“In The Wealth of Nations, Smith, like other
Scottish thinkers, embraced an important theory of human social and economic
development, known as the four-stage theory” (524). According to this theory,
human societies could be classified as hunters and gatherers, pastoral or
herding, agricultural, or commercial (524). The four-stage theory gauged the
later stages of economic development and the people living in them as
sophisticated, more open-minded, and more civilized (526). A social theorist using this theory could
quickly look at society and, based on the state of its economic development and
organizations, rank it in terms of the stage it had achieved (526). Smith’s
theory allowed Europeans to look around the world and always find themselves at
the highest level of achievement. This outlook helped them justify their
economic and imperial command of the world during the century following. They
repeatedly portrayed themselves as brining a higher level of civilization to
people elsewhere (526).
Smith’s Inquiry into the Nature and
Causes of the Wealth of Nations was the most important economic work of the
Enlightenment” (524). Smith was a professor at Glasgow University in Scotland
and he believed that economic liberty was the foundation of a natural economic
system. He believed that the best way to encourage economic growth was to allow
individuals to pursue their own selfish economic interests. As self-interested
people sought to improve themselves by meeting the needs of others in the
marketplace, the economy would increase (524). Smith is usually viewed as the founder
of lasissez-faire economic thought and policy, which is similar to a limited
role for the government in economic life. “The
Wealth of Nations was; however, a complex book and Smith was no simple
dogmatist” (524). He did not oppose government activity in the economy, he
argued that the government should provide schools, armies, navies, and roads,
and he also believed that the government should assume certain commercial
ventures. Like opening new trade routes and that the public should support
education of those who occupied the humbler occupations of life (524).
Marquis Cesare Beccaria, an Italian aristocrat and philosophe, published On Crimes and Punishments. He applied
critical analysis to the problem of making punishments both effective and just”
(Kagan 524). Beccaria wanted the laws of monarchs and legislatures
to conform with the rational laws of nature. “He rigorously and eloquently
attacked both torture and capital punishment and he believed the criminal
justice system should ensure a quick trial and certain punishment with the
intent 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 God
or other ideas of perfection, but to secure the greatest good of happiness for
the greatest number of people. This utilitarian philosophy permeated most
Enlightenment writing on practical reforms and profoundly influenced rulers in
central and eastern Europe (524).
both discourses, Rousseau questioned the concepts of material and intellectual
progress and the morality of a society in which commerce, industry, and the
preservation of property rights were regarded as among the most important human
activities. The other philosophes generally believed that life would improve if
people could enjoy more of the fruits of the earth or could produce more goods
(527). Rousseau’s most
extensive political discussion appeared in The
Social Contract. Although the book did not attract much attention
immediately, by the end of the century it was widely read in France. It did not
propose specific reforms, but outlined the kind of political structure that
Rousseau believed would overcome the evils of contemporary politics (527).
Jean-Jacques Rousseau was a
strange, isolated genius. He never really felt comfortable with any of the
other 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 was
impossible for people living according to the commercial values of his time to
achieve moral, virtuous, or sincere lives (527). In 1750, in Discourse on the Moral Effects of the Arts
and Sciences, Rousseau contended that the process of civilization and the
Enlightenment had corrupted human nature. In 1755 when he wrote Discourse on the Origin of Inequality, he
blamed most of the evil in the world on the uneven distribution of property. Rousseau
argued that society itself was the source of human evil (527).