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Leaders of the Scottish Enlightenment in the 18th Century

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To gain some perspective when reading the following article; the population of Scotland in 1760 was 1.25 million, almost equivalent to today’s cities of San Diego or Dallas at 1.3 million each. In 1760, there were 8.5 million in England, 15 million in German speaking countries and 20 million in France.

Scottish Enlightenment

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Scottish Enlightenment (Scots: Scottis Enlightenment) was the period in 18th century Scotland characterised by an outpouring of intellectual and scientific accomplishments. By 1750, Scots were among the most literate citizens of Europe, with an estimated 75% level of literacy.[1] But it was a few hundred men who made the Enlightenment. Gathering places in Edinburgh such as The Select Society and, later, The Poker Club, were crucibles from which many of the ideas which distinguish the Scottish Enlightenment emerged.

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 which could not be justified by reason. They held to an optimistic belief in the ability of man to effect changes for the better in society and nature, guided only by reason. It was this latter feature which 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 virtues were held to be improvement, virtue and practical benefit for both the individual and society as a whole.

Among the advances of the period were achievements in philosophy, political, engineering, architecture, medicine, geology, archaeology, law, agriculture, chemistry and sociology. Among the outstanding Scottish thinkers and scientists of the period were Francis Hutcheson, Alexander Campbell, David Hume, Adam Smith, Thomas Reid, Robert Burns, Adam Ferguson, John Playfair, Joseph Black and James Hutton.

The Scottish Enlightenment had effects far beyond Scotland itself, not only because of the esteem in which Scottish achievements were held in Europe and elsewhere, 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. As a result, a significant proportion of technological and social development in the United States, Canada and New Zealand in the 18th and 19th centuries were accomplished through Scots-Americans and Scots-Canadians.

Key figures

  • Robert Adam (1728–1792) architect
  • James Anderson (1739–1808) agronomist, lawyer, amateur scientist

  • Joseph Black (1728–1799) physicist and chemist, first to isolate carbon dioxide

  • Hugh Blair (1718–1800) minister, author

  • James Boswell (1740–1795) lawyer, author of Life of Johnson

  • Thomas Brown (1778–1820), Scottish moral philosopher and philosopher of mind; jointly held the Chair of Moral Philosophy at Edinburgh University with Dugald Stewart

  • James Burnett, Lord Monboddo (1714–1799) philosopher, judge, founder of modern comparative historical linguistics

  • Robert Burns[16] (1759–1796) poet

  • Alexander Campbell (1788–1866) founder of the Restoration Movement

  • George Campbell (1719–1796) philosopher of language, theology, and rhetoric

  • Sir John Clerk of Eldin (1728–1812) prolific artist, author of An Essay on Naval Tactics; great-uncle of James Clerk Maxwell

  • William Cullen (1710–1790) physician, chemist, early medical researcher

  • Adam Ferguson (1723–1816) considered the founder of sociology

  • Robert Fergusson (1750–1774), poet.

  • Andrew Fletcher (1653–1716) a forerunner of the Scottish Enlightenment,[17] writer, patriot, commissioner of Parliament of Scotland

  • Sir James Hall, 4th Baronet (1761–1832) geologist, geophysicist

  • Henry Home, Lord Kames (1696–1782) philosopher, judge, historian

  • David Hume (1711–1776) philosopher, historian, essayist

  • Francis Hutcheson (1694–1746) philosopher of metaphysics, logic, and ethics

  • James Hutton[9][16] (1726–1797) founder of modern geology

  • Sir John Leslie (1766–1832) mathematician, physicist, investigator of heat (thermodynamics)

  • James Mill (1773–1836) late in the period - Father of John Stuart Mill.

  • John Millar (1735–1801) philosopher, historian, historiographer

  • Thomas Muir of Huntershill, (1765–1799), political reformer, leader of the Scottish "Friends of the People Society"

  • John Playfair (1748–1819) mathematician, author of Illustrations of the Huttonian Theory of the Earth

  • Allan Ramsay[18] (1686–1758) poet

  • Henry Raeburn[7] (1756–1823) portrait painter

  • Thomas Reid (1710–1796) philosopher, founder of the Scottish School of Common Sense

  • William Robertson (1721–1793) one of the founders of modern historical research

  • Sir Walter Scott (1771–1832) lawyer, novelist, poet

  • John Sinclair (1754–1835) politician, writer, the first person to use the word statistics in the English language

  • William Smellie (1740–1795) editor of the first edition of Encyclopædia Britannica

  • Adam Smith (1723–1790) whose The Wealth of Nations was the first modern treatise on economics

  • Dugald Stewart (1753–1828) moral philosopher

  • George Turnbull (1698–1748), theologian, philosopher and writer on education

  • John Walker (naturalist) (1730–1803) professor of natural history

  • James Watt (1736–1819) student of Joseph Black; engineer, inventor (see Watt steam engine)

  • Plus two who visited and corresponded with Edinburgh scholars:

  • Erasmus Darwin (1731–1802) physician, botanist, philosopher, grandfather of Charles Darwin

  • Benjamin Franklin (1706–1790) polymath, one of the Founding Fathers of the United States

The learned Scots were remarkably unlike the French philosophes; indeed, they were unlike any other group of philosophers that ever existed. In a gigantic study, “The Sociology of Philosophies,” published in 1998, Randall Collins assembled structural portraits of the seminal moments in philosophy, both Western and Eastern. Typically, the most important figures in a given cluster of thinkers (perhaps three or four men) would jockey for centrality while cultivating alliances with other thinkers or students on the margins.

In the Scottish group, however, there was little of the bristling, charged, and exclusionary fervour of the Diderot-d’Alembert circle; or of the ruthless atmosphere found in Germany in the group that included Fichte, the Schelling brothers, and Hegel; or of the conscious glamour of the existentialists in postwar Paris. The Scots vigorously disagreed with one another, but they lacked the temperament for the high moral drama of quarrels, renunciations, and reconciliation. Hutcheson, Hume and Smith, along with Adam Ferguson and Thomas Reid, were all widely known, but none of them were remotely cult figures in the style of Hegel, Marx, Emerson, Wittgenstein, Sartre, or Foucault.

To an astonishing degree, the men supported one another’s projects and publications, which they may have debated at a club that included amateurs (say, poetry-writing doctors, or lawyers with an interest in science) or in the fumy back room of some dark Edinburgh tavern. In all, the group seems rather like an erudite version of Dickens’s chattering and benevolent Pickwick Club.