Time Travel and Adam Smith (February 2023)

theory of moral sentiments science fiction hg wells doctor who robert heinlein ray bradbury

February 2023

Time Travel and Adam Smith: Social and Moral Considerations in Science Fiction

with Renee Wilmeth
If you ask “What would happen if Adam Smith could travel forward in time?” you get some great answers. We will never know if he would have wanted to see how his economic theories turned out.  However, in this Virtual Reading Group, we will examine time travel throughout science fiction and explore the moral, ethical, and social quandaries involved in moving through time.  Can you right wrongs? Should you?  What impact do the moral decisions in your life have on the future? 

In the classic novel, The Time Machine, H.G. Wells allegorically shares his views about the Industrial Revolution, progress, and social equality. In Ray Bradbury’s short story, "The Sound of Thunder," we examine the implications of cause and effect when it comes to the past and future. And in Heinlein’s novella The Door into Summer, we explore the fantasy of righting wrongs using time. We’ll also discuss a well-known episode of Doctor Who which delves into the personal aspects of understanding your impact on the future.

In these journeys, lessons, and time travelers’ moral dilemmas, we use Smith’s Theory of Moral Sentiments (TMS) as our guide, finding that perhaps Smith traveled through time in ways he could never imagine. The TMS readings are available online as well as for purchase in soft cover. (Use promo code VRG2023 to receive 35% off your purchase.)

 Pre-registration is required, and we ask you to register only if you can be present for ALL sessions. Participants will need to secure readings in advance. Participants who successfully complete ALL sessions will be eligible to receive an Amazon e-gift certificate.

The sessions and readings are as follows:

Session 1: Tuesday, February 14, 2-3pm EST
Equality, Technology, and the Nature of the Universe
In this classic novel, Wells explores themes dominant in Victorian society. The industrial revolution created new divides in wealth and class. Philosophers were beginning to explore Darwin’s theory of evolution, and many scientists were pushing the boundaries of technology and progress. 
·         The Time Machine (1895), HG Wells 
·         TMS: Of Propriety, Section III, Chapter III, p61-66
·         TMS: Of Merit and Demerit, Section II, Chapter I, p78-82

Session 2: Tuesday, February 21, 2-3pm EST 
Time Travel and the Human Element – Past and Future  
In this session, we explore the human side of time travel and the very real impact humans have on the world around them. In this Bradbury short story, we explore The Butterfly Effect positing that one small change in time can create big implications later. And in Vincent and the Doctor, we learn that on a personal level, one person can create a positive impact for the future world. 
·         The Sound of Thunder (1952), Ray Bradbury
·         Vincent and the Doctor, Episode 210, Doctor Who (2010) (available on HBO Max, YouTube, or Amazon Prime Video)
·         TMS: Of Moral Philosophy, Section II, Chapter IV “of licentious Systems” p306-314
·         TMS: Of the Sense of Duty, Part III, Chapter II p113-123 paragraph 18

Session 3:  Tuesday, February 28, 2-3pm EST
Righting Wrongs, Individualism, and Re-invention
Are there parts of our life where we’d like a do-over?  In this session, we look at time travel to correct the flaws of individualism and right the wrongs in our past. With this novel, Heinlein explores the personal impacts of justice and if cats like ginger ale. 
·         The Door into Summer (1956), Robert Heinlein
·         TMS; Of Virtue, Section II, Chapter 1, p219-227