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The Scottish Enlightenment (Scots: Scots Enlichtenment, Scottish Gaelic: Soilleireachadh 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 culture was oriented toward 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.
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 virtues 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 outwith 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.
- 1 Background
- 2 Major intellectual areas
- 3 Significance
- 4 Key figures
- 5 See also
- 6 References
- 7 Further reading
- 8 External links
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.
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. 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. The major change in international trade was the rapid expansion of the Americas as a market. 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. 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.
The humanist-inspired emphasis on education in Scotland, culminated in the passing of the Education Act 1496, which decreed that all sons of barons and freeholders of substance should attend grammar schools. The aims of a network of parish schools were taken up as part of the Protestant programme in the 16th century and a series of acts of the Privy Council and Parliament in 1616, 1633, 1646 and 1696, attempted to support its development and finance. By the late 17th century there was a largely complete network of parish schools in the Lowlands, but in the Highlands basic education was still lacking in many areas. One of the effects of this extensive network of schools was the growth of the "democratic myth", which in the 19th century created the widespread belief that many a "lad of pairts" had been able to rise up through the system to take high office, and that literacy was much more widespread in Scotland than in neighbouring states, particularly England. Historians are now divided over whether the ability of boys who pursued this route to social advancement was any different than other comparable nations, because the education in some parish schools was basic, short and attendance was not compulsory. Regardless of what the literacy rate actually was, it is clear that many Scottish students learned a useful form of visual literacy that allowed them to organise and remember information in a superior fashion.
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. 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. These developments helped the universities to become major centres of medical education and would put Scotland at the forefront of new thinking. 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. 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. In the eighteenth century Scotland reaped the intellectual benefits of this system.
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)  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. In 1763 Edinburgh had six printing houses, three paper mills, and by 1783 there were 16 printing houses and 12 paper mills.
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. Other clubs in Edinburgh included The Select Society, formed by artist the younger Allan Ramsay, and philosophers David Hume and Adam Smith and, later, The Poker Club, formed in 1762 and named by Adam Ferguson for the aim to "poke up" opinion on the militia issue.
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". Bruce Lenman says their "central achievement was a new capacity to recognize and interpret social patterns."
Major intellectual areas
Empiricism and inductive reasoning
The first major philosopher of the Scottish Enlightenment was Francis Hutcheson (1694–1746), who was professor of moral philosophy at Glasgow from 1729 to 1746. He was an important link between the ideas of Shaftesbury and the later school of Scottish Common Sense Realism, developing Utilitarianism and Consequentialist thinking. Also influenced by Shaftsbury was George Turnbull (1698-1748), who was regent at Marischal College, Aberdeen, and who published pioneering work was in the fields of Christian ethics, art and education.
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. He would be a major influence on later Enlightenment figures including Adam Smith, Immanuel Kant and Jeremy Bentham. 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.
In contrast to Hume, Thomas Reid (1710–96), a student of Turnbull's, along with minister George Campbell (1719–96) and writer and moralist James Beattie (1735–1803), formulated Common Sense Realism. Reid set out his theories in An Inquiry into the Human Mind on the Principles of Common Sense (1764). 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.
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. 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. 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.
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. 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. 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.
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). 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. Burns's poetry drew upon a substantial familiarity with and knowledge of Classical, Biblical, and English literature, as well as the Scottish Makar tradition.
Adam Smith developed and published The Wealth of Nations, the starting point of modern economics. This study, which had an immediate impact on British economic policy, still frames discussions on globalisation and tariffs. The book identified land, labour, and capital as the three factors of production and the major contributors to a nation's wealth, as distinct from the Physiocratic idea that only agriculture was productive. Smith discussed potential benefits of specialization by division of labour, including increased labour productivity and gains from trade, whether between town and country or across countries. His "theorem" that "the division of labor is limited by the extent of the market" has been described as the "core of a theory of the functions of firm and industry" and a "fundamental principle of economic organization." In an argument that includes "one of the most famous passages in all economics," Smith represents every individual as trying to employ any capital they might command for their own advantage, not that of the society, 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. Economists have linked Smith's invisible-hand concept to his concern for the common man and woman through economic growth and development, enabling higher levels of consumption, which Smith describes as "the sole end and purpose of all production."
Sociology and anthropology
Scottish Enlightenment thinkers developed what leading thinkers such as James Burnett, Lord Monboddo (1714–99) and Lord Kames called a science of man, 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, and Alan Swingewood argues that modern sociology largely originated in Scotland. 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. 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.
Mathematics, science and medicine
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. 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.
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. 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.
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, and developed what many consider to be the first chemical formulae.
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. His ideas were popularised by the scientist and mathematician John Playfair (1748–1819).
In medicine Edinburgh became a major centre of medical teaching and research.
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.
The Scottish Enlightenment had numerous dimensions, influencing the culture of the nation in several areas including architecture, art and music.
Scotland produced some of the most significant architects of the period who were involved in the intellectual culture of the Enlightenment. Robert Adam (1728–92) was an interior designer as well as an architect, with his brothers developing the Adam style, He influenced the development of architecture in Britain, Western Europe, North America and in Russia. Adam's main rival was William Chambers, another Scot, but born in Sweden. Chambers was appointed architectural tutor to the Prince of Wales, later George III, and in 1766, with Robert Adam, as Architect to the King.
Artists included John Alexander and his younger contemporary William Mossman (1700–71). They painted many of the figures of early-Enlightenment Edinburgh. 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. 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. 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).
The growth of a musical culture in the capital was marked by the incorporation of the Musical Society of Edinburgh in 1728. 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). 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. 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.
While the Scottish Enlightenment is traditionally considered to have concluded toward the end of the 18th century, 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. 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. The philosophy of Common Sense Realism was especially influential in 19th century American thought and religion.
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.
- Robert Adam (1728–92) 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), philosopher
- James Burnett, Lord Monboddo (1714–1799) judge, founder of modern comparative historical linguistics
- Robert Burns (1759–96) poet
- George Campbell (1719–1796) philosopher
- Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881), historian
- Sir John Clerk of Eldin (1728–1812) artist, navalist
- William Cullen (1710–1790) physician, chemist, medical research
- Adam Ferguson (1723–1816) considered the founder of sociology
- Robert Fergusson (1750–1774), poet.
- Andrew Fletcher (1653–1716) a forerunner of the Scottish Enlightenment, 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
- James Hutton (1726–1797) founder of modern geology
- Sir John Leslie (1766–1832) mathematician, physicist
- James Mill (1773–1836) philosopher;
- John Millar (1735–1801) philosopher, historian
- Thomas Muir of Huntershill, (1765–1799), political reformer
- John Playfair (1748–1819) mathematician, geologist
- Allan Ramsay (1686–1758) poet
- Henry Raeburn (1756–1823) portrait painter
- Thomas Reid (1710–1796) philosopher, founder of the Scottish School of Common Sense
- William Robertson (1721–1793) historian
- Sir Walter Scott (1771–1832) novelist, poet
- John Sinclair (1754–1835) writer
- William Smellie (1740–1795) editor of the first edition of Encyclopædia Britannica
- Adam Smith (1723–1790) economics
- Dugald Stewart (1753–1828) philosopher
- George Turnbull (1698–1748), theologian, philosopher and writer on education
- John Walker (naturalist) (1730–1803) natural history
- James Watt (1736–1819) inventor of steam engine
Plus two who visited and corresponded with Edinburgh scholars:
- Erasmus Darwin (1731–1802) English physician, botanist, philosopher, grandfather of Charles Darwin
- Benjamin Franklin (1706–1790), polymath, one of the Founding Fathers of the United States
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- Robert W. Galvin. America's Founding Secret: What the Scottish Enlightenment Taught Our Founding Fathers (Rowman & Littlefield, 2002).
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- 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.
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- 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
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- 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.
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- 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
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- Northern Lights: How modern life emerged from eighteenth-century Edinburgh.
- Scottish Enlightenment[dead link] - 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