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Scottish Enlightenment

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The Scottish Enlightenment (Scots: Scots Enlichtenment, Scottish Gaelic: Soillseachadh na h-Alba) was the period in 18th century Scotland characterised by an outpouring of intellectual and scientific accomplishments. By the eighteenth century, Scotland had a network of parish schools in the Lowlands and five universities. The Enlightenment culture was based on close readings of new books, and intense discussions took place daily at such intellectual gathering places in Edinburgh as The Select Society and, later, The Poker Club as well as within Scotland’s ancient universities such as St Andrews, Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen.[1][2]

Sharing the humanist and rationalist outlook of the European Enlightenment of the same time period, the thinkers of the Scottish Enlightenment asserted the fundamental importance of human reason combined with a rejection of any authority that could not be justified by reason. They held to an optimistic belief in the ability of humanity to effect changes for the better in society and nature, guided only by reason. This latter feature gave the Scottish Enlightenment its special flavour, distinguishing it from its continental European counterpart. In Scotland, the Enlightenment was characterised by a thoroughgoing empiricism and practicality where the chief values were improvement, virtue, and practical benefit for the individual and society as a whole.

Among the fields that rapidly advanced were philosophy, political economy, engineering, architecture, medicine, geology, archaeology, law, agriculture, chemistry and sociology. Among the Scottish thinkers and scientists of the period were Francis Hutcheson, David Hume, Adam Smith, Dugald Stewart, Thomas Reid, Robert Burns, Adam Ferguson, John Playfair, Joseph Black and James Hutton.

The Scottish Enlightenment had effects far beyond Scotland, not only because of the esteem in which Scottish achievements were held outside Scotland, but also because its ideas and attitudes were carried across the Atlantic world as part of the Scottish diaspora, and by American students who studied in Scotland.


  • Background 1
    • Economic growth 1.1
    • Education system 1.2
    • Intellectual climate 1.3
  • Major intellectual areas 2
    • Empiricism and inductive reasoning 2.1
    • Literature 2.2
    • Economics 2.3
    • Sociology and anthropology 2.4
    • Mathematics, science and medicine 2.5
  • Significance 3
    • Cultural influence 3.1
    • Wider impact 3.2
    • Cultural representations 3.3
  • Key figures 4
  • See also 5
  • References 6
  • Further reading 7
    • Primary sources 7.1
  • External links 8


Union with England in 1707 meant the end of the Scottish Parliament and home rule. The parliamentarians, politicians, aristocrats, and placemen moved to London. Scottish law, however, was entirely separate from English law, so the civil law courts, lawyers and jurists remained behind in Edinburgh. The headquarters and leadership of the Presbyterian Church also remained, as did the universities and the medical establishment. The lawyers and the divines, together with the professors, intellectuals, medical men, scientists and architects formed a new middle-class elite that dominated urban Scotland and facilitated the Scottish Enlightenment.[3][4]

Economic growth

At the union of 1707, England had about five times the population of Scotland and about 36 times as much wealth. Scotland experienced the beginnings of economic expansion that allowed it to close this gap.[5] Contacts with England led to a conscious attempt to improve agriculture among the gentry and nobility. Although some estate holders improved the quality of life of their displaced workers, enclosures led to unemployment and forced migrations to the burghs or abroad.[6] The major change in international trade was the rapid expansion of the Americas as a market.[7] Glasgow particularly benefited from this new trade; initially supplying the colonies with manufactured goods, it emerged as the focus of the tobacco trade, re-exporting particularly to France. The merchants dealing in this lucrative business became the wealthy tobacco lords, who dominated the city for most of the eighteenth century.[8] Banking also developed in this period. The Bank of Scotland, founded in 1695 was suspected of Jacobite sympathies, and so a rival Royal Bank of Scotland was founded in 1727. Local banks began to be established in burghs like Glasgow and Ayr. These made capital available for business, and the improvement of roads and trade.[9]

Education system

The humanist-inspired emphasis on education in Scotland culminated in the passing of the

  • Northern Lights: How modern life emerged from eighteenth-century Edinburgh.
  • Scottish Enlightenment – an introduction.
  • Living philosophy – Philosophical play readings of the legacy of David Hume, Adam Smith and Robert Burns
  • Edinburgh Old Town Association – has references and links

External links

  • Broadie, Alexander, ed. The Scottish Enlightenment: An Anthology (1998), primary sources. excerpt and text search

Primary sources

  • Allan, David, Virtue, Learning and the Scottish Enlightenment: Ideas of Scholarship in Early Modern History, Edinburgh University Press, 1993, ISBN 978-0-7486-0438-8.
  • Berry, C. J., Social Theory Of The Scottish Enlightenment, Edinburgh University Press 1997, ISBN 0-7486-0864-8.
  • Broadie, Alexander. The Scottish Enlightenment: The Historical Age of the Historical Nation. Birlinn 2002. Paperback: ISBN 1-84158-151-8, ISBN 978-1-84158-151-4.
  • Broadie, Alexander, ed. The Cambridge Companion to the Scottish Enlightenment. (Cambridge Companions to Philosophy) Cambridge University Press, 2003. ISBN 978-0-521-00323-0.
  • Bruce, Duncan A. The Mark of the Scots: Their Astonishing Contributions to History, Science, Democracy, Literature, and the Arts. 1996. Hardcover: ISBN 1-55972-356-4, ISBN 978-1-55972-356-5. Citadel, Kensington Books, 2000. Paperback: ISBN 0-8065-2060-4, ISBN 978-0-8065-2060-5.
  • Buchan, James Crowded With Genius: Edinburgh's Moment of the Mind. (Harper Perennial, 2004). ISBN 978-0-06-055889-5.
  • Campbell, R. H. and Andrew S. Skinner, eds. The Origins and Nature of the Scottish Enlightenment (1982), 12 essays by scholars, esp. on history of science
  • Daiches, David, Peter Jones and Jean Jones. A Hotbed of Genius: The Scottish Enlightenment, 1730–1790 (1986), 170pp; well-illustrated introduction
  • Derry, J. F. Darwin in Scotland: Edinburgh, Evolution and Enlightenment. Whittles Publishing, 2009. Paperback: ISBN 1-904445-57-8.
  • Daiches, David, Peter Jones, Jean Jones (eds). A Hotbed of Genius: The Scottish Enlightenment 1731–1790. (Edinburgh University Press, 1986); ISBN 0-85411-069-0
  • Dunyach, Jean-François and Ann Thomson, eds. The Enlightenment in Scotland: national and international perspectives (2015)
  • Eddy, Matthew Daniel. The Language of Mineralogy: John Walker, Chemistry and the Edinburgh Medical School, 1750–1800 (2008).
  • Goldie, Mark. "The Scottish Catholic Enlightenment," The Journal of British Studies Vol. 30, No. 1 (Jan., 1991), pp. 20–62 in JSTOR
  • Graham, Gordon. "Morality and Feeling in the Scottish Enlightenment," Philosophy Vol. 76, No. 296 (Apr., 2001), pp. 271–282 in JSTOR
  • Herman, Arthur. How the Scots Invented the Modern World: The True Story of How Western Europe's Poorest Nation Created Our World & Everything in It (Crown Publishing Group, 2001), ISBN 0-609-80999-7.
  • Israel, Jonathan "Scottish Enlightenment and Man's 'Progress'" ch 9 in Democratic Enlightenment: Philosophy, Revolution, and Human Rights 1750–1790 (2011) pp 233–69 excerpt and text search
  • Lenman, Bruce P. Enlightenment and Change: Scotland 1746-1832 (2nd ed. The New History of Scotland Series. Edinburgh University Press, 2009). 280 pp. ISBN 978-0-7486-2515-4; 1st edition also published under the titles Integration, Enlightenment, and Industrialization: Scotland, 1746-1832 (1981) and Integration and Enlightenment: Scotland, 1746–1832 (1992); general survey
  • Swingewood, Alan. "Origins of Sociology: The Case of the Scottish Enlightenment," The British Journal of Sociology, Vol. 21, No. 2 (Jun., 1970), pp. 164–180 in JSTOR
  • Towsey, Mark R. M. Reading the Scottish Enlightenment: Books and Their Readers in Provincial Scotland, 1750–1820 (2010)

Further reading

  1. ^
  2. ^ Mark R. M. Towsey (2010). Reading the Scottish Enlightenment: Books and Their Readers in Provincial Scotland, 1750-1820.
  3. ^ Alexander Broadie, The Scottish Enlightenment (1997) p. 10.
  4. ^ Michael Lynch, ed., Oxford Companion to Scottish History (2001) pp. 133–137.
  5. ^ R. H. Campbell, "The Anglo-Scottish Union of 1707. II: The Economic Consequences", Economic History Review, vol. 16, April 1964.
  6. ^ J. D. Mackie, B. Lenman and G. Parker, A History of Scotland (London: Penguin, 1991), ISBN 0140136495, pp. 288–91.
  7. ^ J. D. Mackie, B. Lenman and G. Parker, A History of Scotland (London: Penguin, 1991), ISBN 0140136495, p. 292.
  8. ^ J. D. Mackie, B. Lenman and G. Parker, A History of Scotland (London: Penguin, 1991), ISBN 0140136495, p. 296.
  9. ^ J. D. Mackie, B. Lenman and G. Parker, A History of Scotland (London: Penguin, 1991), ISBN 0140136495, p. 297.
  10. ^ P. J. Bawcutt and J. H. Williams, A Companion to Medieval Scottish Poetry (Woodbridge: Brewer, 2006), ISBN 1-84384-096-0, pp. 29–30.
  11. ^
  12. ^ a b c d R. Anderson, "The history of Scottish Education pre-1980", in T. G. K. Bryce and W. M. Humes, eds, Scottish Education: Post-Devolution (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2nd edn., 2003), ISBN 0-7486-1625-X, pp. 219–28.
  13. ^ T. M. Devine. The Scottish Nation, 1700–2000 (London: Penguin Books, 2001). ISBN 0-14-100234-4, pp. 91–100.
  14. ^
  15. ^ T. M. Devine. "The rise and fall of the Scottish Enlightenment", in T. M. Devine and J. Wormald, The Oxford Handbook of Modern Scottish History (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012), ISBN 0-19-162433-0, p. 373.
  16. ^
  17. ^ R. A. Houston, Scottish Literacy and the Scottish Identity: Illiteracy and Society in Scotland and Northern England, 1600–1800 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), ISBN 0-521-89088-8, p. 245.
  18. ^ a b A. Herman, How the Scots Invented the Modern World (London: Crown Publishing Group, 2001), ISBN 0-609-80999-7.
  19. ^ D. Vallier, Rousseau (New York: Crown, c1979).
  20. ^ Mark R. M. Towsey, Reading the Scottish Enlightenment: Books and Their Readers in Provincial Scotland, 1750–1820 (2010).
  21. ^ R. B. Sher, "Scotland Transformed: The Eighteenth Century", in J. Wormald, ed., Scotland: A History (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), p. 169.
  22. ^ M. Lynch, Scotland: A New History (London: Pimlico, 1992), ISBN 0712698930, p. 346.
  23. ^ M. MacDonald, Scottish Art (London: Thames and Hudson, 2000), ISBN 0500203334, p. 57.
  24. ^ M. Lynch, Scotland: A New History (London: Pimlico, 1992), ISBN 0712698930, p. 348.
  25. ^
  26. ^ R. A. Houston and W. W. J. Knox, The New Penguin History of Scotland (London: Penguin, 2001) p. 342.
  27. ^ a b c R. Mitchison, Lordship to Patronage, Scotland 1603–1745 (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1983), ISBN 074860233X, p. 150.
  28. ^ A. Broadie, A History of Scottish Philosophy (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2009), ISBN 0748616276, p. 120.
  29. ^ B. Freydberg, David Hume: Platonic Philosopher, Continental Ancestor (Suny Press, 2012), ISBN 1438442157, p. 105.
  30. ^ G. Graham, Scottish Philosophy: Selected Readings 1690–1960 (Imprint Academic, 2004), ISBN 0907845746, p. 165.
  31. ^ R. Emerson, "The contexts of the Scottish Enlightenment" in A. Broadie, ed., The Cambridge Companion to the Scottish Enlightenment (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), ISBN 978-0-521-00323-0, p. 21.
  32. ^ E. J. Wilson, P. H. Reill, Encyclopedia of the Enlightenment (Infobase Publishing, 2nd edn., 2004), ISBN 0816053359, pp. 499–501.
  33. ^ Paul C. Gutjahr, Charles Hodge: Guardian of American Orthodoxy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), ISBN 0199740429), p. 39.
  34. ^ E. J. Wilson and P. H. Reill, Encyclopedia Of The Enlightenment (Infobase, 2nd edn., 2004), ISBN 0816053359, p. 68.
  35. ^ J. Buchan, Crowded with Genius (London: Harper Collins, 2003), ISBN 0-06-055888-1, p. 311.
  36. ^ J. Friday, ed., Art and Enlightenment: Scottish Aesthetics in the Eighteenth Century (Imprint Academic, 2004), ISBN 0907845762, p. 124.
  37. ^ G. A. Kennedy, Classical Rhetoric and Its Christian and Secular Tradition Form Ancient to Modern Times (University of North Carolina Press, 1999), ISBN 0807861138, p. 282.
  38. ^ J. Buchan, Crowded with Genius (London: Harper Collins, 2003), ISBN 0-06-055888-1, p. 163.
  39. ^ D. Thomson, The Gaelic Sources of Macpherson's "Ossian" (Aberdeen: Oliver & Boyd, 1952).
  40. ^ G. Carruthers, Scottish Literature (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2009), ISBN 074863309X, pp. 53–54.
  41. ^
  42. ^ Robert Burns: "Literary Style". Retrieved on 24 September 2010.
  43. ^
  44. ^
  45. ^ Deardorff, Alan V., 2006. Glossary of International Economics, Division of labor.
  46. ^ Journal of Political Economy, 59(3), pp. 185–193.
  47. ^ Samuelson, Paul A., and William D. Nordhaus (2004). Economics. 18th ed., McGraw-Hill, ch. 2, "Markets and Government in a Modern Economy", The Invisible Hand, p. 30.
  48. ^ 'Capital' in Smith's usage includes fixed capital and circulating capital. The latter includes wages and labour maintenance, money, and inputs from land, mines, and fisheries associated with production per The Wealth of Nations, Bk. II: ch. 1, 2, and 5.
  49. ^ Smith, Adam (1776). The Wealth of Nations, Bk. IV: Of Systems of political Œconomy, ch. II, "Of Restraints upon the Importation from Foreign Countries of such Goods as can be Produced at Home", para. 3-5 and 8-9.
  50. ^ Smith, Adam (1776). The Wealth of Nations, Bk. I-IV and Bk. I, ch. 1, para. 10.
  51. ^ • Smith, Adam (1776). The Wealth of Nations, Bk. IV, ch. 8, para. 49.
  52. ^ • Samuelson, Paul A., and William D. Nordhaus (2004). Economics. 18th ed., McGraw-Hill, ch. 2, "Markets and Government in a Modern Economy", The Invisible Hand, p. 30.
       • Blaug, Mark (2008). "invisible hand", The New Palgrave Dictionary of Economics, 2nd Edition, v. 4, pp. 564–66. Abstract.
  53. ^ a b c
  54. ^
  55. ^ Alan Swingewood, "Origins of Sociology: the Case of the Scottish Enlightenment," The British Journal of Sociology, Vol. 21, No. 2 (June, 1970), pp. 164-180 in JSTOR
  56. ^ C. Hobbs, Rhetoric on the Margins of Modernity: Vico, Condillac, Monboddo (SIU Press, 2002), ISBN 978-0-8093-2469-9.
  57. ^ P. J. Bowler, Evolution: the History of an Idea (Berkeley CA: University of California Press, 1989), ISBN 978-0-520-06386-0, p. 51.
  58. ^
  59. ^ N. Chambers, ed., The Letters of Sir Joseph Banks: A Selection, 1768-1820 (World Scientific, 2000), ISBN 1860942040, p. 376.
  60. ^ R. Mitchelson, A History of Scotland (London: Routledge, 2002), 0203412710, p. 352.
  61. ^
  62. ^
  63. ^ a b c
  64. ^ at
  65. ^ Life of Rev. David Ure, 1865
  66. ^ History of Rutherglen and East Kilbride, 1793, David Ure
  67. ^
  68. ^
  69. ^ June C. Ottenberg, "Musical Currents of the Scottish Enlightenment," International Review of the Aesthetics and Sociology of Music Vol. 9, No. 1 (Jun., 1978), pp. 99–109 in JSTOR
  70. ^ Adam Silver (HMSO/Victoria & Albert Museum, London, 1953), p. 1.
  71. ^ N. Pevsner, An Outline of European Architecture (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 2nd edition, 1951), p. 237.
  72. ^ M. Glendinning, R. MacInnes and A. MacKechnie, A History of Scottish Architecture: from the Renaissance to the Present Day (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2002), ISBN 978-0-7486-0849-2, p. 106.
  73. ^ J. Harris and M. Snodin, Sir William Chambers Architect to George III (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1996), ISBN 0-300-06940-5, p. 11.
  74. ^ D. Watkin, The Architect King: George III and the Culture of the Enlightenment (Royal Collection Publications, 2004), p. 15.
  75. ^ P. Rogers, The Eighteenth Century (London: Taylor and Francis, 1978), ISBN 0-416-56190-X, p. 217.
  76. ^ M. MacDonald, Scottish Art (London: Thames and Hudson, 2000), ISBN 0500203334, p. 56.
  77. ^ "Allan Ramsey", Encyclopædia Britannica, retrieved 7 May 2012.
  78. ^ "Gavin Hamilton", Encyclopædia Britannica, retrieved 7 May 2012.
  79. ^ M. MacDonald, Scottish Art (London: Thames and Hudson, 2000), ISBN 0500203334, pp. 63–65.
  80. ^ E. G. Breslaw, Doctor Alexander Hamilton and Provincial America (Louisiana State University Press, 2008), ISBN 0807132780, p. 41.
  81. ^ J. R. Baxter, "Culture, Enlightenment (1660-1843): music", in M. Lynch, ed., The Oxford Companion to Scottish History (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001), ISBN 0-19-211696-7, pp. 140–41.
  82. ^ N. Wilson, Edinburgh (Lonely Planet, 3rd edn., 2004), ISBN 1740593820, p. 33.
  83. ^ M. Gelbart, The Invention of "Folk Music" and "Art Music" (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press), ISBN 1139466089, p. 30.
  84. ^ E. Wills, Scottish Firsts: a Celebration of Innovation and Achievement (Edinburgh: Mainstream, 2002), ISBN 1-84018-611-9.
  85. ^ Daniel Walker Howe. "Why the Scottish Enlightenment Was Useful to the Framers of the American Constitution". Comparative Studies in Society and History. Vol. 31, No. 3 (July 1989), pp. 572–587 in JSTOR
  86. ^ Robert W. Galvin. America's Founding Secret: What the Scottish Enlightenment Taught Our Founding Fathers (Rowman & Littlefield, 2002).
  87. ^ Michael Fry. How the Scots Made America, (Thomas Dunne Books, 2004).
  88. ^ Sydney E. Ahlstrom, "The Scottish Philosophy and American Theology," Church History, Vol. 24, No. 3 (Sep., 1955), pp. 257–272 in JSTOR
  89. ^ Colin Donati (ed.), Robert McLellan: Playing Scotland's Story, Collected Dramatic Works (Edinburgh, Luath Press, 2013), ISBN 9781906817534. See also the various essays included in the volume.
  90. ^ a b
  91. ^
  92. ^
  93. ^


See also

Plus two who visited and corresponded with Edinburgh scholars:[63]

   History in any detail.

Key figures

The Scottish dramatist Robert McLellan (1907-1985) wrote a number of full-length stage comedies which give a self-conscious representation of Edinburgh at the height of the Scottish enlightenment, most notably The Flouers o Edinburgh (1957). These plays include references to many of the figures historically associated with the movement and satirise various social tensions, particularly in the field of spoken language, between traditional society and anglicised Scots who presented themselves as exponents of so-called 'new manners'. Other later examples include Young Auchinleck (1962), a stage portrait of the young James Boswell, and The Hypocrite (1967) which draws attention to conservative religious reaction in the country that threatened to check enlightenment trends. McLellan's picture of these tensions in national terms is complex, even-handed and multi-faceted.[89]

Cultural representations

While the Scottish Enlightenment is traditionally considered to have concluded toward the end of the 18th century,[53] disproportionately large Scottish contributions to British science and letters continued for another 50 years or more, thanks to such figures as Thomas Carlyle, James Watt, William Murdoch, James Clerk Maxwell, Lord Kelvin and Sir Walter Scott.[84] The influence of the movement spread beyond Scotland across the British Empire, and onto the Continent. The political ideas had an important impact on the founding fathers of the US, which broke away from the empire in 1775.[85][86][87] The philosophy of Common Sense Realism was especially influential in 19th century American thought and religion.[88]

Wider impact

The growth of a musical culture in the capital was marked by the incorporation of the Musical Society of Edinburgh in 1728.[80] Scottish composers known to be active in this period include: Alexander Munro (fl. c. 1732), James Foulis (1710–73) and Charles McLean (fl. c. 1737).[81] Thomas Erskine, 6th Earl of Kellie (1732–81) was one of the most important British composers of his era, and the first Scot known to have produced a symphony.[82] In the mid-eighteenth century, a group of Scottish composers began to respond to Allan Ramsey's call to "own and refine" their own musical tradition, creating what James Johnson has characterised as the "Scots drawing room style", taking primarily Lowland Scottish tunes and adding simple figured basslines and other features from Italian music that made them acceptable to a middle-class audience. It gained momentum when major Scottish composers like James Oswald (1710–69) and William McGibbon (1690-1756) became involved around 1740. Oswald's Curious Collection of Scottish Songs (1740) was one of the first to include Gaelic tunes alongside Lowland ones, setting a fashion common by the middle of the century and helping to create a unified Scottish musical identity. However, with changing fashions there was a decline in the publication of collections of specifically Scottish collections of tunes, in favour of their incorporation into British collections.[83]

Artists included John Alexander and his younger contemporary William Mossman (1700–71). They painted many of the figures of early-Enlightenment Edinburgh.[76] The leading Scottish artist of the late eighteenth century, Allan Ramsay, studied in Sweden, London and Italy before basing himself in Edinburgh, where he established himself as a leading portrait painter to the Scottish nobility and he undertook portraits of many of the major figures of the Scottish Enlightenment, including his friend the philosopher David Hume and the visiting Jean-Jacques Rousseau.[77] Gavin Hamilton (1723–98) spent almost his entire career in Italy and emerged as a pioneering neo-classical painter of historical and mythical themes, including his depictions of scenes from Homer's Iliad, as well as acting as an informal tutor to British artists and as an early archaeologist and antiquarian.[78] Many of his works can be seen as Enlightenment speculations about the origins of society and politics, including the Death of Lucretia (1768), an event thought to be critical to the birth of the Roman Republic. His classicism would be a major influence on French artist Jacques-Louis David (1748–1825).[79]

[75][74] Scotland produced some of the most significant architects of the period who were involved in the intellectual culture of the Enlightenment.

The Scottish Enlightenment had numerous dimensions, influencing the culture of the nation in several areas including architecture, art and music.[69]

Cultural influence

Representative of the far-reaching impact of the Scottish Enlightenment was the new Encyclopædia Britannica, which was designed in Edinburgh by Colin Macfarquhar, Andrew Bell and others. It was first published in three volumes between 1768 and 1771, with 2,659 pages and 160 engravings, and quickly became a standard reference work in the English-speaking world. The fourth edition (1810) ran to 16,000 pages in 20 volumes. The Encyclopaedia continued to be published in Edinburgh until 1898, when it was sold to an American publisher.[68]


In medicine Edinburgh became a major centre of medical teaching and research.[67]

James Hutton (1726–97) was the first modern geologist, with his Theory of the Earth (1795) challenging existing ideas about the age of the earth.[62][63] His ideas were popularised by the scientist and mathematician John Playfair (1748–1819).[64] Prior to James Hutton, Rev. David Ure then minister to East Kilbride Parish was the first to represent the shells 'entrochi' in illustrations and make accounts of the geology of southern Scotland. The findings of David Ure were influential enough to inspire the Scottish endeavour to the recording and interpretation of natural history and Fossils, a major part of the Scottish Enlightenment.[65][66]

Other major figures in science included William Cullen (1710–90), physician and chemist, James Anderson (1739–1808), agronomist. Joseph Black (1728–99), physicist and chemist, discovered carbon dioxide (fixed air) and latent heat,[60] and developed what many consider to be the first chemical formulae.[61]

Colin Maclaurin (1698–1746) was appointed as chair of mathematics by the age of 19 at Marischal College, and was the leading British mathematician of his era.[27] Mathematician and physicist Sir John Leslie (1766–1832) is chiefly noted for his experiments with heat and was the first person to artificially create ice.[59]

One of the central pillars of the Scottish Enlightenment was scientific and medical knowledge. Many of the key thinkers were trained as physicians or had studied science and medicine at university or on their own at some point in their career. Likewise, there was a notable presence of university medically-trained professionals, especially physicians, apothecaries, surgeons and even ministers, who lived in provincial settings.[58] Unlike England or other European countries like France or Austria, the intelligentsia of Scotland were not beholden to powerful aristocratic patrons and this led them see science through the eyes of utility, improvement and reform.

Mathematics, science and medicine

Scottish Enlightenment thinkers developed what leading thinkers such as James Burnett, Lord Monboddo (1714–99) and Lord Kames called a science of man,[53] which was expressed historically in the work of thinkers such as James Burnett, Adam Ferguson, John Millar, William Robertson and John Walker, all of whom merged a scientific study of how humans behave in ancient and primitive cultures, with an awareness of the determining forces of modernity. Modern notions of visual anthropology permeated the lectures of leading Scottish academics like Hugh Blair,[54] and Alan Swingewood argues that modern sociology largely originated in Scotland.[55] Lord Monboddo is most famous today as a founder of modern comparative historical linguistics. He was the first major figure to argue that mankind had evolved language skills in response to his changing environment and social structures.[56] He was one of a number of scholars involved in the development of early concepts of evolution and has been credited with anticipating in principle the idea of natural selection that was developed into a scientific theory by Charles Darwin.[57]

Sociology and anthropology

[46] In an argument that includes "one of the most famous passages in all economics,"[47] Smith represents every individual as trying to employ any capital they might command for their own advantage, not that of the society,[48] and for the sake of profit, which is necessary at some level for employing capital in domestic industry, and positively related to the value of produce.[49] Economists have linked Smith's invisible-hand concept to his concern for the common man and woman through economic growth and development,[50] enabling higher levels of consumption, which Smith describes as "the sole end and purpose of all production."[51][52]


Before Robert Burns (1759–96) the most important Scottish language poet was Robert Fergusson (1750–74), who also worked in English. His work often celebrated his native Edinburgh and Enlightenment conviviality, as in his best known poem "Auld Reekie" (1773).[40] Burns, an Ayrshire poet and lyricist, is now widely regarded as the national poet of Scotland and became a major figure in the Romantic movement. As well as making original compositions, Burns also collected folk songs from across Scotland, often revising or adapting them.[41] Burns's poetry drew upon a substantial familiarity with and knowledge of Classical, Biblical, and English literature, as well as the Scottish Makar tradition.[42]

Hugh Blair (1718–1800) was a minister of the Church of Scotland and held the Chair of Rhetoric and Belles Lettres at the University of Edinburgh. He produced an edition of the works of Shakespeare and is best known for Sermons (1777–1801), a five-volume endorsement of practical Christian morality, and Lectures on Rhetoric and Belles Lettres (1783), an essay on literary composition, which was to have a major impact on the work of Adam Smith. He was also one of the figures who first drew attention to the Ossian cycle of James Macpherson to public attention.[37] Macpherson (1736–96) was the first Scottish poet to gain an international reputation. Claiming to have found poetry written by the ancient bard Ossian, he published "translations" that were proclaimed as a Celtic equivalent of the Classical epics. Fingal, written in 1762, was speedily translated into many European languages, and its appreciation of natural beauty and treatment of the ancient legend has been credited more than any single work with bringing about the Romantic movement in European, and especially in German literature, through its influence on Johann Gottfried von Herder and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.[38] Eventually it became clear that the poems were not direct translations from the Gaelic, but flowery adaptations made to suit the aesthetic expectations of his audience.[39]

Major literary figures originating in Scotland in this period included James Boswell (1740–95), whose An Account of Corsica (1768) and The Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides (1785) drew on his extensive travels and whose Life of Samuel Johnson (1791) is a major source on one of the English Enlightenment's major men of letters and his circle.[34] Allan Ramsay (1686–1758) laid the foundations of a reawakening of interest in older Scottish literature, as well as leading the trend for pastoral poetry, helping to develop the Habbie stanza as a poetic form.[35] The lawyer Henry Home, Lord Kames (1696–1782) made a major contribution to the study of literature with Elements of Criticism (1762), which became the standard textbook on rhetoric and style.[36]


In contrast to Hume, James Beattie (1735–1803), formulated Common Sense Realism.[31] Reid set out his theories in An Inquiry into the Human Mind on the Principles of Common Sense (1764).[32] This approach argued that there are certain concepts, such as human existence, the existence of solid objects and some basic moral "first principles", that are intrinsic to the make up of man and from which all subsequent arguments and systems of morality must be derived. It can be seen as an attempt to reconcile the new scientific developments of the Enlightenment with religious belief.[33]

David Hume (1711–76) whose Treatise on Human Nature (1738) and Essays, Moral and Political (1741) helped outline the parameters of philosophical Empiricism and Scepticism.[27] He would be a major influence on later Enlightenment figures including Adam Smith, Immanuel Kant and Jeremy Bentham.[29] Hume's argument that there were no efficient causes hidden in nature was supported and developed by Thomas Brown (1778–1820), who was Dugald Stewart's (1753–1828) successor at Edinburgh and who would be a major influence on later philosophers including John Stuart Mill.[30]

[28] The first major philosopher of the Scottish Enlightenment was

Empiricism and inductive reasoning

Major intellectual areas

Historian Jonathan Israel argues that by 1750 Scotland's major cities had created an intellectual infrastructure of mutually supporting institutions, such as universities, reading societies, libraries, periodicals, museums and masonic lodges. The Scottish network was "predominantly liberal Calvinist, Newtonian, and 'design' oriented in character which played a major role in the further development of the transatlantic Enlightenment".[18][25] Bruce Lenman says their "central achievement was a new capacity to recognize and interpret social patterns."[26]

Intellectual life revolved around a series of clubs, beginning in Edinburgh in the 1710s. One of the first was the Easy Club, co-founded In Edinburgh by the Jacobite printer Thomas Ruddiman. Clubs did not reach Glasgow until the 1740s. One of the first and most important in the city was the Political Economy Club, aimed at creating links between academics and merchants.[22] Other clubs in Edinburgh included The Select Society, formed by artist the younger Allan Ramsay, and philosophers David Hume and Adam Smith[23] and, later, The Poker Club, formed in 1762 and named by Adam Ferguson for the aim to "poke up" opinion on the militia issue.[24]

In France, Enlightenment was based in the salons and culminated in the great Encyclopédie (1751–72) edited by Denis Diderot and (until 1759) Jean le Rond d'Alembert (1713–84) with contributions by hundreds of leading intellectuals such as Voltaire (1694–1778), Rousseau (1712–78) [19] and Montesquieu (1689–1755). Some 25,000 copies of the 35-volume set were sold, half of them outside France. In Scottish intellectual life the culture was oriented towards books.[20] In 1763 Edinburgh had six printing houses, three paper mills, and by 1783 there were 16 printing houses and 12 paper mills.[21]

Intellectual climate

By the 17th century, Scotland had five universities, compared with England's two. After the disruption of the civil wars, Commonwealth and purges at the Restoration, they recovered with a lecture-based curriculum that was able to embrace economics and science, offering a high quality liberal education to the sons of the nobility and gentry.[12] All saw the establishment or re-establishment of chairs of mathematics. Observatories were built at St. Andrews and at King's and Marischal colleges in Aberdeen. Robert Sibbald (1641–1722) was appointed as the first Professor of Medicine at Edinburgh, and he co-founded the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh in 1681.[15] These developments helped the universities to become major centres of medical education and would put Scotland at the forefront of new thinking.[12] By the end of the century, the University of Edinburgh's Medical School was arguably one of the leading centres of science in Europe, boasting such names as the anatomist Alexander Monro (secundus), the chemists William Cullen and Joseph Black, and the natural historian John Walker.[16] By the 18th century, access to Scottish universities was probably more open than in contemporary England, Germany or France. Attendance was less expensive and the student body more socially representative.[17] In the eighteenth century Scotland reaped the intellectual benefits of this system.[18]


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