The New Palgrave Dictionary of Economics

2018 Edition
| Editors: Macmillan Publishers Ltd

Ferguson, Adam (1723–1815)

  • Nicholas Phillipson
Reference work entry


Ferguson was born in Perthshire in 1723 and died in Edinburgh in 1815. He was educated at St Andrew’s University for the Church of Scotland and became a leading member of the ‘moderate’ clergy which controlled its affairs from 1752 to 1805. He was a charismatic teacher who held the Moral Philosophy chair at Edinburgh from 1764 to 1785, transforming its curriculum and laying the foundations of its international reputation. As a moralist, Ferguson was worried by the materialism inherent in modern philosophy and modern life, and was anxious to show that the classical republicanism of the Machiavellians was still of value in analysing and resolving its problems. He presented human beings as active rather than passive agents who were motivated by a natural love of perfection that seemed to be in danger of extinction in a commercial world. In the process he showed that the mechanics of social bonding in primitive societies in particular were more complex than contemporaries realized, a demonstration that continues to be admired by anthropologists.

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  1. Kettler, D. 1965. The social and political thought of Adam Ferguson. Columbus: Ohio State University Press.Google Scholar

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© Macmillan Publishers Ltd. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Nicholas Phillipson
    • 1
  1. 1.