© 2013

The Scottish Enlightenment

Race, Gender, and the Limits of Progress

  • Authors

Table of contents

  1. Front Matter
    Pages i-xiv
  2. Silvia Sebastiani
    Pages 23-43
  3. Silvia Sebastiani
    Pages 103-131
  4. Silvia Sebastiani
    Pages 163-172
  5. Back Matter
    Pages 173-255

About this book


The Scottish Enlightenment shaped a new conception of history as a gradual and universal progress from savagery to civil society. Whereas women emancipated themselves from the yoke of male-masters, men in turn acquired polite manners and became civilized. Such a conception, however, presents problematic questions: why were the Americans still savage? Why was it that the Europeans only had completed all the stages of the historic process? Could modern societies escape the destiny of earlier empires and avoid decadence? Was there a limit beyond which women's influence might result in dehumanization? The Scottish Enlightenment's legacy for modernity emerges here as a two-faced Janus, an unresolved tension between universalism and hierarchy, progress and the limits of progress.


Age of Enlightenment climate concept David Hume enlightenment gender history history of literature natural history philosophy scottish Enlightenment society stage women

About the authors

Silvia Sebastiani is Maître de Conférences (Associate Professor) at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Socials in Paris, France, where she teaches seminars on the experiences and ideologies of race in the early modern period and on Enlightenment historiography, and coordinate the group of research mondes britannique.         

Bibliographic information


“The detailed and nuanced account of the disputes about human diversity, race, and gender at the heart of the stadial theories of the Scottish Enlightenment makes a substantive contribution to the fields of Enlightenment studies, critical race theory, gender studies, and the history of ideas. Scholars in these disciplines as well as interdisciplinary scholars who share an interest in these themes will find in this work a wealth of resources.” (Edinburgh University Press,, Vol. 14 (2), June, 2016)