Version classiqueVersion mobile

Scotland and the Scots, 1707-2007

 | 
Christian Auer

IV. Enlightenment

IV. Enlightenment

Texte intégral

  • 1 Scott defined the Scottish Enlightenment as “the diffusion of philosophical ideas in Scotland and (...)

1Scotland played a major role in the eighteenth century European Enlightenment, known as Aufklärung in Germany, Lumières in France, Illuminismo in Italy or Illustracion in Spain. The “Scottish Enlightenment”, a term which was coined by William Robert Scott in 19001, refers to the cultural flowering Scotland experienced in fields as diverse as philosophy, education, science, economics, art, architecture and literature from the latter half of the eighteenth century to the years around 1830. The Scottish Enlightenment stressed the importance of reason and rejected intolerance and religious persecution.

  • 2 “Common sense, for Reid, are those tenets that we cannot help but believe, given that we are const (...)
  • 3 Hutcheson introduced lectures in English at Glasgow University where he became Professor in 1729 a (...)
  • 4 “For Hutcheson moral and aesthetic qualities are really sentiments existing in our minds” (Stanfor (...)

2There were significant developments in science with for example James Hutton in geology, Joseph Black in chemistry and physics or James Watt in engineering. Philosophy provided the intellectual backbone of the Enlightenment and among its most important figures were Thomas Reid, who developed the ‘common sense’ theory2, Francis Hutcheson3, father of the ‘moral sense’ theory4, George Campbell, a philosopher and professor of divinity, and David Hume (1711-1776), undoubtedly the greatest philosopher of the period.

3The leading social scientists were Adam Smith, who led the foundation of the science of economics, Adam Ferguson, Professor of Moral Philosophy in Edinburgh or John Millar, Professor of Law in Glasgow. All of them taught their students with a rational approach to moral and social problems.

4Architecture was the field where Scots provided some of the best creators in Britain with such figures as Robert Adam, the leading Scottish architect of the eighteenth century, who contributed to the building of the New Town of Edinburgh, a major architectural achievement of European significance.

5The period also witnessed a great development in art. In 1755 a ‘Select Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Sciences, Manufacturers, etc’ came into being. In Glasgow Robert and Andrew Foulis founded in 1753 an Academy on the Italian model. The leading painters of the time were Allan Ramsay and Henry Raeburn, both admired for the quality of their portraits.

6Enlightenment ideas were largely diffused, analysed and discussed in the press, in pamphlets and journals such as the Scots Magazine and in surveys like Sir John Sinclair’s massive Statistical Account of Scotland, published in the 1790s.

  • 5 David Hume, for instance, held several political posts (he spent two years in the embassy in Paris (...)

7The enlightened ones or literati, as they were called, were deeply committed to the existing social order. They were prepared to discuss reforms from a theoretical perspective but they never suggested specific reform proposals. The dominant figures in the Enlightenment were integral parts of the political establishment5 and accepted the inequality between social classes as necessary to the good functioning of society.

8No previous period in the history of Scotland had reached that level of intellectual and cultural excellence and had such a long-term impact on later cultural, social, economic and political developments. Many historians have tried to understand the reasons for this unprecedented cultural achievement. More than a complete and radical departure from previous trends, the Enlightenment should be seen as the climatic point of existing factors. As Michael Lynch has perceptibly pointed out:

  • 6 M. Lynch, op. cit, p. 353.

Enlightened ideas did not burst upon an unprepared stage in the 1730s; they had been gathering momentum in the universities since at least the 1670s. […] The eighteenth century is rightly hailed as the age when Scotland became one of the most important centres of intellectual culture in the western world. It did so, however, not by cutting loose from its past but by building on it. There are definite connections between the Enlightenment and the Renaissance period.6

9To conclude let us quote some words of Christopher Smout, who has aptly assessed the importance of the Scottish Enlightenment in the development of the Scottish nation:

  • 7 T. C. Smout, op. cit., p. 483.

The golden age of Scottish culture was achieved largely by the Lowland middleclass with the approval and patronage (but not the initiative) of the landed classes, against a complex background of historical change–of economic change enabling Scotland better to afford her culture, of educational change in her universities and schools, and of psychological change in the attitude of society towards its own aspirations.7

Notes

1 Scott defined the Scottish Enlightenment as “the diffusion of philosophical ideas in Scotland and the encouragement of speculative tastes among the men of culture” (Quoted in A. Broadie, The Cambridge Companion to the Scottish Enlightenment, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003, p. 3).

2 “Common sense, for Reid, are those tenets that we cannot help but believe, given that we are constructed the way we are constructed. People often have beliefs that are in manifest conflict with common sense, but to have such beliefs, Reid thinks, is to be in deep conflict with one’s nature as a human being.” (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, internet site http://plato.stanford, accessed 9 September 2009.)

3 Hutcheson introduced lectures in English at Glasgow University where he became Professor in 1729 and propagated the teaching of the great European and English philosophers.

4 “For Hutcheson moral and aesthetic qualities are really sentiments existing in our minds” (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, internet site http://plato.stanford, accessed 9 September 2009.)

5 David Hume, for instance, held several political posts (he spent two years in the embassy in Paris from 1763 to 1765 and was Under-Secretary of State for the Northern Department from February 1767 to January 1768) and Adam Smith was appointed Commissioner of His Majesty’s Customs in Scotland in 1778.

6 M. Lynch, op. cit, p. 353.

7 T. C. Smout, op. cit., p. 483.

© Presses universitaires de Strasbourg, 2013

Conditions d’utilisation : http://www.openedition.org/6540

Rechercher dans OpenEdition Search

Vous allez être redirigé vers OpenEdition Search