Thursday, 24 November 2011

Andrew Skinner, 1935-2011

Eric Crampton has noted the passing of Mark Blaug. It now turns out that we must also note the passing of another great historian of economics, the Adam Smith scholar, Andrew Skinner. From the Adam Smith’s Lost Legacy blog comes this tribute to Skinner:
Eric Schliesser, a fine scholar who is much appreciated for his knowledge of 18th-century leading figures of the Scottish Enlightenment, has written a tribute to Andrew Skinner, whose death was reported today:
“This has been a terrible week for the history of economics: two of its giants, Andrew Skinner and Mark Blaug, died a few days apart. Skinner was the Daniel Jack Professor of Political Economy from 1985 to 1994 and Adam Smith Professor of Political Economy from 1994 until 2000 at University of Glasgow. Skinner is best known for his superb editing of the 2-volumes of the The Wealth of Nations in The Glasgow Edition of the Works and Correspondence of Adam Smith (1976).

He was also the author of a very fine collection of essays on Adam Smith, A System of Social Science: Papers Relating to Adam Smith. (He also edited several volumes of scholarly papers on Adam Smith.) He should have been better known for his very helpful (1966) edition of Sir James Steuart (1767) An Inquiry into the Principles of Political Economy. (The edition does contain some cuts, so let the buyer be aware.) Steuart was a subtle reader of Hume's political economy, and was deliberately ignored by Adam Smith; it mattered a lot to Skinner to ensure that Steuart was not forgotten.

I did not have much interaction with Skinner. But one is worth recounting. At the start of 2000, I sent him a draft of my main methodological/interpretive chapter on Smith's Wealth of Nations of my dissertation-then-in-progress. (We had never met.) Skinner was a natural choice because he was the leading scholar of the connections between Adam Smith's economics and Smith's Kuhnian theory of science. A few months went by, and just before his official retirement from the university he sent me his (kind) reflections on my chapter. Then I did not realize how rare such generosity is. He concluded his letter with a remark that I quote: "I met [Thomas] Kuhn in 1975 in Princeton when he told me, as I recall, that he was unaware of [Adam Smith's "The History of] ASTRONOMY" - if true, intriguing in that both Kuhn and Smith cite Copernicus' introduction as a classic example of the crisis state?"

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