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Infidel and the Professor: David Hume, Adam Smith, and the Friendship That Shaped Modern Thought

by Dennis C. Rasmussen
Pub Date:
Pbk 336 pages
AU$42.99 NZ$43.47
Product Status: In Stock Now
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The story of the greatest of all philosophical friendships'and how it influenced modern thought


David Hume is arguably the most important philosopher ever to write in English, but during his lifetime he was attacked as “the Great Infidel ” for his religious skepticism and deemed unfit to teach the young. In contrast, Adam Smith, now hailed as the founding father of capitalism, was a revered professor of moral philosophy. Remarkably, Hume and Smith were best friends, sharing what Dennis Rasmussen calls the greatest of all philosophical friendships. The Infidel and the Professor tells the fascinating story of the close relationship between these towering Enlightenment thinkers'and how it influenced their world-changing ideas. It shows that Hume contributed more to economics'and Smith contributed more to philosophy'than is generally recognized. The result is a compelling account of a great friendship that had great consequences for modern thought.


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.




"A wonderfully written book about a beautiful friendship."--Tyler Cowen, Bloomberg View

"Dennis Rasmussen . . . tells the story of Smith and Hume's bond, arguing convincingly and engagingly that there is ‘no higher example of a philosophical friendship in the entire Western tradition.’"--Ruth Scurr, Wall Street Journal

"Lively and accessible--of broad interest to readers in philosophy, economics, political science, and other disciplines."--Kirkus

"Masterly. . . . Easy to digest and smart. Recommended."--Mark Spencer, Library Journal

"In The Infidel and the Professor: David Hume, Adam Smith, and the Friendship that Shaped Modern Thought, Dennis Rasmussen . . . tells the story of their friendship well. Fourteen nicely-judged chapters take the reader through the overlapping lives of the two men, including such incidents as Hume's notorious falling-out with Rousseau, through to the natural climax of their friendship at Hume’s death, and Smith’s own demise 14 years later. . . . A short and lively book that sustains the interest not merely of the general reader but the specialist to the end. That is a considerable achievement."--Jesse Norman, Prospect

"[Rasmussen] deftly examines not only Hume and Smith's personal relationship, but also the indispensable part that they played in shaping the Scottish Enlightenment. The result is a valuable study of the rise of the liberal tradition."--Jacob Heilbrunn, National Interest

"The Infidel and the Professor is a lean, easy to digest read that is rich in interesting detail. It is anchored in weighty scholarship but not burdened by excessive demonstrations of it. . . . [Rasmussen] makes the distinctive qualities of each more evident. Pick up his book and you might find yourself agreeing with Hume that ‘reading and sauntering and lownging and dozing, which I call thinking, is my supreme Happiness'."--Julian Baggini, Literary Review

"What his book does offer . . . is a clearer, more exhaustive picture of the common ground that existed between the two thinkers, a map of the intersections, echoes and mirroring perspectives that connect their works. The Infidel and the Professor is written in a style that makes it accessible to non-specialists, who can discover through it the story of two exceptional and very engaging personalities. But it is also of interest for those who are already familiar with Hume's and Smith’s lives and works, as it allows us to see them as part of a collective intellectual project. Above all, it reminds us of what the social sciences were originally meant to be: a broad critical reflection on the condition of human beings exposed to the bewildering transformations that modernity brought to their lives."--Biancamaria Fontana, Times Higher Education

"As a total Hume fan, I enjoyed reading it, and it’s a well-written book. You don’t need to be an expert on either [Hume or Smith] to enjoy it, and get some flavour of the milieu of the Scottish Enlightenment."--Diane Coyle, Enlightened Economist

"In addition to painting a vivid portrait of the intellectual life of 18th-century Scotland, Professor Rasmussen provides a road map of the development of Smith's ideas based on his personal history and the broader political, social, theological and academic environments. [His] greatest contribution, however, is to shed new light on the surprising depth and nature of the intellectual and personal influence of the radical skeptic philosopher David Hume on Smith. Touching and illuminating."--Jonathan A. Knee, New York Times

"The best authoritative scholarly book on David Hume and Adam Smith published in the last 5 years. It is destined to be the classic book of those times."--Gavin Kennedy, Adam Smith's Lost Legacy

"The Infidel and the Professor shone a deserved spotlight on David Hume and Adam Smith."--Julian Baggini, The Guardian

"This is a well-written and well-researched history. It rewards a careful reading. . . . I recommend this book highly."--John Mullen, Metapsychology

"The Infidel and the Professor, [Rasmussen’s] account of a 'friendship that changed modern thought', is a charming work. Our politicians would benefit from reading it and so, frankly, would you."--Alex Massie, The Times

"Rasmussen has written an excellent book which offers a clear account of the ideas of Smith and Hume, and celebrates the importance of philosophical friendship."--Robin Downie, Philosophy

"Wonderful. . . . [This] book should prove to be an indispensable starting point for future inquiries into Hume and Smith’s personal and philosophical relationship."--Erik W. Matson, Review of Austrian Economics

"Rasmussen’s story about this strong and stable friendship will be engaging for those who are unfamiliar with Hume’s entertaining letters or Smith’s personal quirks, and it is a valuable contribution for scholars working on the philosophical views of each."--Lauren Kopajtic, Journal of the History of Philosophy

"A sympathetic account of the closeness of two of the world’s greatest thinkers and the warmth of the affection that he evokes is a fine testament to their friendship and his writing."--Craig Smith, Perspectives on Politics

"Rasmussen is at his interpretive best here, and his reading of how these events affected the friendship between Hume and Smith is both novel and persuasive."--John Rick, Reading Religion

"[N]ot a few times did I mark in the margins a thread of inquiry I should like to pull on in the future, using The Infidel and the Professoras a starting point. I do not doubt but it will be likewise stimulating for you."--Edward Austin Middleton,



"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

"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
Dennis C. Rasmussen is associate professor of political science at Tufts University. His books include The Pragmatic Enlightenment. He lives in Charlestown, Massachusetts.