Introduction: The Passionate Society

The Social, Political and Moral Thought of Adam Ferguson
Part of the International Archives of the History of Ideas / Archives internationales d’histoire des idées book series (ARCH, volume 191)


Civil Society Political Science Eighteenth Century Emotion Category Civic Virtue 
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  1. 1.
    Alexander Broadie, The Scottish Enlightenment, Edinburgh: Birlinn Ltd.; 2001, p. 5.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    ‘Ferguson’s admirers in France included D’Holbach and Voltaire in his time, and later Comte; in Germany, Herder and such literary figures as Schiller and Jacobi, along with nineteenth century German social thought in general; and in his lifetime he was elected an honorary member of the Academy of Social Sciences in Berlin’. A.G. Smith, The Political Philosophy of Adam Ferguson Considered as a Response to Rousseau: Political Development and Progressive Development, Unpublished Doctoral Thesis, Yale University, p. 9. Along with the rest of the’ scottish School’ John Stuart Mill esteemed Ferguson highly, naming his father, James Mill, as the last in the line of succession of ‘this great school’ of Hume, Kames, Smith and Ferguson. Letter to A. Comte, January 28, 1843 in J.S. Mill, Collected of John Stuart Mill, J. Robson, F. Mineka, N. Dwight, J. Stillinger, and A. Robson, (eds), Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1963, Vol. 13, p. 566.Google Scholar
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    As was ‘the fate of most Scots’ after 1800. Fania Oz-Salzberger, Translating the Enlightenment: Scottish Civic Discourse in Eighteenth Century Germany, Oxford: University Press, 1995, p. 130. Even closer to his own time Ferguson’s ‘popular success was greatly overshadowed by that of his successor to the Edinburgh Moral Philosophy chair, Dugald Stewart‘. N. Phillipson, ‘The Scottish Enlightenment’, in Porter, R and Teich, M. (eds), The Enlightenment in National Context, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981, p. 37.Google Scholar
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    John Robertson has recently urged a greater awareness of ‘potential fault lines within Scottish moral philosophy’, drawing special attention to the eccentricity of Ferguson’s work. ‘The Scottish Contribution to the Enlightenment’, in The Scottish Enlightenment, Essays in Reinterpretation, Paul Wood (ed), Rochester: University of Rochester Press, 2000, pp. 47–8.Google Scholar
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    Duncan Forbes, ‘Introduction’ to Ferguson, A, An Essay on the History of Civil Society, Edited and With an Introduction by Duncan Forbes, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1967, p. xiii–iv. Here was a culture ‘in search of perfection, to place every branch of administration behind the counter, and come to employ, instead of the statesman and the warrior, the mere clerk and accountant’. Adam Ferguson, An Essay on the History of Civil Society (hereafter cited as Essay), Edited by Fania Oz-Salzberger, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996, pp. 214–16. Please note: The latter edition is used throughout this work.Google Scholar
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    To be explored in further chapters. See also John Varty, ‘Civil or Commercial?: Adam Ferguson’s Concept of Civil Society’, Democratisation, Vol. 4, 1997, pp. 29–48.Google Scholar
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    As also noticed by John Brewer in his insightful work on Ferguson. J.D. Brewer, ‘Conjectural History, Sociology and Social Change in Eighteenth Century Scotland: Adam Ferguson and the Division of Labour’, in The Making of Scotland: Nation, Culture and Social Change, D. McCrone, S. Kendrick and P. Straw (eds), Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1989 and, by the same author, ‘Adam Ferguson and the Theme of Exploitation’, The British Journal of Sociology, 37, 1986, pp.461–78.Google Scholar
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    Such as, for example, Rousseau’s belief in a state of nature, his attitude to great legislators and social contracts and also his perceived primitivism. Although Rousseau was not a strict primitivist, in Britain ‘he was continuously and usually unfavourably associated’ with it. James H. Warner, ‘The Reaction in Eighteenth-Century England to Rousseau’s Two Discourses’, Publications of the Modern Language Association of America, Vol. 48(2) June, 1933, pp. 471–87, p. 480.Google Scholar
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    Nevertheless Comte described Condorcet, not Ferguson, as his’ spiritual father’ and regarded the former as second only to Montesquieu as a founder of sociology. Robert Bierstedt, ‘Sociological Thought in the Eighteenth Century’, in T. Bottomore and R. Nisbet (eds), A History of Sociological Analysis, London: Heinemann, 1979, p. 22.Google Scholar
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    As there have of the Scottish Enlightenment thinkers in general. The 1967 German Edition of John Millar’s Origin of the Distinction of Ranks asserts on ‘its unnumbered terminal page’ that Millar, along with Smith and Ferguson, was ‘one of the three great Scots of the second half of the eighteenth century who founded sociology‘. Louis Schneider, ‘Tension in the Thought of John Millar’, The Grammar of Social Relations: The Major Essays of Louis Schneider, Jay Weinstein (ed) with an Epistolary Foreward by R.K. Merton, New Brunswick: Transaction Books, 1984, p. 109, n.8. For a subtle account of Ferguson’s place in the history of sociology see Brewer, ‘Adam Ferguson and the Division of Labour’. Herta Jogland has noted that the importance of Ferguson’s contribution to modern sociology has been both under-and over-estimated by his various commentators. Herta Helena Jogland, Ursprunge und Grundlagen der Sociologie bei Adam Ferguson, Berlin: Dunker and Humbolt, 1959, pp. 18–19. See also: D. Kettler, The Social and Political Thought of Adam Ferguson, Indiana: Ohio State University Press, 1965, pp. 8–9; Lehmann, Adam Ferguson; passim; Fania Oz Salszberger, Translating the Enlightenment, pp. 89–92; L. Hill, ‘Anticipations of Nineteenth and Twentieth Century Social Thought in the Work of Adam Ferguson’, European Journal of Sociology, Vol. 37 (1), 1996, pp. 203–28; Barnes,’ sociology before Comte‘, p. 235; F. Ferrarrotti, ‘Civil Society and State Structures in Creative Tension’, State, Culture and Society, Vol. 1, Fall 1984, pp. 3–25; R. Meek, Economics and Ideology and other Essays, London: Chapman and Hall Ltd., 1967, pp. 34–50; A. Ryan, ‘An Essay on the History of Civil Society’, New Society, Vol. 3, 1966, pp. 63–4. L. Schneider, The Scottish Moralists on Human Nature and Society, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1967; A. Silver, ‘Friendship in Commercial Society: Eighteenth-Century Social Theory and Modern Sociology’, American Journal of Sociology, Vol. 95 ( 6), 1990, pp. 1474–1504, p.1479; R. L. Emerson, ‘Conjectural History and Scottish Philosophers’ Historical Papers, Vol. 63, 1984, pp. 63–90; R. Pascal, ‘Herder and the Scottish Historical School’, Publications of the English Goethe Society, Vol.14, 1938–9, pp. 23–49 and by the same author, ‘Property and Society: The Scottish Historical School of the Eighteenth Century’ Modern Quarterly, Vol. 1, March, 1938, pp. 167–79; Christopher J. Berry, Social Theory of the Scottish Enlightenment, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1997; D. Forbes,’ scientific Whiggism: Adam Smith and John Millar’ Cambridge Journal, Vol. 6, 1954, pp. 643–70; Brewer, ‘Adam Ferguson and the Theme of Exploitation’; Swingewood, ‘Origins of Sociology’; G. Bryson,’ some Eighteenth Century Conceptions of Society’, The Sociological Review, Vol. 31, 1939, pp. 401–21, p. 403; R. Hamowy, The Scottish Enlightenment and the Theory of Spontaneous Order, Southern Illinois University Press, 1987; H.M. Hopfl, ‘From Savage to Scotsman: Conjectural History in the Scottish Enlightenment’, Journal of British Studies, 17 (2) 1978, pp. 19–40. Not all scholars have shown enthusiasm for Ferguson’s contribution to social science. For example, Bernard Barber asserts that [t]here is no great, undiscovered or startling new knowledge of society in Ferguson’. B. Barber, ‘An Essay on the History of Civil Society’, Contemporary Sociology, Vol. 9, (2), March, 1980, pp. 258–9, p. 258. According to Ernest Mossner, Ferguson’s reputation during his own time as one of Edinburgh’s ‘most brilliant’ minds was ‘never fully justified’. He continues: ‘there was always something superficial in Ferguson’. Ernest Campbell Mossner, ‘Adam Ferguson’s “Dialogue on a Highland Jaunt” with Robert Adam, William Cleghorn, David Hume, and William Wilkie’, Restoration and Eighteenth-Century Literature: Essays in Honour of Alan Dugald McKillop, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1963, p. 297. We know that Hume was disappointed in the Essay, though for reasons unknown. Mossner suggests one possibility, namely, that Hume objected to Ferguson’s insistence that progress was inevitable. E. Mossner, The Life of David Hume, London, Thomas Nelson and Sons, 1954, pp. 542–3.Google Scholar
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