Introduction: The Principles That Lead and Direct Philosophical Inquiries
In his History of Astronomy (Smith 1980), Adam Smith argues that our imagination is disturbed by sentiments of wonder, surprise, and admiration, owing, respectively, to new phenomena, the unexpected, and the great or beautiful. Such disturbances induce philosophical (read: scientific) inquiry into “the invisible chains which bind together all these disjointed objects” to
introduce order into this chaos of jarring and discordant appearances, to allay this tumult of the imagination, and to restore it … to that tone of tranquility and composure, which is both most agreeable in itself, and most suitable to its nature. (Smith 1980: II.12, 45–46)
Such inquiries are undertaken “to sooth the imagination, and to render the theatre of nature a more coherent, and therefore a more magnificent spectacle, than otherwise it would have appeared to be” (idem: II.12; 46).
The function of inquiry is to allay the tumult of the imagination, to soothe the imagination. Thus, in his History of the Ancient Physics, the second of Smith’s three essays on the principles that lead and direct philosophical inquiries, the motivation is again “[t]o introduce order and coherence into the mind’s conception …” (Smith 1980: 107).