Adam Smith was born in 1723 in the town of Kirkaldy, Scotland. His father had died six months before his birth, but his mother Margaret came from a line of wealthy landowners.

In 1737, Adam began studying moral philosophy at the University of Glasgow. At the time, Glasgow was the center of Scotland's intellectual culture. He graduated in 1740 after being awarded a Snell Exhibition scholarship. Soon after, Adam left for Oxford on horseback to pursue further education.

In Oxford, Adam attended Balliol College and continued his studies of philosophy. However, he became disenchanted with the education he was receiving and did not feel that it was befitting his interests. The school officials had also found out that Adam was studying the works of David Hume, who wrote about the philosophy of atheism, and were not pleased. As a result of these factors, Adam relinquished his scholarship in 1746 in order to move north to Edinburgh.

In Edinburgh, Adam was given sponsorship by Lord Kames, who was a philosopher and lawyer. As a result, he was able to give a number of public lectures, which established him as an intellectual among his peers. He was given the position of professor of logic at the University of Glasgow in 1751 and, a year later, the Chair of the Moral Philosophy program.

Adam's acquaintances regarded him as studious, socially reserved, and often absent-minded. In spite of his awkwardness in social encounters, he managed to become well known as a great lecturer. He departed from the normal practice of lecturing in Latin, choosing instead to speak English.

In Glasgow, Adam was able to meet individuals such as James Watt and David Hume who influenced his later ideas with their knowledge of the mercantile art. In 1759, he published his first work, Theory of Moral Sentiments. In this book he expressed his ideas about humans making moral judgement based on their own interests in materials and self-preservation.

In 1763, Adam was offered the position of private tutor to the third duke of Buccleuch, Henry Scott. As a result, he had to give up his positions at Glasgow University in order to accompany Scott on a tour of Europe. It was largely believed that Adam was given the position as a result of his publishing of the book.

During his time in Europe, Adam found some free time to begin work on what would make him famous for centuries, An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations. He was able to meet with very important figures from that time period, including Voltaire, Quesnay, and David Hume. Upon returning to London, Adam met with some other individuals, including Samuel Johnson, Edmund Burke, and Edward Gibbon.

After being given a membership in the Royal Society, Adam returned to his hometown of Kirkcaldy to stay with his mother. There, he spent his time in his studies, continuing to work on his great novel about economics. In 1776, the book was published, largely founding the science of economics.

In 1777, he was given the position of lord rector at the University of Edinburgh and, in 1778, he was given the position of commissioner of customs for the country of Scotland.

On July 17, 1790, Adam Smith died in Edinburgh.