Influential Precursors Of Classical Thought

Ideas don't generally come out of thin air. Instead, the germs of an idea are often in the air long before that idea becomes central to a period. During the mercantilist period, the ideas that would become the focus of the classical school were germinated. They were formulated in various ways. Initially they were rejected by the majority of writers in the period as outrageous; then they were accepted by a few, then by a few more, until finally the mercantilist period ended and the formerly outrageous ideas became the central ideas of the classical period. Thus, the ideas attributed to Adam Smith could take hold— largely because of the earlier heterodox writers who dissented from the mercan­tilist mainstream.

To give a flavor of the diversity and quality of English writers during the period from 1500 to 1750, we will briefly examine several thinkers: Thomas Mun, William Petty, Bernard Mandeville, David Hume, and Richard Cantillon.