Introduction: The Origins of the Scottish Enlightenment

  • Jane Rendall
Part of the History in Depth book series (HD)


During the eighteenth century, and particularly from 1740 on, Scottish writers won international recognition for the range of their learning, for the originality and penetration of their writings on philosophy, history, law and science, and for their centres of enlightened civilisation in Edinburgh and Glasgow. The achievement was a considerable one, especially in view of the problems of poverty, disunity and disorder which Scotland had faced at the beginning of the century. It was an achievement which was not rivalled in England, where there were no similar centres of intellectual activity, where the universities failed to respond to the challenge of new ways of thinking. David Hume and Adam Smith were not isolated figures, chance sparks of genius; they were surrounded by men of lesser but still substantial quality, by Francis Hutcheson, Adam Ferguson, Lord Kames, Thomas Reid, William Robertson, and John Millar. (See the Biographical Notes, for brief summaries of the careers of these men, and others indicated in the text.) The interest of Hume and Smith in the study of all aspects of man and society was shared by these men. These writers were united, too, by a common commitment to teaching and education, and to the creation of a social community of scholars, in which constant contact and friendship coexisted with often fierce critical discussion and debate.


Eighteenth Century Moral Philosophy Early Eighteenth Century Professional Class Religious Change 
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© Jane Rendall 1978

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  • Jane Rendall

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