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

    • In 'Silenced Voices' reports the ongoing story of the human rights lawyer, Nasrin Sotoudeh, who has been… ,
    • The mystery of Jack the Ripper's identity has long been agonised over. But what do we know about his victims?… ,
    • A piece of Literary Review history from way back in 1983: John Haffenden talks to the great Iris Murdoch. ,
    • Britain’s only travelling lit fest, the Garden Museum Literary Festival is heading to Houghton Hall, Norfolk, for a… ,
    • 'The 19th-century German sage is not my idea of a pleasant travel companion' goes hiking with Friedr… ,
    • If you want ideas about what to read next, sign up to our free email newsletter, and get book reviews, archive mate… ,
    • 'The heroic male nude could not, I think, be used today to signify civic pride and glory', as Michelangelo’s 'David… ,