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Introduction: The Passionate Society

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

Keywords

Civil Society Political Science Eighteenth Century Emotion Category Civic Virtue 
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References

  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Philosophy of Adam Ferguson Considered as a Response to Rousseau: Political Development and Progressive Development, Unpublished Doctoral Thesis, Yale University, p. 9.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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    Bjorn Eriksson, ‘The First Formulation of Sociology: A Discursive Innovation of the Eighteenth Century’, Archives-Europeennes-de-Sociologie; Vol. 34(2), 1993, pp. 251–76, p. 272. David Hume wrote to Edward Gibbon that Scotland had arguably been ‘the rudest...of all European nations; the most necessitous, the most turbulent and the most unsettled’. Letter to Edward Gibbon, March 18 1776, David Hume, The Letters of David Hume, edited by J.Y.T. Greig, in Two Volumes, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1932, Vol. 2, p. 310.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    Eriksson, ‘First Formulation of Sociology’, pp. 251–76; Phillipson, ‘The Scottish Enlightenment’, p. 21.Google Scholar
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    As Forbes puts it: ‘The Essay was the work of a man who knew intimately, and from the inside, the two civilisations...which divided eighteenth century Scotland: the Gemeinschaft of the clan, belonging to the past, the Gesellschaft of the “progressive”, commercial Lowlands’. Forbes, ‘Introduction’ to Essay, pp. xxxviii–ix.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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    For example, Frederick Von Hayek explicitly cited his debt to Ferguson in expounding his theory of spontaneous order. F.A. Hayek, ‘The Results of Human Actions But Not of Human Design’, Studies in Philosophy, Politics and Economics, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1967, p. 97. The title of this essay is a direct quote from Ferguson and indicates how struck was Hayek by the former’s theory.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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    On, among others, Herder, Lessing, Schiller, Hegel, Marx, Isaak Iselin, Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi and Christian Garve. For a complete discussion of Ferguson’s impact in Germany, see Oz-Salzberger, Translating the Enlightenment, especially Chapter 5. According to Robert Solomon, Ferguson exerted considerable influence over the work of both Schiller and Hegel. Robert C. Solomon, In the Spirit of Hegel: A Study of G.W.F. Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit, New York: Oxford University Press, 1983. See also Laurence Dickey, Hegel: Religion, Economics and the Politics of Spirit 1770–1807, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987 and Dushan Bresky,’ schiller’s Debt to Montesquieu and Adam Ferguson’, Comparative Literature, Vol. 13 (3), 1961, pp. 239–53.Google Scholar
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    Karl Marx, The Poverty of Philosophy, With an Introduction by Frederick Engels, International Publishers: New York, 1969, pp. 129–30. According to Ronald Hamowy, Ferguson ‘can claim priority over Smith in offering, not an economic analysis of the question which was original with neither writer, but rather, the first methodological and penetrating sociological analysis, an analysis which was to have far-reaching consequences in intellectual history by contributing substantially to the sociological groundwork of Marxism’. R. Hamowy, ‘Adam Smith, Adam Ferguson and the Division of Labour’, Economica, Vol.35 (139), August, 1968, pp. 244–59, p. 259. Jack Barbalet identifies Ferguson as perhaps the most important precursor of ‘modern sociology in his explicit understanding of the social as distinct from the economic consequences of the division of labour and for his account of historic development’. J. M. Barbalet, Emotion, Social Theory and Social Structure, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998, pp.11–12. Though Rousseau had pre-empted Ferguson by canvassing the theme of alienation in his Discourse on the Origin of Inequality, the division of labour does not play as central a role in his account. Forbes, Introduction to Essay, p. xxxi.Google Scholar
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    Gumplowicz rated the Essay ‘the first natural history of society’. Strasser, Normative Structure of Sociology, p. 52. According to Ronald Meek ‘Adam Ferguson’s Essay....is undoubtedly one of the most notable works of the epoch. Original, subtle and provocatively complex, it is nowadays rightly regarded as one of the first important exercises in the field which modern sociologists have marked out as their own’. R. Meek, Social Science and the Ignoble Savage, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1976, p. 150. Similarly, Robert Bierstedt has described Ferguson’s sociological insights as a triumph ‘of major proportions’. Bierstedt,’ sociological Thought in the Eighteenth Century’, p. 29.Google Scholar
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    Barnes, ‘Sociology before Comte‘, p. 235; D. Macrae, ‘Adam Ferguson; Sociologist’, New Society, Vol. 24, 1966, 792–94 and by the same author, ‘Adam Ferguson’ in T. Raison, (ed.) The Founding Fathers of Social Science, London: Penguin Books, 1969, pp. 27–35. See also N. Waszek, Man’s Social Nature: A Topic of the Scottish Enlightenment in its Historical Setting, Frankfurt: Peter Lang, 1986, 141; Strasser, The Normative Structure of Sociology, p.52; A. Swingewood, ‘Origins of Sociology: The Case of the Scottish Enlightenment’ The British Journal of Sociology, Vol. 21, 1970, pp. 164–80; Lehmann, Adam Ferguson, passimGoogle 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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    ‘The more we examine the universe, the more we find everything to be governed by general laws...In the case of man, and all the animals, the good of every individual is not separately consulted, but the good of the species of every kind is at the same time provided for; and if it were otherwise, there could be no general laws by which men or beasts could regulate the actions’. Adam Ferguson, Principles of Moral and Political Science: Being Chiefly a Retrospect of Lectures Delivered in the College of Edinburgh, in Two Volumes, Edinburgh: Printed for A. Strahan and T. Cadell. London; and W. Creech, Edinburgh, 1792, (hereafter cited as P.I. or P.II.) p. 338.Google Scholar
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    Gladys Bryson, ‘Some Eighteenth Century Conceptions of Society’, pp. 405–6. Ferguson’s own definition of moral philosophy is ‘the knowledge of what ought to be, or the application of rules that ought to determine the choice of voluntary agents’. Adam Ferguson, Institutes of Moral Philosophy, New York: Garland Publishing Company, 1978, (hereafter cited as Institutes), p.11. William Lehmann agrees that Ferguson’s work is that of a moralist above all else. W.C. Lehmann, ‘Review of P. Salvucci’s’ Adam Ferguson: Sociologica e Filosofia Politica’, History and Theory, Vol. 13 (2), 1974, pp. 163–81, p. 173.Google Scholar
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    As John Brewer has observed ‘Ferguson, much more thoroughly than other Scots’ discusses ‘a range of social structural variables which are given explanatory status, visualising the social structure as an integrated unit with causal relations existing between its parts’. Brewer, ‘Adam Ferguson and the Division of Labour’, p. 27.Google Scholar
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    According to Phillipson, ‘[w]hat they sought was a language responsive to the economic, social and historical experience of provincial communities and realised that the virtue of a provincial citizen class was more likely to be released by economic and cultural institutions than by a national parliament remote from the provincial citizen’s world. And they warned that a polity that did not respect the independence of its provinces could not possibly be said to be free’. Phillipson, ‘The Scottish Enlightenment’, pp. 21–6.Google Scholar
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    According to Colin Kidd, Scotland’s Celtic identity had already been dealt a number of damaging ‘intellectual blows from which it never fully recovered’, among them, scholarly discreditations (since the mid sixteenth century) of its ‘ancient Dalriadic mythistoire’ and challenges to ‘the dating and authenticity of the regnal lists upon which the high antiquity of the Fergusian monarchy was based’. Colin Kidd, ‘Gaelic Antiquity and National Identity in Enlightenment Ireland and Scotland’, The English Historical Review, Vol. 109 (434) November 1994, pp. 1197–214, p. 1206.Google Scholar
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    Though, by Ferguson’s own account, he was not a true Highlander since Athole was on the Highland border, ‘barely within the limits at which Gaelic begins to be [the] vulgar tongue and where the mythology and tradition of the highlands were likely to be more faint than in the interior parts’. Letter to Henry Mackenzie, March 26, 1798, Adam Ferguson, The Correspondence of Adam Ferguson, Edited by V. Merolle with an Introduction by J.B. Fagg, in Three Volumes, London: William Pickering, 1995 (hereafter cited as Correspondence), No. 337, II. p. 430. In addition, while still a young boy he had been sent away to school. Jane Fagg, Biographical Introduction, Correspondence, I. pp. lxviii, lxxii. For more on Ferguson’s provincial identity see: Michael Kugler, ‘Provincial Intellectuals: Identity, Patriotism, and Enlightened Peripheries’, The Eighteenth Century: Theory and Interpretation, Vol. 37, 1996, pp. 156–73.Google Scholar
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    Luke Gibbons, ‘Ossian, Celticism and Colonialism’ in Terence Brown (ed) Celticism, Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1996, p. 284. But as Forbes rightly notes, ‘[t]here is no direct mention of the Highland clan in the Essay...The Highland inspiration is clothed in the fashionable garb; admiration of Sparta, the contrast between classical public spirit and modern selfishness, the appeal to the classics of modern anthropology, the manners of the American Indian, and so on’. Forbes, ‘Introduction’ to Essay, p. xxxix. Ferguson’s avoidance of references to Highland culture is likely traceable to a desire to forestall any interpretation of his nostalgia as harbouring Jacobite sympathies. For a general discussion of the historicity of Ossian see K.L. Haugan, ‘Ossian and the Invention of Textual History’, Journal of the History of Ideas, Vol. 58 (2) 1998, pp. 309–27. According to Nicholas Phillipson, ‘Ossian was the creation of a young, unscrupulous man, James Macpherson, who was sent to the highlanders by Alexander Carlyle, Adam Ferguson and their friends to discover the epic by a Celtic Homer that they were sure must exist. No such epic existed, but Macpherson was perfectly content to construct one out of the fragments of Celtic verse he had been able to find. His patrons provided him with money, a publisher and editorial assistance, and Hugh Blair wrote a brilliant, subtle and influential essay on Ossian which was to present the fictitious bard in the guise in which he was to appear to his readers on the Continent and in the Anglo-Saxon world for the next century’. Phillipson, ‘The Scottish Enlightenment’, p. 34. For Ferguson’s denial of any involvement in a ‘cheat’ regarding the authorship of the material see Letter to John Douglas July 21, 1781, Correspondence, No. 198, II. p. 288.Google Scholar
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