“In The Wealth of Nations, Smith, like otherScottish thinkers, embraced an important theory of human social and economicdevelopment, known as the four-stage theory” (524).
According to this theory,human societies could be classified as hunters and gatherers, pastoral orherding, agricultural, or commercial (524). The four-stage theory gauged thelater stages of economic development and the people living in them assophisticated, more open-minded, and more civilized (526). A social theorist using this theory couldquickly look at society and, based on the state of its economic development andorganizations, rank it in terms of the stage it had achieved (526). Smith’stheory allowed Europeans to look around the world and always find themselves atthe highest level of achievement. This outlook helped them justify theireconomic and imperial command of the world during the century following. Theyrepeatedly portrayed themselves as brining a higher level of civilization topeople elsewhere (526). “AdamSmith’s Inquiry into the Nature andCauses of the Wealth of Nations was the most important economic work of theEnlightenment” (524).
Smith was a professor at Glasgow University in Scotlandand he believed that economic liberty was the foundation of a natural economicsystem. He believed that the best way to encourage economic growth was to allowindividuals to pursue their own selfish economic interests. As self-interestedpeople sought to improve themselves by meeting the needs of others in themarketplace, the economy would increase (524). Smith is usually viewed as the founderof lasissez-faire economic thought and policy, which is similar to a limitedrole for the government in economic life. “TheWealth of Nations was; however, a complex book and Smith was no simpledogmatist” (524). He did not oppose government activity in the economy, heargued that the government should provide schools, armies, navies, and roads,and he also believed that the government should assume certain commercialventures.
Like opening new trade routes and that the public should supporteducation of those who occupied the humbler occupations of life (524). “In 1764,Marquis Cesare Beccaria, an Italian aristocrat and philosophe, published On Crimes and Punishments. He appliedcritical analysis to the problem of making punishments both effective and just”(Kagan 524). Beccaria wanted the laws of monarchs and legislaturesto conform with the rational laws of nature. “He rigorously and eloquentlyattacked both torture and capital punishment and he believed the criminaljustice system should ensure a quick trial and certain punishment with theintent that the punishment should be used to discourage further crime” (524).According to Beccaria the purpose of the law was not to impose the will of Godor other ideas of perfection, but to secure the greatest good of happiness forthe greatest number of people. This utilitarian philosophy permeated mostEnlightenment writing on practical reforms and profoundly influenced rulers incentral and eastern Europe (524). Inboth discourses, Rousseau questioned the concepts of material and intellectualprogress and the morality of a society in which commerce, industry, and thepreservation of property rights were regarded as among the most important humanactivities.
The other philosophes generally believed that life would improve ifpeople could enjoy more of the fruits of the earth or could produce more goods(527). Rousseau’s mostextensive political discussion appeared in TheSocial Contract. Although the book did not attract much attentionimmediately, by the end of the century it was widely read in France. It did notpropose specific reforms, but outlined the kind of political structure thatRousseau believed would overcome the evils of contemporary politics (527).Jean-Jacques Rousseau was astrange, isolated genius. He never really felt comfortable with any of theother philosophes.
Rousseau led a troubled life and did not have many friends.He fathered many children, whom he abandoned at orphan hospitals (Kagan 527).Rousseau hated the world and society in which he lived.
He felt it wasimpossible for people living according to the commercial values of his time toachieve moral, virtuous, or sincere lives (527). In 1750, in Discourse on the Moral Effects of the Artsand Sciences, Rousseau contended that the process of civilization and theEnlightenment had corrupted human nature. In 1755 when he wrote Discourse on the Origin of Inequality, heblamed most of the evil in the world on the uneven distribution of property.
Rousseauargued that society itself was the source of human evil (527).