lectual leap to make his system fly. “In order to discover such a science as economics,” they wrote, “Smith had to posit a faith in the orderly structure of nature, underlying appearances and accessible to man’s reason.”1
Viewed in these terms, Smith’s book was an important thread in a fabric of thought seeking a Code of Nature, a system of rules that explained human behavior (economic and otherwise) in much the same way that Newton had explained the cosmos. First philosophers, and then later sociologists and psychologists, tried to articulate a science of human behavior based on principles “underlying appearances” but “accessible to man’s reason.” Smith’s efforts reflected the influence of his friend and fellow Scotsman David Hume, the historian-philosopher who regarded a “science of man” as the ultimate goal of the scientific enterprise. “There is no question of importance, whose decision is not comprised in the science of man,” Hume wrote, “and there is none, which can be decided with any certainty, before we become acquainted with that science.”2 In the attempt “to explain the principles of human nature, we in effect propose a compleat system of the sciences.”
Today, game theory’s ubiquitous role in the human sciences suggests that its ambitions are woven from that same fabric. Game theory may, someday, turn out to be the foundation of a new and improved 21st-century version of the Code of Nature, fulfilling the dreams of Hume, Smith, and many others in centuries past.
That claim is enhanced, I think, with the realization that threads of Smith’s thought are entangled not only in physical and social science, but biological science as well. Smith’s ideas exerted a profound influence on Charles Darwin. Principles describing competition in the economic world, Darwin realized, made equal sense when applied to the battle for survival in the biological arena. And the benefits of the division of labor among workers that Smith extolled meshed nicely with the appearance of new species in nature. So it is surely no accident that, today, applying economic game theory to the study of evolution is a major intellectual industry.