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David Hume one of central figures of Scottish Enlightenment said “The Christian religion not only was at first attended with miracles, but even at this day cannot be believed by any reasonable person without one.” This is an ample evidence of his rational and logical thinking. He always argued in favour of proof in order to establish the truth – making him one of the strongest rationalists and also establishing himself as an empiricist. This strong belief did not even allow him to have a simple approach to even God!
Scottish Enlightenment is actually a kind of a puzzle. The period before the Scottish Enlightenment, Scotland was a poor country. The Church Ministers were not a very tolerant lot. They had even executed a few witches a couple of decades before. And a country like this produced some of the greatest thoughts and cultural development of the 18th century.
The developments in Scotland during the Enlightenment period had its own set of characteristics. The first of the things in the Scottish Enlightenment is the fact that the ideas came from different universities in Scotland from other sources. A case in example is that of Edinburgh University Medical School. The founders of this school had their medical training in Holland and later the school became world famous in 18th century. Holland Medical Schools were the most advanced before Edinburgh overtook them.
The medical professors at Edinburg founded the medical society of Edinburg, which was driven by Alexander Monroe. This society published medical research and soon was seen as a thought leader in the field of medicine. As Alexander Monroe began to fade due to his illness, people like Colin Mclaurin increased the scope of the society, and called it the philosophical society. The club achieved the highest status and was even given a Royal Charter to become the Royal Society of Edinburg. Medicine, however, did not lose its important in the philosophical society, and a small part of it grew into the Royal Medical Society that was chartered in 1778.
One of the important consequences of the reformation was that the thinkers and reformers wanted to establish a school in every parish, which they did. The basic driving force was the deep rooted desire that everyone must be able to read the Bible. This needed development of reading skills in everyone during that time. By the mid-1700s, Scots were among the most knowledgeable inhabitants of Europe, with a literacy rate of approximately 75 percent.
This happened in the 1560s and about a century later every parish had a school and learning was greatly respected all over Scotland. Almost every Scottish child went to school during this time for some period. This was in the backdrop that schooling was not free nor was it compulsory under any rule! This laid the foundation for a society that thought and thought deeply and this is what strictly enlightenment all about.
“The work titled "Hume, Smith and the Scottish Enlightenment" in order to be accepted by a Faculty skeptical of the existence of the Scottish Enlightenment as such, this attracted Quentin Skinner, Nicholas Phillipson, and many others: it was to be seminal not only for the Scottish Enlightenment, but for the whole renaissance of intellectual history in Britain since the 1960s.” Indeed, it was a few hundred men who were the originators of the Scottish Enlightenment.
During the period of Scottish Enlightenment some of the earlier barriers towards cultural development began to fade away. The Presbyterian Church was the home to some of the most orthodox fanatics in the society began to be more tolerant. Also during the same time the Union of two Parliaments that witnessed the defeat of the Jacobites at Culloden deeply erased all the passion Scots had for politics.
The Scottish Enlightenment established fantastic inter-connections among various disciplines, which even now are regarded as having little connection, and this is absolutely remarkable. Geologists teamed with historians, chemists with economists, philosophers and surgeons, farmers and lawyers, church ministers and architects, and the list would go on.
The advancements in Scottish Enlightenment were that of scientific and medical knowledge. Many key contributors were trained physicians, or at some point, studied medicine or science at a University or on their own will. The Scottish intelligentsia was not belonging just to the powerful aristocratic patrons, and this spread allowed them to view knowledge from the point of utility, reform, as well as improvement. Some of the major contributors of the Scottish Enlightenment included Sir John Leslie, Colin Mclaurin, William Cullen, James Anderson, Joseph Black, James Hutton, John Playfair, were the chief contributors in the field of science and medicine.
This clearly paved a path for politics free thinking ecosystem for the scholars and intellectuals – the most fertile of situations for the mind to work effectively and transcend boundaries. They were free to discuss ideas and concepts without having to be political or attributing politics to it.
Enlightenment really happened in the three cities of Edinburgh, Glasgow and Aberdeen facilitated by the freely flowing beer at that point in time. The intellectually stimulating discussions happened everywhere – even in the taverns. A number of clubs sprang up and discussions happened over a meal and a glass of wine or beer. It happened in an atmosphere of conviviality and jovialness. Such jovial atmosphere provided amenable situations for two intellectuals to have a stimulating discussion, a heated debate, and yet remain friends after that. This was one of the important hallmarks of Scottish Enlightenment.
There were three major schools of learning and Universities before the reformation period. By the time enlightenment started, there were five Universities in Scotland, compared to only two in England; and the Scottish boasting was that Aberdeen city alone had as many Universities as the whole of England combined.
It is believed that Scottish Enlightenment was part of the great European flowering and encompassed all aspects of learning and knowledge across history, geology, philosophy, medicine, engineering, architecture and even poetry. The Scottish Enlightenment had great impact on the Americans across the Atlantic as the Scottish thought was taken to American by Scottish immigrants.
The Scottish Enlightenment was more the study of human nature from a scientific angle. The ideas of David Hume about the scientific basis of human nature is echoed world over. David Hume, one of the key personalities of the Scottish Enlightenment authored the work titled 'Science of Man,’ which was a scientific study of human nature. Hundreds of years after the original publication of his books, even today, they inspire fierce debates. David Hume is seen as one of the world’s most influential thinkers and philosophers.
Likewise, the genius of James Watt was the one that steered the scientific revolution. It was after the industrial revolution, there was a lot of development that happened in the society. Essentially, science was given more prominence in Scottish Enlightenment. The philosophers of the era of Scottish Enlightenment proclaimed that the most essential significance of human reason in union with a denial of any authority that is impossible to be vindicated by reason. They identified an optimistic belief in man’s capability to effect deviations for the betterment of the society as well as nature, guided purely by reason. The Scottish Enlightenment the Enlightenment was considered by a systematic and comprehensive empiricism and practicality where the chief virtues were held to be improvement, virtue and practical benefit for both the individual and society as a whole.
The Scottish Enlightenment was contributed by many University professors, scholars, doctors, amongst others, and was centred on the Universities in Edinburg, Glasgow, and Aberdeen. The native Scottish scholars wanted to understand the natural world and the human mind. They had an urgent need to improve the world with their new concepts, inventions and discoveries. Almost all the leading lights were close friends who met regularly, and founded many clubs and societies with an intention to socialize, discuss, and exchange ideas, and in the process, learn from one another.
The Scottish Enlightenment milieu was predominantly urban. It was never a work in neither isolation nor left to one corner of the University. It was absolutely social through Edinburg, Glasgow, and Aberdeen. The Intelligentsia met regularly and socialized with one another, and it is the expression of conviviality and energy of the club that characterized the expression of Scottish Enlightenment. A number of such clubs were formed, some of which were dining and drinking clubs that died their natural death, which exist even today, that promoted scientific and medical knowledge.
Clubs like the Poker club, the Oyster Club, and the Friday club, which seem frivolous but debated serious issues during the Scottish Enlightenment. For instance, the Oyster club had among its founders, Adam Smith, Joseph Black, and James Hutton. All these people were pioneers in economics, chemistry, and geology respectively. They were pioneers in their own fields; but, they thrived with support, stimulus, and criticism from each other.
Those who supported the advancement of scientific rationalism believed that science was in fact superior to all other forms of knowledge. Anyone who felt inclined towards romanticism was indeed the opposite of one who followed scientific rationalism, since romantics used intuition and imagination to comprehend the world. Among these shifts of the time, there were several cultural changes that shook the boundaries of social standings.
Nothing was simply accepted in those days as it needed to be challenged, investigated, experimentally validated, and deeply examined. The Scots wanted to have a scientific understanding of ideas and beliefs in an effort to understand their world and its development. They wanted to provide an empirical account of human mind and its processes as the beginning to analysing social arrangements and its development over a period of time. Numerous scholars have described it as an attempt to study human nature in society. Scots shared their commitment to understanding of moral philosophy as a prerequisite for any other understanding or narrative on the social interactions and their changes with the passage of time.
John Locke in the Essay Concerning Human Understanding denied the existence of innate ideas and propounded the theory that the human mind is a tabula rasa on which the impressions were created. This argument had its roots in Newtonian assumptions on which Sir Isaac Newton declaring John Locke as the first Newtonian philosopher. Shaftes Bury’s concept of inner faculty responding to moral phenomena, just like other senses responding to physical phenomena became a very important point for Francis Hutcheson with Andrew Fletcher and Gershom Carmichael is seen to be the father of the Scottish Enlightenment.
It is largely regarded that the writers of Scotland in the 18th century played a very crucial role in defining the way social science is practiced. Thinkers like Adam Smith, Adam Ferguson, David Hume, Immanuel Kant, among others contributed extraordinarily to the field of social science. This enlightenment generation was also shaped by what we now refer to as unintended consequences.
This was created in an effort to counter argument by Hobbes and Mandeville that stated all human action was a result of ethical egoism. Hutcheson based his arguments on Shaftes Bury’s concepts and argued that human beings take immediate pleasure in certain behaviour and exhibition of certain character, despite that, it offered no advantage to them. As a supplement to this non-consequentialist claim Hutcheson also says that the evaluation of moral qualities need not essentially rest on reason. The mind has a number of senses or predispositions to accept or reject ideas and this acts independent of human will and of pleasure and pain as well.
This gave rise to a system of ethics that placed morality on non-rational reflexive footing that had its roots in uniform human nature. This was the central assumption on which the Scottish Enlightenment was based upon. It also believed in constancy of human nature. There were lot of debates on other fundamental questions, but in the ideas of David Hume, one of key figures of Scottish Enlightenment, which stated that it is almost impossible to do any kind of justice to the complexity of moral philosophy.
One of the fallouts of the Scottish Enlightenment was the development of the Encyclopedia Britannica. The Britannica was designed in Edinburg and first published as three volumes between 1768 and 1771. It had 2, 659 pages, 160 engravings, and became a standard reference work in all the English speaking countries. It continued to be published for more than 100 years from Edinburg and was later sold to an American publisher.
The Scottish Enlightenment completely modified the structure of debate among professional science historians. It shifted, though failed to instantly subjugate, the positivistic elucidation of science as the rudimentary perspective of the subject. It shattered the scientific philosophy as a legitimate academic undertaking. It opened trails for historians to make use of the work of anthropologists and sociologists in learning science and its historical origins and premises. It offered a collection of significant methodologies for historians to confront the own accounts of scientists’ about their work.
‘Spirit of the Law,’ the most renowned work of Montesquieu was the one that was believed to have influenced the Scottish thinking on the way social theory needs to be approached. Montesquieu essentially represents and implies the desire to offer profound, deeper and a methodical approach to the elucidations of the social institutions as well as the various social practices. Montesquieu was considered to be the symbol of Scottish commitment in relation to the theoretical social science. Other than Montesquieu, there are three other Scotts who have made a mark on Enlightenment – Newton, Madeville, and Hutcheson.
One of the forces that drove the Scottish Enlightenment was codification of knowledge that finally led to the publication of Encyclopedia Britannica. The last three decades has seen an intense debate on the role of natural science and medicine. The Scottish Enlightenment has been interpreted by Nicholas Phillipson, John Christie in what can been as a series of essays that propounded the fact that pursuit of knowledge is one of the major elements that led to the development of culture of Scottish Enlightenment.
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