Adam Smith’s Types of Human History
Adam Smith writes history to teach people how a plurality of forces informs our moral and economic actions. He employs the stadial theory—prevalent in his day—to explore four different states, or kinds of society, but he does not intend to use these to write a simple, linear history of the ‘stages’ of human progress. This article employs Smith’s typological method for writing history to create a four-fold typology of how contemporary scholars have interpreted Smith’s use of history. By using an approach, drawn from Smith’s historiography, to understand his later interpreters, this article demonstrates that Smith’s approach to history is about telling a story that embraces plurality, holds differences in tension, and resists simplification.