Adam Ferguson

(1723—1816) philosopher and historian

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Scottish philosopher of the Enlightenment, and often regarded as a pioneer of sociology. Adam Ferguson was educated at St Andrews and became a chaplain of the Black Watch Highlander regiment (he fought at the battle of Fontenoy in 1745). Gradually losing his faith, Ferguson succeeded David Hume in 1757 as librarian to the Faculty of Advocates in Edinburgh. He held successive chairs at the University of Edinburgh, first in Natural Philosophy (1759), then in Moral Philosophy and Pneumatics (1764). In 1767, Ferguson published his most important work, the Essay on Civil Society. It was a ‘natural’ history of the progress of mankind, along the lines that had been pursued by many Enlightenment philosophers, particularly David Hume. However, Hume himself disliked Ferguson's work, regarding it as ‘superficial’. Ferguson followed Hume in describing the gradual emergence of civil order by spontaneous processes rather than design, but he had a more pessimistic view of human nature than most Enlightenment thinkers. Ferguson resigned from his chair in 1785 (succeeded by his student, Dugald Stewart). He published his collected lectures, advocating a Stoic perfectionism, in 1792.

Subjects: Philosophy.

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