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The Worldly Philosophers

Robert Louis Heilbroner

Summary and Analysis Chapter 1 - Introduction


The subject of The Worldly Philosophers, the great economists, covers those theorists whose words and thoughts concerning the creation and distribution of wealth have had a major impact on society. Indeed, these men have swayed and shaped the world. The title of the book comes from their common interest: the human drive for worldly wealth. From this compulsion is derived the concept of worldly philosophers. Surprisingly, these economists did not appear on the scene of world events until long after the advent of history, philosophy, science, politics, art, and statecraft. They began in the latter part of the eighteenth century with the work of Adam Smith.


Even though these economists are not yet named, they are described by such intriguing characterizations as madman, skeptic, and tramp. Among the identifications, which become apparent in subsequent chapters, are these:

  • a philosopher — Adam Smith
  • a parson — Thomas R. Malthus
  • a stockbroker — David Ricardo
  • a nobleman — Saint-Simon
  • a madman — Charles Fourier
  • a revolutionary — Karl Marx
  • an aesthete — John Maynard Keynes
  • a tramp — Henry George
  • a skeptic — Thorstein Veblen


Worldly Philosophers Philosophers who concern themselves with economics.