The Infidel and the Professor by Dennis Rasmussen

Anyone who has the highest admiration for David Hume, as I do, will welcome this book. Hume is the profoundest and most stylish philosopher ever to have written in English, but during his lifetime he was attacked as ‘the Great Infidel’. In contrast, Adam Smith was a revered professor of moral philosophy, and is now often hailed as the founding father of free market thought. 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 and influential Enlightenment thinkers.

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 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. The Infidel and the Professor is a compelling account of a great friendship that has contributed so decisively to modern thought.

Dennis C. Rasmussen is associate professor of political science at Tufts University. His books include The Pragmatic Enlightenment

Check if this excellent intellectual history is in stock at your local library.

336 pages in Princeton University Press

First published 2017

ISBN  978-0691177014

Dennis C. Rasmussen

Scroll to Top