David Hume is widely regarded as the most important philosopher ever to write in English, but during his lifetime he was attacked as “the Great Infidel” for his skeptical religious views and deemed unfit to teach the young. In contrast, Adam Smith was a revered professor of moral philosophy, and is now often hailed as the founding father of capitalism. Remarkably, the two were best friends for most of their adult lives, sharing what Dennis Rasmussen calls the greatest of all philosophical friendships. The Infidel and the Professor is the first book to tell the fascinating story of the friendship of these towering Enlightenment thinkers—and how it influenced their world-changing ideas.
The book follows Hume and Smith’s relationship from their first meeting in 1749 until Hume’s death in 1776. It describes how they commented on each other’s writings, supported each other’s careers and literary ambitions, and advised each other on personal matters, most notably after Hume’s quarrel with Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Members of a vibrant intellectual scene in Enlightenment Scotland, Hume and Smith made many of the same friends (and enemies), joined the same clubs, and were interested in many of the same subjects well beyond philosophy and economics—from psychology and history to politics and Britain’s conflict with the American colonies. The book reveals that Smith’s private religious views were considerably closer to Hume’s public ones than is usually believed. It also shows that Hume contributed more to economics—and Smith contributed more to philosophy—than is generally recognized.
Vividly written, The Infidel and the Professor is a compelling account of a great friendship that had great consequences for modern thought.
Awards and Recognition
- One of The Australian Review’s 2017 Books of the Year
- One of The Guardian’s Best Books of 2017
- Selected for Bloomberg View’s “Must-Reads of 2017: From Space to Chinese Noir”
- One of Project Syndicate’s Best Reads in 2017 (chosen by Kaushik Basu)
- Shortlisted for the 2018 Ralph Waldo Emerson Award, Phi Beta Kappa Society
Dennis C. Rasmussen is associate professor of political science at Tufts University. His books include The Pragmatic Enlightenment. He lives in Charlestown, Massachusetts.
"This engagingly written book tells the story of a remarkable friendship between two giants of eighteenth-century thought and heroes of the Scottish Enlightenment. Rasmussen is a historically and philosophically astute guide to the lives and ideas of Hume and Smith—as well as those of a large cast of supporting characters. His highly readable narrative offers great insights into an influential intellectual and social world."—Steven Nadler, author of A Book Forged in Hell: Spinoza's Scandalous Treatise and the Birth of the Secular Age
"After Hobbes, David Hume and Adam Smith are the two most important philosophers and social scientists in the English-speaking world. This cleverly constructed, learned yet eminently readable account uses their friendship to illuminate the ways in which their ideas converged and diverged. An appealing introduction for the novice, with plenty of added value for the well versed."—Jerry Z. Muller, author of Adam Smith in His Time and Ours: Designing the Decent Society
"In this impressive account of the close relationship between the two giants of the Scottish Enlightenment, Dennis Rasmussen brings out the full significance of the warm lifelong friendship and intellectual dialogue between David Hume and Adam Smith."—Leo Damrosch, author of Jean-Jacques Rousseau: Restless Genius
"A remarkable combination of page-turner and serious intellectual history, The Infidel and the Professor is enormously enlightening and impossible to put down."—William Easterly, author of The Elusive Quest for Growth
"Adam Smith and David Hume were two of the world’s greatest thinkers. The joy of their friendship infuses every page of this marvelous book, which will make you love them both, as thinkers and people. If only one could have been at one of Hume’s dinner parties!"—Angus Deaton, Nobel Prize-winning economist
"The Infidel and the Professor is the first book on the fascinating subject of the friendship between David Hume and Adam Smith. Masterfully weaving together the historical evidence, Dennis Rasmussen does justice to both the ideas of these two men and their larger social and intellectual context. The resulting account is erudite, absorbing, witty, and smoothly narrated."—Andrew Sabl, author of Hume's Politics
"This account of the friendship between two of the most important and famous thinkers of the eighteenth century—David Hume and Adam Smith—also provides an accessible introduction to their thought and writings."—John T. Scott, coauthor of The Philosophers' Quarrel