Reading Ferguson

Part of the International Archives of the History of Ideas / Archives internationales d’histoire des idées book series (ARCH, volume 191)


Eighteenth Century Social Contract Moral Philosophy French Revolution Civic Virtue 
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  1. 139.
    Oz-Salzberger, Introduction to Essay, pp. xvi–xvii.Google Scholar
  2. 140.
    For a discussion here see Fagg, Biographical Introduction, p. cv, note 116.Google Scholar
  3. 141.
    Patrick Ferguson was the son of Ann Murray and James Ferguson of Pitfour. Fagg, Biographical Introduction, p. xcviii.Google Scholar
  4. 142.
    For example, there were six editions of the Essay and it was translated into French, German, Swedish, Russian and Italian. Fagg, Biographical Introduction, p. xl. For a detailed commentary on Ferguson’s various publishing successes see ibid, passim and also by the same author: Adam Ferguson: Scottish Cato, Unpublished Doctoral Dissertation, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 1968.Google Scholar
  5. 143.
    First by Winifred Philip, The Unpublished Essays of Adam Ferguson, in 3 Vols, Edited and Published Privately, Argull: 1986, and more recently by Yasuo Amoh. Adam Ferguson, Collection of Essays, Edited and with an Introduction by Yasuo Amoh, Kyoto: Rinsen Book Co., 1996.Google Scholar
  6. 144.
    The essays lack dates but watermarks from the paper used indicate that they were written between 1799 and 1808. Amoh, ‘Introduction’ to Adam Ferguson, Collection of Essays, p. xviii.Google Scholar
  7. 145.
    In fact, Ferguson assisted Smith in the task of burning his unpublished manuscripts and papers. V. Merolle, ‘Preface’ to Adam Ferguson, Correspondence, Vol. 1, p. x.Google Scholar
  8. 146.
    See Correspondence, Volumes 1 and 2. Papers not reproduced in this and Amoh’s collection of essays are held in the MS collection at the University of Edinburgh library. The most consequential of these are his lecture notes.Google Scholar
  9. 147.
    Sher suggests that Ferguson’s enthusiasm for Reid and common sense philosophy in the Principles was not present in his other works. R.B. Sher, Church and University in the Scottish Enlightenment, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1985, p.313. But as early as the Essay, Ferguson indicates that his research is being conducted on common sense principles. See, for example, Essay, p. 8. Forbes thinks that Ferguson may have re-thought his position on the myth of the Great Legislator in his later work, the History. Introduction to Essay. p. xxiv. Although it is true that Ferguson refers in this work to particular ‘persons on whom the fate of the Roman empire was to depend’ this is probably more a by-product of its being a standard ‘Kings and Queens’ history than anything else. Adam Ferguson, The History of the Progress and Termination of the Roman Republic, London: Jones and Company, 1834 edition, (hereafter cited as History), p. 110. In any case, there are still signs of Ferguson’s continuing commitment to the idea in that work. See, for example, History, pp. 12, 419, 449. Ferguson also remains committed in this later work to the belief elaborated in his earlier work that historical progress is, by and large, asymptotic. History, p. 170.Google Scholar
  10. 148.
    Charles Camic, Experience and Enlightenment; Socialisation for Cultural Change in Eighteenth Century Scotland, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1983, pp. 55–6.Google Scholar
  11. 149.
    Kettler, Social and Political Thought of Adam Ferguson, p. 7.Google Scholar
  12. 151.
    As pointed out by John Brewer. ‘Conjectural History, Sociology and Social Change’, p. 18.Google Scholar
  13. 152.
    See Pascal, ‘Property and Society’, pp.174–5; D. Kettler, ‘Ferguson’s Principles; Constitution in Permanence’, Studies in Burke and His Time, Vol 19, 1978, pp. 208–22, p. 209; Lois Whitney, Primitivism and the Idea of Progress, Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Press, 1934, p.153.Google Scholar
  14. 153.
    As Thomas Schofield has noted: ‘The commencement of the French revolution was greeted among governing circles in Britain with a mixture of surprise, regret and self-satisfaction, but not hostility’. Schofield, ‘Conservative Political Thought in Britain’, p. 602.Google Scholar
  15. 154.
    The revolutionaries were’ struck with democracy as with a Spark of Electricity or a Stroke of Lightening and have continued charged even since’. Letter to Alexander Carlyle, October 2, 1797, Correspondence, No. 332, II, p. 423.Google Scholar
  16. 155.
    Letter to John Mcpherson, January 19, 1790, No. 265, Correspondence, II, p. 337; Kettler, Social and Political Thought of Adam Ferguson, p. 94.Google Scholar
  17. 156.
    Oz-Salzberger, Translating the Enlightenment, p. 104.Google Scholar
  18. 157.
    Letter to John Macpherson, July 31, 1790, Correspondence, No. 269, II, p. 340.Google Scholar
  19. 158.
    ‘Of the French Revolution with its Actual and Still Impending Consequences in Europe’, Collection of Essays, No. 14, p. 134.Google Scholar
  20. 159.
    Letter to John Macpherson, July 15, 1799, Correspondence, No. 354,II. p. 455.Google Scholar
  21. 160.
    ‘Of the French Revolution with its Actual and Still Impending Consequences in Europe’, Collection of Essays, No. 14, pp. 134–5.Google Scholar
  22. 161.
    Kettler, Social and Political Thought of Adam Ferguson, p. 94; Letter to John Macpherson, March 1796, Correspondence, No. 308, II. pp. 384–5.Google Scholar
  23. 162.
    Letter to Alexander Carlyle, November 23, 1796, Correspondence, II, No. 322, p. 408. The French army ‘must have foreign Ennemies to devour or will devour at home’. Letter to John Mcpherson, September 26, 1797, Correspondence, II, No. 331, p. 420.Google Scholar
  24. 163.
    Letter to Alexander Carlyle, November 23, 1796, Correspondence, No. 322,I, p. 408. Nevertheless he declared himself impressed by Bonaparte’s institution of the Legion of Honour ‘[a]s a proper incentive system for all military establishments, including the British‘. Fagg, Biographical Introduction, Correspondence, I, p. lxxxii. See Letter to Henry Dundas, August 2, 1802, Correspondence, No. 369, pp. 480–1.Google Scholar
  25. 164.
    Institutes, pp. 272–3.Google Scholar
  26. 165.
    Letter to Henry MacKenzie, 26 March, 1798, Correspondence, No. 337,II, pp. 430–1.Google Scholar
  27. 166.
    Though it should be noted that Ferguson’s attitude to rapid reform and the ‘overthrow’ of institutions was always negative. See, for example, Institutes, pp. 293–4. Ferguson was not the only British thinker whose enthusiasm for republicanism was dampened by the American and French revolutions. According to Mark Philp, these events ‘anathematised republican rhetoric’ and ‘locked the British state into a dogged resistance to popular participation’. Mark Philp, ‘English Republicanism in the 1790s’, The Journal of Political Philosophy, Vol. 6 (30), 1998, pp. 235–62, p. 270.Google Scholar
  28. 167.
    See, for example, Willke, The Historical Thought of Adam Ferguson, passim. David Kettler notes that ‘Ferguson never changed the general tendency of his opinions’. Social and Political Thought of Adam Ferguson, p.153. According to Lois Whitney, Ferguson’s commitment to the conception of a ‘great chain of being’ is present in all his works, including the last. Whitney, Primitivism and the Idea of Progress, pp.150–1.Google Scholar
  29. 168.
    Smith, The Political Philosophy of Adam Ferguson, pp. 24–5.Google Scholar
  30. 169.
    P.I., p. 8; Essay, p. 66.Google Scholar
  31. 170.
    Bryson, Man and Society, pp. 41–2.Google Scholar
  32. 171.
    Institutes, pp. 2–3.Google Scholar
  33. 172.
    Essay, p. 21.Google Scholar
  34. 173.
    P.I., p. 174Google Scholar
  35. 174.
    P I., pp. 7–8. It was Kettler who first noted this ‘patchwork’ effect. The Social and Political Thought of Adam Ferguson, p. 7.Google Scholar
  36. 175.
    Smith, The Political Philosophy of Adam Ferguson, p. 13.Google Scholar
  37. 176.
    P.I., p. 312.Google Scholar
  38. 177.
    Jean Willke, The Historical Thought of Adam Ferguson, Unpublished Doctoral Dissertation, Washington D.C: The Catholic University of America, 1962, p. 223.Google Scholar
  39. 178.
    See, for example, Bernstein, ‘Ferguson and Progress’, p. 100; Kettler, Social and Political Thought of Adam Ferguson, p. 293 and ‘Constitution in Permanence’, p.213; Charles Camic refers to Ferguson’s ‘conflicting commitments’ (Camic, Experience and Enlightenment, p. 54) while Kettler, with specific reference to the progress/decline issue, argues that Ferguson’s response ‘could in no way be seen to form part of a coherent pattern of ideas’. Social and Political Thought of Adam Ferguson, p. 222.Google Scholar
  40. 179.
    P.I. p. viii.Google Scholar
  41. 180.
    Willke, The Historical Thought of Adam Ferguson, p. 228.Google Scholar
  42. 181.
    See, for example, P.I., pp. 7–8. Norbert Waszek rightly notes that Ferguson’s Stoicism follows the Roman accretions. N. Waszek, Mans Social Nature, pp. 154–5. See also J. Small, ‘Biographical Sketch of Adam Ferguson’, Edinburgh Review, Vol.75 (255), 1867, pp. 48–85; Lawrence Castiglione, ‘Introduction’ to the 1973 reprint of Principles of Moral and Political Science, New York: AMS Press Incorporated, 1973; Kettler, ‘Constitution in Permanence‘, p. 211 and by the same author, Social and Political Thought of Adam Ferguson, pp. 141, 156, 182.Google Scholar
  43. 182.
    In the Principles, Ferguson cites Marcus Aurelius and Epictetus as the finest expositors ever of religious piety, noting that’ such sentiments of a sublime religion may be justly considered as the highest attainments of created intelligence’. Marcus is judged to have attained a species of ‘god-like eminence’. P.I., pp. 312, 331–2. Though Ferguson singled out Marcus and Epictetus particularly, he admired all the Stoic philosophers. An awareness of Stoicism probably came to Ferguson via Shaftesbury and Hutcheson. while Montesquieu’s fondness for Stoicism undoubtedly reinforced his attraction to its teachings. Montesquieu, Laws, 5. 24. 10, pp. 465–466. Ferguson wrote that ‘this sect has been revered by those who were acquainted with its real spirit, Lord Shaftesbury, Montesquieu...Mr. Hutchison (sic) and many others’. P.I., p. 8. Although Ferguson’s most admired mentors were disciples of Stoicism, the particular variation he proffers is his alone.Google Scholar
  44. 183.
    P.I., p. 8Google Scholar
  45. 184.
    To his friend, George Dempster, he was known as ‘my modern Epictetus’. Fagg, Adam Ferguson: Scottish Cato, p. 264.Google Scholar
  46. 185.
    See Waszek, Man’s Social Nature, Chapter 4, and, by the same author, ‘Two Concepts of Morality: The Distinction of Adam Smith’s Ethics and its Stoic Origin’, Journal of the History of Ideas, Vol. 44(4), 1984, pp. 591–606. See also MacFie and Raphael, Introduction to TMS, pp. 5–10. I have suggested elsewhere that Smith was far less the Stoic than Ferguson. Hill, ‘Ferguson and Smith on Human Nature‘, passim.Google Scholar
  47. 186.
    M.A. Stewart, ‘The Origins of the Scottish Greek Chairs’, in Owls to Athens: Essays on Classical Subjects, E.M. Craik (ed), Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1990, p. 399 and, by the same author, M. A. Stewart, ‘The Stoic Legacy in the Early Scottish Enlightenment’, in M.J. Osler (ed), Atoms, Pneuma and Tranquillity, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991. See also Sher, Church and University, esp. Chapter 8 and Waszek, Man’s Social Nature, passim.Google Scholar
  48. 187.
    Maxwell Staniforth, ‘Introduction’ to Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, Translated and with an Introduction by Maxwell Staniforth, London: Penguin, 1964, p. 21.Google Scholar
  49. 188.
    Staniforth, ‘Introduction to Meditations’, pp. 23–6.Google Scholar
  50. 189.
    D.D. Raphael and A. Macfie, Introduction to TMS, pp. 6–7.Google Scholar
  51. 190.
    Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 9.1. p. 137.Google Scholar
  52. 191.
    Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 11.4. p. 166.Google Scholar
  53. 192.
    Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 9.42, p. 149.Google Scholar
  54. 193.
    P.I., pp. 312–13.Google Scholar
  55. 194.
    As A.A. Long has argued,’ stoic determinism does not exclude a coherent theory of voluntary human action [or] moral responsibility’. ‘Freedom and Determinism in the Stoic Theory of Human Action’, in A. A. Long, (ed.), Problems in Stoicism, London: The Althone Press, 1971, p. 174.Google Scholar
  56. 195.
    Passmore, Perfectibility of Man, p. 57. Epictetus, Enchiridion, translated by George Long, New York: Prometheus Books, 1991, 5. p. 14.Google Scholar
  57. 196.
    Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 9.5. p. 139; Philip Noyen, ‘Marcus Aurelius: The Greatest Practitioner of Stoicism’, Antiquite Classique, Vol.24, 1955, pp. 372–83, p. 378. See also, Epictetus, Discourses as Reported by Arrian, the Manual and Fragments, with an English translation by W.A. Oldfather in 2 Vols, London: Harvard University Press, 1989, 2.10. 1–2, p. 275 and Lisa Hill, ‘The First Wave of Feminism: Were the Stoics Feminists?’, History of Political Thought, Vol. 22 (1) 2001, pp. 12–40.Google Scholar
  58. 197.
    Epictetus, Discourses, 2.23. 36–40, p. 417.Google Scholar
  59. 198.
    M. Griffin, Seneca, A Philosopher in Politics, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1976, p. 331.Google Scholar
  60. 199.
    Cosmopolitai were generally regarded as a link between the immediate community and the wider world due to the fact that they appeared to be ‘unusually resilient and self controlled, unusually independent of immediate social approval because they were understood to have a special insight into the laws of the cosmos’. S.R.L. Clarke, ‘The City of the Wise’, Apeiron, Vol. 20(1), 1987, pp. 63–80, p. 74.Google Scholar
  61. 200.
    Cicero, De Finibus Bonorum et Malorum, with an English translation by H. Rackham, London, William Heinemann Ltd, 1961, III. p. 68.Google Scholar
  62. 201.
    Epictetus, Discourses, 2.10. 7–13. p. 277.Google Scholar
  63. 202.
    For a fuller discussion see Lisa Hill, ‘The Two Republicae of the Roman Stoics’, Citizenship Studies, Vol. 4(1) 2000, pp. 65–79.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. 203.
    Epictetus, Discourses, 2.10. 7–13. p. 277.Google Scholar
  65. 204.
    E.V. Arnold, Roman Stoicism, New York: The Humanities Press, 1958, p. 305.Google Scholar
  66. 205.
    Christopher Gill, ‘Personhood and Personality: The Four Personae Theory in Cicero, De Officiis I’, Oxford Studies in Ancient Philosophy, Vol. 6, 1988, pp. 169–200, p. 175.Google Scholar
  67. 206.
    I. Xenakis, Epictetus Philosopher-Therapist, Martinus Nijhoff, The Hague, 1969, p. 126. For a fuller discussion of this point see also Hill, ‘The Two Republicae of the Roman Stoics’.Google Scholar
  68. 207.
    For examples of Ferguson’s unreserved praise for Newton see, P.I. pp. 200, 312.Google Scholar
  69. 208.
    For Ferguson’s profound admiration of Montesquieu see, for example, Essay, p. 66 and ‘Biographical Account of the late Dr. Joseph Black’, Royal Society of Edinburgh Transactions, Edinburgh, Vol. V. (3), 1801, (hereafter referred to as ‘Dr. Black’) pp.101–117, p. 102. For more details on Ferguson’s debt to Montesquieu see Chapters 4 and 9.Google Scholar
  70. 209.
    P.I., p. 8.Google Scholar
  71. 210.
    Hutcheson translated the Meditations into English. Sher, Church and University, p.118. Shaftesbury was well acquainted with the work of both Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius. W.A.Oldfather, ‘Introduction to Epictetus’, in Epictetus, Discourses, p. xxviii. Ferguson shared with Hutcheson a desire to ‘mould teenage boys’ in the principles of moderate Christianity and Stoicism. R.B. Sher, ‘Professors of Virtue: The Social History of the Edinburgh Moral Philosophy Chair in the Eighteenth Century’, in M.A. Stewart. (ed.), Studies in the Philosophy of the Scottish Enlightenment, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1990, p.119.Google Scholar
  72. 211.
    For further discussion of Hutcheson’s theodicy, see James Moore, ‘Hutcheson’s Theodicy: The Argument and the Contexts of A System of Moral Philosophy’, in The Scottish Enlightenment, Paul Wood, (ed.), Rochester: University of Rochester Press, 2000. The theodicies of Shaftesbury and Gottfried Leibniz would also have been influences difficult for Ferguson to avoid.Google Scholar
  73. 212.
    See Kettler, Social and Political Thought of Adam Ferguson, p. 7; J.G.A. Pocock, The Machiavellian Moment, Princeton: Princeton Univesity Press, 1975, pp. 499–500; Willke, The Historical Thought of Adam Ferguson, p.226; Smith, Adam Ferguson, p. 391; Forbes, ‘Introduction’ to Essay, pp. xxviii, xxxi.Google Scholar
  74. 213.
    For a rare exception see History, p. 4.Google Scholar
  75. 214.
    For Ferguson’s disapproval of Mandeville see Essay, pp. 36–7 and ‘Principle of Moral Estimation’, Collection of Essays, No. 25, p. 231.Google Scholar
  76. 215.
    Duncan Forbes, ‘Scientific Whiggism: Adam Smith and John Millar’, Cambridge Journal, Vol. 6, 1954, pp. 643–70, p. 660. Montesquieu does, in fact, acknowledge Machiavelli on one occasion as a ‘great man’. Laws, 1. 6. 5, p. 77. Yet on a second occasion he refers to ‘Machiavellianism’ disparagingly. Laws, 4. 20, p. 389. For remarks on the relationship of Machiavelli to Montesquieu see William Mullen, ‘Republics for Expansion: The School of Rome’, Arion, Vol. 3, 1976, pp. 298–364.Google Scholar
  77. 216.
    Essay, pp. 116, 11. On the belief that Ferguson failed to acknowledge agreement with Rousseau on any point, John Bernstein has rejected the likelihood of Rousseau’s having influenced him. J.A. Bernstein, ‘Adam Ferguson and the Idea of Progress’, Studies in Burke and His Time, 19 (2), 1978, pp. 99–118.Google Scholar
  78. 218.
    See Rousseau, ‘Discourse on the Origin of Inequality’, in Social Contract and Discourses, p. 57.Google Scholar
  79. 219.
    For example, following Montesquieu, Rousseau argued that ‘the wise legislator does not begin by laying down laws good in themselves, but by investigating the fitness of the people, for which they are destined, to receive them. Rousseau, Social Contract, p.17 and also pp. 250–5.Google Scholar
  80. 220.
    K. F. Roche, Rousseau: Stoic and Romantic, London: Methuen, 1974.Google Scholar
  81. 221.
    As did all the other major figures of the Scottish Enlightenment. Rousseau, ‘Discourse on the Origin of Inequality’, in Social Contract and Discourses, p. 118.Google Scholar
  82. 222.
    Rousseau, Social Contract, pp. 219–21.Google Scholar
  83. 223.
    Rousseau, Social Contract, pp. 263–4.Google Scholar
  84. 224.
    Rousseau, A Discourse on Political Economy, in Social Contract and Discourses, pp. 157, 158.Google Scholar
  85. 225.
    ‘This alienation or self-estrangement theme is found earlier than Ferguson’s Essay, in Rousseau’s Discourse on the Origin of Inequality, but in Ferguson, the treatment is different’ due to an emphasis on the division of labour which is lacking in Rousseau. Forbes, ‘Introduction’ to Essay, p. xxxi.Google Scholar
  86. 226.
    Rousseau, Social Contract, pp. 265–6.Google Scholar
  87. 227.
    According to Anand Chitnis: ‘There were primarily five literati who dominated the social philosophy of their age...David Hume, Adam Smith, William Robertson, Adam Ferguson, and John Millar’. Anand Chitnis, The Scottish Enlightenment, London: Croom Helm Ltd., 1976, p. 92.Google Scholar
  88. 228.
    For example, John Bernstein suggests that Ferguson was ‘too unsystematic as a philosopher of history for anyone else to be able to systematise perceptions he left disjointed and hard to reconcile with one another’. Bernstein, ‘Adam Ferguson and the Idea of Progess’, p.100.Google Scholar
  89. 229.
    Kettler, The Social and Political Thought of Adam Ferguson, p. 293, and, by the same author; ‘Constitution in Permanence’, p. 209, pp.221–2; K.G. Ballestrem,’ sources of the Materialist Conception of History in the History of Ideas’, Studies in Soviet Thought, Vol. 26 (1) 1983, pp. 3–9, p. 7; Camic, Experience and Enlightenment, pp. 54–5.Google Scholar
  90. 230.
    Smith, The Political Philosophy of Adam Ferguson, p. 35.Google Scholar
  91. 231.
    History, pp. 169–70. For further discussion see Sher, Church and University, p.180.Google Scholar
  92. 232.
    See, for example, Institutes, pp. 137–9, P.II., pp. 3–5.Google Scholar
  93. 233.
    Smith, The Political Philosophy of Adam Ferguson, p. 35. For Waszek, Ferguson’s thought is ‘directed towards the intellectual past [but] is [also] highly original and points towards the future’ in exploring what happens to community under the stress of modernity. Man’s Social Nature, p.140.Google Scholar
  94. 234.
    Bryson, Man and Society, pp. 30–52. Bryson is correct in saying that Ferguson is concerned with a similar’ set of ideas’ as his Scottish contemporaries but overlooks that his manner of dealing with those same ideas is often distinct. Jane Fagg, Ferguson’s biographer, likewise submits that ‘Ferguson was typical of the literati... only [his] work in America with the Carlisle Peace Commission, his birth on the borders of the highlands, and his ability to speak Gaelic set him apart’. Fagg, Adam Ferguson: Scottish Cato, pp. 333–4. See also Lehmann, Adam Ferguson, p. 235; A. Silver, ‘Friendship in Commercial Society: Eighteenth-Century Social Theory and Modern Sociology’, American Journal of Sociology, Vol. 95 (6), pp. 1474–1504, 1990, p.1481; and Pascal, ‘Herder and the Scottish Historical School’, p. 27.Google Scholar
  95. 235.
    See, for example, ‘Principle of Moral Estimation’, Collection of Essays, No. 25, passim, which features a critique of Smith’s and Hume’s ethics. For a discussion of Ferguson’s main points of disagreement with Hume see Institutes, p.156 and Kettler, The Social and Political Thought of Adam Ferguson p. 453.Google Scholar

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