Julian Baggini

Meeting of Minds

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


Princeton University Press 316pp £24.95 order from our bookshop

Aristotle argued that there were three kinds of friendship – those motivated by utility, by pleasure and by virtue. According to the political scientist Dennis C Rasmussen, the bond between David Hume and Adam Smith was a ‘textbook model’ of the last kind, ‘a stable, enduring, reciprocal bond that arises not just from serving one another’s interests or from taking pleasure in one another’s company, but also from the shared pursuit of a noble end – in their case, philosophical understanding’.

It is hard to think of another friendship involving intellectuals of such calibre. Hume and Smith were the leading figures of the 18th-century Scottish Enlightenment, by common consent, respectively, the greatest philosopher and economist Britain has produced, and arguably the greatest in their fields in the world. Given that, it is perhaps surprising that Rasmussen’s The Infidel and the Professor is the first book to try to tell the story of their relationship.

Sign Up to our newsletter

Receive free articles, highlights from the archive, news, details of prizes, and much more.

Follow Literary Review on Twitter

  • Last Tweets

    • 'Moser’s book offers such a gripping account of a profoundly damaged human being, trapped in a cycle of repetition,… ,
    • 'Ideas that I’d thought were set down in full continue to smoulder ... this book is only a snapshot of some larger… ,
    • 'Full of invention which, at its most pedestrian, is eminently Victorian, and at its most unrestrained wildly imagi… ,
    • 'What in other hands could have been a dry, pedantic account of Christianity’s birth and evolution becomes in Holla… ,
    • RT : One of my favourite literary magazines is celebrating 40 years this year. Here is the September edition of… ,
    • 'Now that the Thames is too fast-flowing to freeze, its spirit’s devotees ... have found other climes for their pri… ,
    • 'Bythell glowers past his till at a world in slow free fall.' on the travails of a second-hand book… ,