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Scottish Enlightenment


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A relatively new term, said to have been invented in 1909 when W. R. Scott described Francis Hutcheson (1694–1746) as the father of the Scottish Enlightenment. It is now used generally to describe the intellectual, material, and moral culture of Scotland during the long 18th cent. It is a culture associated with the middling ranks of Scottish society, with the Scottish universities, and with the clubs, societies, and salons of Edinburgh. Ideologically it was a culture concerned with the defence of the revolution settlement, the Hanoverian succession, the Act of Union, and the presbyterian establishment. It was concerned with the civilizing functions of commerce and culture and with the problems of developing the institutions and manners appropriate to the preservation of a free commercial polity. Philosophers like Hutcheson, Hume, Smith, Ferguson, and Reid were interested in the principles of human nature, the meaning of sociability, and the truths of natural religion. Their conclusions made possible the development of a remarkable theory of progress which was instrumental in shaping the political economy of Smith, the histories of Hume and William Robertson, and the historical fiction of Scott.

Subjects: British History.


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