncyclopedie to which we know Smith had reference in the composition of his Lectures. Ferguson’s comment further suggests that he, too, referred to the same article as the source of his example and had used it in his lectures.

In the light of the preceding evidence, then, the following theory of the nature of the dispute seems most plausible.

(1) The dispute between Smith and Ferguson, as Oncken claims, concerned the question of the division of labour. (2) It probably occurred between 1780, when Ferguson began work on his lecture notes for eventual publication, and 1785, when he retired from the Chair of Moral Philosophy at the University of Edinburgh for reasons of health and moved to the outskirts of the city[48]—most probably towards the beginning of this period before his health had severely deteriorated and he was still active at the dining club. (3) The dispute was occasioned by a discussion of Ferguson’s lecture notes, which he was in the process of preparing for publication, and which illustrated the idea of the division of labour with the same example as had been previously used by Smith. (4) Smith accused Ferguson of having borrowed from his work without crediting him. (5) Ferguson responded by claiming that Smith and he took their example from the same French source. (6) The source to which Ferguson was referring was an article on pins which had appeared in the Encyclopédie. (7) The result was an argument bitter enough to result in the breakup of their long friendship. This seems possible since both men were, during this period, irascible and subject to jealousies.[49]

Concerning the question of who was “right” in the controversy, there seems to be no doubt that a charge of plagiarism against Ferguson was thoroughly unjustified, for reasons already offered. There is, equally, not one whit of evidence that Smith took his views on the division of labour from Ferguson’s Civil Society, as has been contended by Marx and Lassalle.[50]

On one point, however, Ferguson surely can be granted priority, and this is on the sociological implications of the division of labour. Ferguson writes, in the same section of the Essay in which he discusses the material benefits arising out of the division of labour, of the psychological costs and the sociological consequences of the increasing subdivision of employment.

Many mechanical arts, indeed, require no capacity; they succeed best under a total suppression of sentiment and reason; and ignorance is the mother of industry as well as of superstition. Reflection and fancy are subject to err; but a habit of moving the hand, or the foot, is independent of either. Manufactures, accordingly, prosper most, where the mind is least consulted, and where the workshop may, without any great effort of imagination, be considered as an engine, the parts of which are men.[51]

The result of ever-greater specialization in the economy will, Ferguson feels, lead to a system of social stratification and subordination in which thinking itself will, in time, become the particular province of one class of people only.

But if many parts in the practice of every art, and in the detail of every department, require no abilities, or actually tend to contract and to limit the views of the mind, there are others which lead to general reflections, and to enlargement of thought. Even in manufacture, the genius of the master, perhaps, is cultivated, while that of the inferior workman lies waste. The statesman may have a wide comprehension of human affairs, while the tools he employs are ignorant of the system in which they are themselves combined. The general officer may be a great proficient in the knowledge of war, while the soldier is confined to a few motions of the hand and the foot. . . .

The practitioner of every art and profession may afford matter of general speculation to the man of science; and thinking itself, in this age of separations, may become a peculiar craft.[52]

Ferguson goes on to spell out the political and sociological implications of this phenomenon.

. . . the labourer, who toils that he may eat; the mechanic, whose art requires no exertion of genius, are degraded by the object they pursue, and by the means they employ to attain it. Professions requiring more knowledge and study; proceeding on the exercise of fancy, and the love of perfection; leading to applause as well as to profit, place the artist in a superior class, and bring him nearer to that station in which men are supposed to be highest; because in it they are bound to no task; because they are left to follow the disposition of the mind, and to take that part in society, to which they are led by the sentiments of the heart, or by the calls of the public.

. . . We look for elevation of sentiment, and liberality of mind, among those orders of citizens, who, by their condition, and their fortunes, are relieved from sordid cares and attentions. . . .

[Thus] in every commercial state, notwithstanding any pretensions to equal rights, the exaltation of a few must depress the many.[53]

Much of Ferguson’s analysis formed the basis of Marx’s later discussion of the division of labour and, indeed, Marx explicitly recognized Ferguson as one of the sources of his view.[54]

Adam Smith, on the other hand, does not discuss the sociological consequences of the division of labour in his earlier writings.[55] There is little evidence, I think, to support Jacob Viner’s claim[56] that Smith had a clear notion of alienation as a consequence of the division of labour as early as 1755, a notion, Viner suggests, which came both to Smith and later to Ferguson from Rousseau. Smith, it is true, published a fairly lengthy letter in the Edinburgh Review of 1755[57] in which he discusses Rousseau’s theory of the origin of property and the evils attendant on the introduction of this institution;[58] but Rousseau’s broad conclusion that the advent of property and inequality in wealth marked the advent of a whole new psychology of man is considerably broader—and vaguer—than would warrant his being credited with the more specific and precise notion that the increasing subdivision of employment in society leads to a greater prevalence of a set of psychological attitudes which, when taken together, formed what Marx was later to term alienation.

It is really only with the appearance of the Wealth of Nations that Smith presents us with what might be called a sociological analysis relating the dynamics of capitalist production with a certain psychological stage of development. In Book V (Chapter 1, Part 3, Article 2) he writes:

In the progress of the division of labour, the employment of the far greater part of those who live by labour, that is, of the great body of the people, comes to be confined to a few very simple operations, frequently to one or two. But the understandings of the greater part of men are necessarily formed by their ordinary employments. The man whose whole life is spent in performing a few simple operations; of which the effects too are, perhaps, always the same, or very nearly the same, has no occasion to exert his understanding, or to exercise his invention in finding out expedients for removing difficulties which never occur. He naturally loses, therefore, the habit of such exertion, and generally becomes as stupid and ignorant as it is possible for a human creature to become. The torpor of his mind renders him, not only incapable of relishing or bearing a part in any rational conversation, but of conceiving any generous, noble, or tender sentiment, and consequently of forming any just judgment concerning many even of the ordinary duties of private life.[59]

This is the extent of Smith’s reference to the division of labour in a non-economic context and even here, it should be noted, his discussion is considerably limited in scope and offers none of the broader sociological and political implications which were suggested by Ferguson nine years earlier.

As a result, it can, I think, be legitimately argued that Ferguson, in dealing with the division of labour, can claim priority over Smith in offering, not an economic analysis of the question which was original with neither writer, but rather, the first methodical and penetrating sociological analysis, an analysis which was to have far-reaching consequences in intellectual history by contributing substantially to the sociological groundwork of Marxism. It is on this sociological point that the position of Marx and Lassalle, who point to Ferguson as Smith’s forerunner, can be vindicated.


  1. J. Rae, Life of Adam Smith, 1895, p. 65.

  2. Ibid., p. 433.

  3. The Autobiography of Dr. Alexander Carlyle of Inveresk, London and Edinburgh, 1910, p. 299. “Smith had been weak enough,” writes Carlyle, “to accuse him [Ferguson] of having borrowed some of his inventions without owning them. This Ferguson denied, but owned he derived many notions from a French author, and that Smith had been there before him.”

  4. “Adam Smith und Adam Ferguson,” Zeitschrift f?ialwissenschaft, vol. XII (1909), Part I, pp. 129–37; Part II, pp. 206–16. The bulk of Oncken’s argument on the controversy appears in Part I.

  5. Ferguson devotes a full chapter to the question of the division of labour, in which he writes:

    “The artist finds, that the more he can confine his attention to a particular part of any work, his productions are the more perfect, and grow under his hands in the greater quantities. Every undertaker in manufacture finds, that the more he can subdivide the tasks of his workmen, and the more hands he can employ on separate articles, the more are his expences diminished, and his profits increased. The consumer too requires, in every kind of con1modity, a workmanship more perfect than hands employed on a variety of subjects can produce; and the progress of commerce is but a continued subdivision of the mechanical arts. . . .

    By the separation of arts and professions, the sources of wealth are laid open; every species of material is wrought up to the greatest perfection, and every commodity is produced in the greatest abundance. . . .” An Essay on the History of Civil Society [Part IV, Section 1], Duncan Forbes, ed., Edinburgh, 1966, p. 181.

  6. Cf. Cannan’s Introduction to Smith’s Lectures on Justice, Police, Revenue and Arms, Edwin Cannan, ed., Oxford, 1896.

  7. “. . . dass Ferguson bei der Ausarbeitung seines ‘Essay’ eines der damals viel verbreiteten Vorlesungshefte der Smithschen Moralphilosophie benutzt hatte.” Op. cit., p. 136.

  8. Essay, op. cit., p. 287.

  9. “. . . Smith . . . became enraged at the book [the Essay] because he believed that some crucial points had been plagiarized from his own work. . . . A German critic has attempted to adjudicate this controversy and has argued quite convincingly that Sm.ith was in the right.” David Kettler, The Social and Political Thought of Adam Ferguson, Columbus, Ohio, 1965, p. 74, n. 35.

  10. “As far as can be judged from the scanty material available, . . . Ferguson borrowed from Adam Smith’s lectures without any acknowledgement.” William Robert Scott, Adam Smith as Student and Professor, Glasgow, 1937, p. 119.

  11. “When every individual person labours a-part, and only for himself, his force is too small to execute any considerable work; his labour being employ’d in supplying all his different necessities, he never attains a perfection in any particular art; and as his force and success are not at all times equal, the least failure in either of these particulars must be attended with inevitable ruin and misery. Society provides a remedy for these three inconveniences. By the conjunction of forces, our power is augmented: By the partition of employments, our ability encreases: And by mutual succour we are less expos’d to fortune and accidents.” A Treatise on Human Nature, T. H. Green and T. H. Grose, eds., 1878, II, p.259.

    There are several references to the idea of the division of labour in the Political Discourses. For example, Hume refers to the lack of any marked degree of urban specialization as an important contributing factor to the comparative poverty of the ancient world as compared with mid-eighteenth-century Europe. “Of the Populousness of Ancient Nations,” in Essays Moral, Political, and Literary, T. H. Green and T. H. Grose, eds., 1889, I, pp. 381–443. Cf., also, Marcus Arkin, “The Economic Writings of David Hume—A Reassessment,” South African Journal of Economics, vol. XXIV (1956), pp. 204–20; and Eugene Rotwein, ed., David Hume: Writings on Economics, Madison, Wis., 1955, pp. liv-xc.

  12. Dugald Stewart mentions Harris of Salisbury, Dialogue concerning Happiness [Part I, Section 12], together with Ferguson’s Civil Society as works which anticipate Smith’s writings on the division of labour. Lectures on Political Economy, vols. VIII and IX of The Collected Works of Dugald Stewart, Sir William Hamilton, ed., Edinburgh, 1855, VIII, p. 311.

  13. Mandeville makes reference to the division of labour in both parts of the treatise. His index includes the following entry: “Labour. The usefulness of dividing it and subdividing it.” Cf. the 1924 reprint of The Fable of the Bees, F. B. Kaye, ed., Oxford, 1924. References to the division of labour occur in vol. I, pp. 356–58, and vol. II, pp. 141–2, 284 and 325.

  14. The author of Consideration on the East India Trade, who uses international specialization as the basis of his argument favouring a liberal economic policy. Cf. Marcus Arkin, “A Neglected Forerunner of Adam Smith,” South African Journal of Economics, vol. XXIII (1955), pp. 299–314; and Joseph Schumpeter, History of Economic Analysis, New York, 1954, pp. 373–4.

  15. Schumpeter, op. cit., p. 214. The division of labour is discussed in several of Petty’s writings, but see particularly his Political Arithmetick, first published in 1690 but written and circulated much earlier.

  16. Ibid., pp. 373–6.

  17. Ibid., p. 56. For an excellent discussion of the idea of the division of labour, as well as a general overview of the economic thought of classical authors, see Albert A. Trever, A History of Greek Economic Thought, Chicago, 1916.

  18. Schumpeter, op. cit., p. 184. For a discussion of the similarity between Smith’s Glasgow Lectures and the economic sections of Francis Hutcheson’s work, and for a careful comparison of the economic writings of Smith and Hume, cf. W. L. Taylor; “Eighteenth Century Scottish Political Economy: The Impact on Adam Smith and his Work, of his Association with Francis Hutcheson and David Hume,” South African Journal of Economics, vol. XXIV (1956), pp. 261–276 and Taylor, Francis Hutcheson and David Hume as Predecessors of Adam Smith, Durham, North Carolina, 1965.

  19. Rae, op. cit., p. 63.

  20. Stewart, “Biographical Memoir of Adam Smith,” in Collected Works, op. cit., X, p. 68.

  21. Rae, op. cit., pp. 63–4.

  22. Rae disposes of the contention of James Bonar that Smith’s 1755 manifesto was directed against Ferguson. “ . . . it is unlikely that Ferguson was the occasion of offence in 1755. Up till that year he was generally living abroad with the regiment of which he was chaplain, and it is not probable that he had begun his History [the Essay] before his return to Scotland, or that he had time between his return and the composition of Smith’s manifesto to do or project anything to occasion such a remonstrance. Then he is found ·on the friendliest footing with Smith in the years immediately following the manifesto, and Stewart’s allusion to the circumstances implies a graver breach than could be healed so summarily. Besides, had Ferguson been the cause of offence, Stewart would have probably avoided the subject altogether in a paper to the Royal Society, of which Ferguson was still an active member. [Stewart’s biographical sketch, which contains the report of Smith’s manifesto of 1755, was delivered before the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 1793, well before Ferguson’s own death and while Ferguson was still actively participating in the Society’s affairs.]” Ibid., p. 65.

  23. Scott, op. cit., pp. 100–1.

  24. Rae, op. cit., p. 64.

  25. Ibid.

  26. Carlyle, op. cit., p. 281.

  27. “Smith . . . indeed laid claim . . . to priority concerning the principle of Natural Liberty on the ground that he had taught it as early as 1749. By this principle he both a canon of policy—the removal of all restraints except those imposed by ‘justice’—and the analytic proposition that free interaction of individuals produces not chaos but an orderly pattern that is logically determined: he never distinguished the two quite clearly. Taken in either sense, however, the principle had been quite clearly enunciated before, for example, by Grotius and Pufendorf. It is precisely for this reason that no charge of plagiarism can be made either against Smith or on his behalf . . . This does not exclude the possibility of course that, in stating it with greater force and fullness than anyone before him, Smith experienced subjectively all the thrill of discovery or even that, some time before 1749, he actually made the ‘discovery’ himself.” Schumpeter, op. cit., p. 185.

  28. Schumpeter concludes on the controversy between Smith and Ferguson that “there is hardly any reason to believe, as did Marx, that Smith owed any considerable debt to it [Ferguson’s Essay] or, as others have held, that Ferguson owed much to Smith’s lectures or conversation: the parallelisms that are adduced in support of either view concern ideas—on division of labor and taxation—which were common currency at that time and could have been drawn from a number of older authors.” Ibid., p. 184, n. 16.

  29. “When it became evident that the sickness was to prove mortal,” writes Rae, “Smith’s old friend Adam Ferguson, who had been apparently estranged from him for some time, immediately forgot their coolness, whatever it was about, and came and waited on him with the old affection. ‘Your friend Smith,’ writes Ferguson on 31st July 1790, announcing the death to Sir James Macpherson, Warren Hastings’ successor as Governor-General of India—’your old friend Smith is no more. We knew he was dying for some months, and though matters, as you know, were a little awkward when he was in health, upon that appearance I turned my face that way and went to him without further consideration, and continued my attentions to the last’.” Op. cit., p. 433. These are not the actions of an embittered old man suffering from the burden of guilt for a harm done a once-close friend.

  30. Ibid., p. 65. This date is accepted by Oncken, op. cit., p. 129.

  31. Rae, op. cit., p. 254.

  32. Ibid., p. 258.

  33. Ibid., p. 263.

  34. C. R. Fay, Adam Snzith and the Scotland of His Day, Cambridge, 1956, p. 84.

  35. Ibid.

  36. Scott, op. cit., p. 273. The letter is reprinted in full in Scott’s book.

  37. Rae, op. cit., p. 350.

  38. Robert M. Schnitz, Hugh Blair, Morningside Heights, New York, 1948, p. 64.

  39. Rae, op. cit., p. 334.

  40. “Nicht einmal der Zeitpunkt des Streites steht fest, denn auch der Behauptung August Onckens können anderslautende Daten entgegengehalten werden, wonach nicht das Jahr 1766 [sic] sondern die Jahre zwischen 1784 und 1790 daf?en bleiben.” Herta H. Jogland, Urspr?nd Grundlagen der Soziologie bei Adam Ferguson, Berlin, 1959, p. 22.

  41. Scott, op. cit., p. 273, n. 5.

  42. “A fit assortment of persons, of whom each performs but a part in the manufacture of a pin, may produce much more in a given time, than perhaps double the number, of which each was to produce the whole, or to perform every part in the construction of that diminutive article.” Principles of Moral and Political Science, Edinburgh, 1792, II, p. 424.

  43. “[Ferguson] had for many years no written lectures, but trusted to his mastery of the subject for the expression of his ideas on the spur of the moment. When his health gave way in 1781, however, he found it necessary to write out his course, which, during the leisure of his retirement, he corrected for the press and published in 1792.” John Small, “Biographical Sketch of Adam Ferguson,” Transactions of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, vol. XXIII, part III (1864), p. 643.

  44. “Épingle,” in vol. V of the Encyclopédie (1755), quoted by Cannan in Smith’s Lectures, op. cit., p. 164, n. 1.

  45. Ibid., pp. 163–4.

  46. Ibid., p. 164, n. 1.

  47. “Pin,” in vol. II of the Cyclopaedia, 2nd ed., 1738; 4th ed., 1741, quoted by Cannan, ibid.

  48. Small, op. cit., p. 647.

  49. Henry Grey Graham, Scottish Men of Letters in the Eighteenth Century, 1901, p. 117; Carlyle, op. cit., p. 281.

  50. Marx, in the Capital, refers to Ferguson in connection with the idea of the division of labour as Smith’s “teacher” (Capital [Moscow, Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1961], I, p. 123, n.) and, later, as “the master of Adam Smith” (ibid., p. 354). The same error can also be found in his Poverty of Philosophy, New York, International Publishers, 1963, where he writes of Smith as “a pupil of A. Ferguson,” (p. 129). Lassalle, too, claims that Smith followed Ferguson’s procedure in dealing with the question of the division of labour. Ferdinand Lassalle, Herr Bastiat-Schulze von Delitzsch, der ökonomische Julian, oder Kapital und Arbeit, Berlin, 1893, p. 75.

  51. Essay, op. cit., pp. 182–3.

  52. Ibid., p. 183.

  53. Ibid., pp. 184–6.

  54. Capital, op. cit., I, pp. 354–62.

  55. This is not, strictly speaking, true. Smith does, in his Lectures, touch on the possible confining effects the specialization of employment might have on the mind. There he writes: “Where the division of labour is brought to perfection, every man has only a simple operation to perform; to this his whole attention is confined, and few ideas pass in his mind but what have an immediate connexion with it. When the mind is employed about a variety of objects, it is somehow expanded and enlarged, and on this account a country artist is generally acknowledged to have a range of thoughts much above a city one.” Op. cit., p. 255. His discussion, however, is restricted to this one passage and in no way compares to Ferguson’s broader and more systematic analysis. E. G. West has persuasively demonstrated that Smith’s analysis of the division of labour in Book V of the Wealth of Nations can be understood as expressing a view which he held even as far back as his Glasgow lectures. “Adam Smith’s Two Views on the Division of Labour,” Economica, vol. XXXI (1964), pp. 23–32. However, there seems no reason to suppose that he had formulated his ideas on this subject with any greater precision or depth than is shown by the passage in the Wealth of Nations.

  56. “Guide to John Rae’s Life of Adam Smith,” in John Rae, Life of Adam Smith, “Reprints of Economic Classics,” New York, 1965, pp. 35–6.

  57. “A Letter to the Authors of the Edinburgh Review,” reprinted in The Early Writings of Adam Smith, J. Ralph Lindgren, ed., “Reprints of Economic Classics,” New York, 1967, pp. 15–28.

  58. See J. J. Rousseau, Sur l’origine de l’inégalité parmi les hommes, vol. III of Oeuvres complétes, Bernard Gagnebin and Marcel Raymond, eds., Paris, 1964, pp. 171 ff. Smith, in his letter to the Edinburgh Review, quotes at length from this Discourse.

  59. Wealth of Nations, Edwin Cannan, ed., New York, 1937, p. 734.

Ronald Hamowy was Research Fellow at The Independent Institute and Emeritus Professor of History at the University of Alberta in Canada.