“We look to Scotland for all our ideas of Civilisation.”

Such was the view of French philosopher Voltaire, speaking of the globally influential Scottish Enlightenment.

This year marks the tercentenary of Adam Smith, born three hundred years ago in Kirkcaldy on an unknown day in 1723.

Smith was one of the leading figures of the Scottish Enlightenment. This was an era of the 18th century in which an array of Scottish thinkers brought about a wellspring of new ideas that ultimately helped shape and influence the world as we know it.

The enlightenment gave birth to a wave of cultural, social and intellectual progress that swept across Europe and made its way to the furthest of the American colonies, which is why many modern ideas of philosophy, mathematics and science and countless other fields can be credited to Scotland.

For Smith, his work in philosophy and economics earned his place among the titans of the enlightenment, alongside David Hume and Robert Burns to name but two.

Ardrossan and Saltcoats Herald: The statue of Adam Smith

Smith studied moral philosophy at Glasgow University from the age of 14, developing a passion for reason, free speech and civil liberties. In 1740 he continued his studies at Balliol College, Oxford, but considered its teaching intellectually stifling and inferior to Glasgow’s.

Returning to Scotland in 1746, by 1751 Smith was a Glasgow University professor and Head of Moral Philosophy two years later.

He published “The Theory of Moral Sentiments” in 1759, which emphasised the importance of sympathy, treating yourself and others well, while valuing justice and charity.

However, it’s his other great work, “An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations” published in 1776, that was most impactful.

“Wealth of Nations”, as it was commonly known, was the first modern work to treat economics as an academic discipline and provide a foundation and structure for economists, mathematicians and thinkers. It replaced outdated economic theories less relevant at a time of industrial revolution and rapid innovation.

Often credited as the father of modern economics having devised the concepts of the free market, gross domestic product (GDP) and mass production integral to today’s global economy, Smith was ahead of his time, with progressive ideas about taxation and the pivotal role and value of labour, essential to securing a prosperous society for all.

Both of Smith’s great works were profoundly influential across the western world, reverberating down the centuries and consolidating Scotland’s healthy global reputation as a dynamic centre of intellectual rigour and new ideas.

America’s founding fathers were among the earliest readers of Smith’s works, with many of its teachings constituting the heart of American political economy.

In France, Smith met other thinkers who helped take his ideas to places he probably never thought possible, which doubtless contributed to Europe’s historic admiration for Scotland.

Even today, Smith’s work is discussed and debated in lecture halls and classrooms worldwide, his name referenced among countless other works.

Scotland is still a nation of ideas.

It’s for that reason that in celebrating Adam Smith we celebrate and commemorate Scotland’s rich cultural and intellectual heritage of innovation and radical ideas – of which Scotland still has plenty more to give.