Method and Historiography

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


Civil Society Human Nature Eighteenth Century Social Contract Moral Philosophy 
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  1. 328.
    See, for example, P.I., p. 198.Google Scholar
  2. 329.
    Essay, pp. 8–9. See also ‘Of the Different Aspects of Moral Science’, Collection of Essays, No. 29, p. 251.Google Scholar
  3. 330.
    Institutes, p. 11. See also P.I., p. 5 and Barnes,’ sociology Before Comte’, p. 234.Google Scholar
  4. 331.
    P.I., p. 3.Google Scholar
  5. 332.
    P.I., p. 179. This was precisely Hutcheson’s approach. Francis Hutcheson, A System of Moral Philosophy, in Two Volumes, London: 1755, I: 1.Google Scholar
  6. 333.
    Essay, pp. 14–16. ‘To know human nature...we must avail ourselves not only of the consciousness...of a single mind, but, more at large also, of the varieties that are presented in the history of mankind’. P.I., p. 49.Google Scholar
  7. 334.
    ‘The physical laws of nature may be collected from a sufficient number of particulars, which, though differing in circumstances, and diversified in their appearances, suggest a general fact common to many bodies’. P.I., p. 115. Or ‘[a] physical law of nature is a general state of what is uniform or common in the order of things, and is addressed to the powers of perception and sagacity’. P.I., pp. 159–60.Google Scholar
  8. 335.
    Institutes pp. 78–9. The same strict distinction is made elsewhere: ‘We are not now inquiring what men ought to do, but what is the ordinary tract in which they proceed’. P.I., p. 263.Google Scholar
  9. 336.
    Essay, p. 16.Google Scholar
  10. 337.
    P.I., p. 5.Google Scholar
  11. 338.
    P.I., pp. 116–117; Smith, ‘The History of Astronomy’, in Adam Smith, Essays on Philosophical Subjects, I.S. Ross, (ed.), Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1980, pp. 97–105. For Ferguson’s general aversion to ‘hypothesis and vain conjecture’ see also Joseph Black, p. 111.Google Scholar
  12. 339.
    Institutes, II. 2. passim.Google Scholar
  13. 340.
    Essay, pp. 30–1.Google Scholar
  14. 341.
    Essay, p. 8.Google Scholar
  15. 342.
    P.I., p. 160.Google Scholar
  16. 343.
    See P.I., pp. 213, pp. 166–7.Google Scholar
  17. 344.
    Oz-Salzberger, Translating the Enlightenment, p. 111.Google Scholar
  18. 345.
    P.I., p. 118.Google Scholar
  19. 346.
    P.I., p. 218.Google Scholar
  20. 347.
    ‘Principle of Moral Estimation’, Collection of Essays, No. 25, p. 204.Google Scholar
  21. 348.
    For example: ‘It is well known that external expressions, whether of moral sentiment or devotion, in the manners or religious observances of men, are, like the words of their language, mere arbitrary signs which custom accordingly may alter: But the sentiments themselves...retain their distinctive quality under all the variations of their external expression’. P.I., p. 223. See also P.II., p. 142.Google Scholar
  22. 349.
    Essay, p. 94. For Ferguson’s brief excursus on ethnocentrism see Essay, pp. 194–5.Google Scholar
  23. 350.
    Ferguson notes for example, that a universalisable ‘moral science’ is achieved by ‘abstracting from local forms and observances’. P.II., p. 113.Google Scholar
  24. 351.
    Dugald Stewart agreed that the foundation of theoretical history is the study of the progress of the human mind. Mary Fearnley-Sander, ‘Philosophical History and the Scottish Reformation: William Robertson and the Knoxian Tradition’, The Historical Journal, Vol. 33(2), 1990, pp. 323–38, p. 325. For further discussion see Chapter Five.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. 352.
    This, at least, was how William Smellie defined it in his Encyclopaedia Britannica. F. Vidal, ‘Psychology in the Eighteenth Century: A View from Encyclopaedias’, History of the Human-Sciences, 1993, Vol. 6(1), pp. 89–119, pp. 95–6.Google Scholar
  26. 353.
    P.I., p. 49. P.I, p. 3–6. Not to be confused with Smith’s impartial spectator.Google Scholar
  27. 354.
    Phillipson, ‘The Scottish Enlightenment’, pp. 20–1.Google Scholar
  28. 355.
    Institutes, pp. 8–9. The existence of a ‘moral sense’ is, for example, an ‘ultimate fact in the constitution of our nature’. It is a ‘law’ because ‘uniform’ in its ‘operations’ and ‘nature’ but is, at the same time, in ‘no way susceptible of explanation or proof’. In the same way, the ‘laws of gravitation, cohesion, magnetism, electricity, fluidity [and] elasticity’ are also ultimate facts.. P.II., p. 128.Google Scholar
  29. 356.
    Essay, p. 29.Google Scholar
  30. 357.
    P.I., pp. 75–76.Google Scholar
  31. 358.
    Ferguson does admit that’ scepticism’ is useful for ‘restraining credulity’ which is ‘one species of error’. Nevertheless, ‘carried to extreme [it] would discourage the search of truth, suspend the progress of knowledge, and become a species of palsy of all the mental powers’. P.I., p. 91.Google Scholar
  32. 359.
    P.I., p. 198.Google Scholar
  33. 360.
    Essay, pp. 36–7. P.I., p. 320.Google Scholar
  34. 361.
    Ferguson admired Bacon profoundly. Institutes, p. xvii. By the 1730s Bacon’s science was an ‘integral part of the curriculum’ of all Scottish universities. Wood, ‘The Natural History of Man’, p. 90.Google Scholar
  35. 362.
    Forbes concludes: ‘It cannot be said of Vico, Mandeville, or Rousseau...nor can it be said of Hume’. ‘Introduction’ to Essay, p. xvi.Google Scholar
  36. 363.
    C. Fox, R. Porter and R. Wokler, Inventing Human Science: Eighteenth Century Domains, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995, p. 12. The story of Memmie la Blanche was made known in a book published in Edinburgh in 1762 (Account of a Savage Girl found in the Woods of Champagne, Edinburgh, 1762). Eriksson, ‘The First Formulation of Sociology’, p. 268. Ferguson was thus undoubtedly aware of the case.Google Scholar
  37. 364.
    Essay, p. 8. Montesquieu set the example for Ferguson here in his attempt to displace state of nature theories with the argument that principles of social order could only be deduced from social realities. Strasser, Normative Structure of Sociology, p. 42. Nevertheless his break with state of nature theories was never as decisive as Ferguson’s.Google Scholar
  38. 365.
    P.I., pp. 199. Hume also ridiculed the notion of a state of nature describing it as ‘a mere fiction, not unlike that of the golden age which poets have invented’. David Hume, A Treatise of Human Nature, Analytical Index by L.A. Selby-Bigge, Second Edition with Text Revised and Notes by P.H. Nidditch, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1976, 3. 2. 2, p. 493.Google Scholar
  39. 366.
    P.I., p. 5.Google Scholar
  40. 367.
    Rousseau, ‘Discourse on the Origin of Inequality’, in Social Contract and Discourses, p. 70.Google Scholar
  41. 368.
    Essay, p. 9.Google Scholar
  42. 369.
    P.I., pp. 268–9.Google Scholar
  43. 370.
    Essay, p.23:’ send him to the desert alone, he is a plant torn from its roots: the form indeed may remain, but every faculty droops and withers; the human personage and the human character cease to exist’.Google Scholar
  44. 371.
    Ted Benton, ‘How Many Sociologies?’, Sociological Review, Vol. 26, 1978, pp. 217–36, p. 226.Google Scholar
  45. 372.
    Essay, pp. 12–14. Hume was in complete agreement on this point. See Treatise, 3.2.1, p. 484.Google Scholar
  46. 373.
    ‘European, Samoide, Tartar, Hindoo, Negro and American’ are the six discrete ‘racial’ groups identified, though occasionally he seems to treat ‘Arab’ people as a distinct ‘racial’ group as well. Essay, pp. 106–18; Institutes, p. 20.Google Scholar
  47. 374.
    Essay, p. 9.Google Scholar
  48. 375.
    Lafitau is considered to be the ‘father of social anthropology’. Eriksson, ‘The First Formulation of Sociology’, p. 256.Google Scholar
  49. 377.
    Institutes, pp. 224–5. Humans are universally characterised as ‘being united in society, and concerned in what relates to their fellow-creatures’. They also ‘universally admire qualities which constitute or procure the good of mankind; as, wisdom, justice, courage and temperance’. Institutes, p. 38.Google Scholar
  50. 378.
    Essay, p. 10.Google Scholar
  51. 379.
    Bryson, Man and Society, p. 255.Google Scholar
  52. 380.
    Bryson, Man and Society, p. 51. Ferguson (over-generously) attributed to Montesquieu ‘the original of what I am now’. Essay, p. 66.Google Scholar
  53. 382.
    Chitnis, The Scottish Enlightenment, p. 95–6.Google Scholar
  54. 383.
    Montesquieu, Laws, 1. 1. 2., p. 6. Grotius also conceived human nature as the source of social laws and therefore order. ‘[T]he very nature of man’, he wrote, ‘is the mother of the law of nature’. Hugo Grotius, Prolegomena, to The Life and Works of Hugo Grotius, W.S.M. Knight, London: Sweet & Maxwell Ltd., 1925, Section 16.Google Scholar
  55. 384.
    Charles-Louis Montesquieu, Consideration of the Causes of the Greatness of the Romans and Their Decline, New York: David Lowenthal, 1969, Chapter xviii.Google Scholar
  56. 385.
    Salzberger, ‘Introduction’ to Essay, p. xiii.Google Scholar
  57. 386.
    Lehman, Adam Ferguson, p. 237.Google Scholar
  58. 387.
    Essay, pp. 7, 10–11.Google Scholar
  59. 388.
    Ronald Meek, Social Science and the Ignoble Savage, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1976, p. 35.Google Scholar
  60. 389.
    Millar, Origin of the Distinction of Ranks, p. 176.Google Scholar
  61. 390.
    Essay, pp. 80–105.Google Scholar
  62. 391.
    Even constitutions appropriate for the age are conceived teleologically: ‘The seeds of every form are lodged in human nature; they spring up and ripen with the season’. Essay, p. 120.Google Scholar
  63. 392.
    For a fuller discussion on the conjectural histories of other Scottish contemporaries see Christopher J. Berry, Social Theory of the Scottish Enlightenment, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1997, pp. 61–70.Google Scholar
  64. 393.
    Dugald Stewart, ‘Account of the Life and Writings of Adam Smith, LL D,’ I.S. Ross (ed.) in Adam Smith, Essays on Philosophical Subjects, W.P.D. Wightman and J.C. Bryce (eds), Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1980, pp. 292–3.Google Scholar
  65. 394.
    J. C. Wilsher, ‘Power Follows Property — Social and Economic Interpretations in British Historical Writing in the Eighteenth and Early Nineteenth Centuries’, Journal of Social History, Vol. 16, 1983, pp. 7–26, p. 10. In the absence of comparative data or direct evidence, reasonable conjecture is considered to be an acceptable substitute. This, at least, was Stewart’s view. Salim Rashid, The Myth of Adam Smith, Cheltenham: Edward Elgar, 1998, pp. 54–5.Google Scholar
  66. 395.
    Frederick J. Teggert, Theory of History, New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1925, p. 89, cited in Hamowy, Social and Political Thought of Adam Ferguson, p. 127.Google Scholar
  67. 396.
    Essay, p. 80.Google Scholar
  68. 397.
    Essay, p. 21. For John Brewer, Ferguson’s use of conjectural historiography represents a constraint on ‘his anticipation of nineteenth century sociology’ because ‘it led to a concern with the prospects of civil society which easily encouraged the use of civic humanist discourse’. Although I would argue that Ferguson’s concern with corruption inspired his most profoundly sociological observations, there is also merit in Brewer’s suggestion that ‘this alternative discourse pulls Ferguson back from expanding and developing’ them to their fullest potential. Brewer, ‘Adam Ferguson and the Division of Labour’, pp. 22–3.Google Scholar
  69. 398.
    Essay, pp. 78–80. As noted by K.E. Bock, ‘The Comparative Method of Anthropology’, Comparative Studies in Society and History, Vol. 8, 1965–6, pp. 269–280, p. 271.Google Scholar
  70. 399.
    Essay, p. 23.Google Scholar
  71. 400.
    R. Nisbet, History of the Idea of Progress, London: Heinemann, 1980, p. 149.Google Scholar
  72. 401.
    Rousseau, ‘Discourse on the Origin of Inequality’, in Social Contract and Discourses, p. 91.Google Scholar
  73. 402.
    ‘Our method, notwithstanding, too frequently is to rest the whole on conjecture; to impute every advantage of our own nature to those arts which we ourselves possess; and to imagine, that a mere negation of all our virtues is a sufficient description of man in his original state. We are ourselves the supposed standards of politeness and civilisation; and where our own features do not appear, we apprehend, that there is nothing which deserves to be known. But it is probable that here, as in many other cases, we are ill qualified, from our supposed knowledge of causes, to prognosticate effects, or to determine what must have been the properties and operations, even of our own nature, in the absence of those circumstances in which we have seen it engaged’. Essay, p. 75.Google Scholar
  74. 403.
    Whether there was to be a fourth stage is an open question. David Kettler’s assertion (Social and Political Thought of Adam Ferguson, p. 229) that Ferguson conceives ‘despotism’ as the fourth stage of history is questioned. Taxonomically speaking, despotism is not a developmental social stage, but a type of political constitution. Analysis, pp. 54–5. Ferguson outlines no fourth stage of history but this does not mean that he expected none, only that he avoided ‘vain conjecture.’ This misunderstanding may have arisen from the fact that Montesquieu (a key Fergusonian source) identified despotic rule as both a type of constitution and a developmental stage.Google Scholar
  75. 404.
    D. MacRae, ‘Adam Ferguson: Sociologist’, New Society, Vol. 24, 1966, pp. 792–4. For a further discussion of the stadial thesis see H. Hellenbrand, ‘Not to Destroy But to Fulfil: Jefferson, Indians and Republican Dispensation’, Seventeenth Century Studies, Vol. 18 (4), 1985, pp. 523–48; Meek, Social Science and the Ignoble Savage, p.154 and by the same author; ‘The Scottish Contribution to Marxist Sociology’, pp. 34–45 and 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.Google Scholar
  76. 405.
    J.G.A. Pocock, The Machiavellian Moment, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1975, p. 499.Google Scholar
  77. 406.
    See P.I., p. 252 where Ferguson makes explicit that his categories are not strictly economic.Google Scholar
  78. 407.
    For a short treatment of this discussion see: J.G.A. Pocock, Barbarism and Religion, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999, Vol. 2, pp. 335–7.Google Scholar
  79. 408.
    ‘The evolutionary assumption is explicit in the works of other Scottish colleagues of Ferguson — such as James Dunbar’s Essays on the History of Mankind in Rude and Cultivated Ages (1780) and John Logan’s Elements of the Philosophy of History (1781) — who treat of violence as the antithesis of civil society and assume, optimistically, that it is on the wane in modern civil societies’. Keane, Civil Society. Old Images, p. 119.Google Scholar
  80. 409.
    Pascal, ‘Property and Society’, p. 178; Hamowy, Spontaneous Order, p. 22; R. Meek,’ smith, Turgot and the ‘Four Stages’ Theory’, History of Political Economy, Vol. 1, 1971, pp. 9–27 and by the same author, ‘The Scottish Contribution to Marxist Sociology’, pp. 34–50; Swingewood, ‘Origins of Sociology’, p. 171.Google Scholar
  81. 410.
    Forbes, ‘Introduction’ to Essay, p. xxv.Google Scholar
  82. 411.
    For example, ‘[t]here is a principle of subordination in the difference of natural talents’ as well as in the adventitious ‘[mal]distribution of property, power and dependence’.’ separation of Departments’, Collection of Essays, No. 6, p. 143.Google Scholar
  83. 412.
    Essay, pp. 63–4. See also Forbes, Introduction to Essay, p. xxv. William Robertson also took the view that ‘there can be no Society, where there is no Subordination’. Cited in Daniele Francesconi, ‘William Robertson on Historical Causation and Unintended Consequences’, Cromohs, Vol. 4, 1999, pp. 1–18, p. 8. Note, incidentally, how Ferguson disagrees with Smith that people are born with equal talents. For Smith’s views here see An Inquiry Into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, R.H. Campbell, and A.S. Skinner, (eds), Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1979 (hereafter cited as WN), I.ii.4., p. 28.Google Scholar
  84. 413.
    Ferguson adds that it is only in the ‘Vices’ of sellers and hirers of labour that he finds cause for criticism. These vices are: ‘Envy and Rapacity on the part of the Poor, Arrogance and Licentiousness on the part of the rich’. ‘Of the Separation of Departments’, Collection of Essays, No. 15, p. 165.Google Scholar
  85. 415.
    Essay, p. 81.Google Scholar
  86. 416.
    As first noted by Duncan Forbes. ‘Introduction’ to Essay, p. xxv.Google Scholar
  87. 417.
    Essay, pp. 81–2.Google Scholar
  88. 418.
    Essay, p. 164.Google Scholar
  89. 419.
    D. Winch, ‘Adam Smith’s ‘Enduring Particular Result’’, in I. Hont, and M. Ignatieff, (eds), Wealth and Virtue, p. 259. For a further discussion of this debate see A. Skinner, ‘A Scottish Contribution to Marxist Sociology’, I. Bradly, and M. Howard, (eds), Classical and Marxian Political Economy: Essays in Honour of Ronald L. Meek, London: 1982, pp. 79–114 and Chapter 10 of this book.Google Scholar
  90. 420.
    Emile Durkheim, Montesquieu and Rousseau, Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1960, p. 12.Google Scholar
  91. 421.
    J. T. Valauri, ‘Social Order and the Limits of Law’, Duke Law Journal, Vol. 3(3), June, 1981, pp. 607–18, p. 610.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  92. 422.
    Forbes, ‘Introduction’ to Essay, p. xxiv. Millar also subscribed to this view. John Millar, The Origins of the Distinctions of Ranks, reprinted in W.C. Lehmann, John Millar of Glasgow 1733–1801, London: Cambridge University Press, 1960, pp. 177–8.Google Scholar
  93. 423.
    Essay, p. 162.Google Scholar
  94. 424.
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  95. 425.
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  96. 426.
    P.I., pp. 283, 42.Google Scholar
  97. 427.
    Essay, pp. 162. Hume argues along similar lines in one of his essays that real advances are social products while ‘what depends upon a few persons is, in great measure, to be ascribed to chance’. Moreover, socially produced changes are always the more sensible and are better suited to existing conditions whereas the innovations of’ single persons...are more influenced by whim, folly, or caprice than by general passions or interests’. Hume, ‘The Rise of Arts and Sciences’, Essays, p. 112.Google Scholar
  98. 428.
    Essay, pp. 162–3.Google Scholar
  99. 429.
    Forbes, ‘Introduction’ to Essay, p. xxiv. James Burnett (Lord Monboddo) was also a proponent of this view. J. Gascoigne, ‘The Wisdom of the Egyptians’, in S. Gaukroger, ed., The Uses of Antiquity, p. 204. So was Rousseau. ‘Discourse on the Moral Effects of the Arts and Sciences’, p. 8 and ‘Discourse on Inequality’, pp. 61–2, in Social Contract and Discourses.Google Scholar
  100. 430.
    Many eighteenth century Deists also held to the diffusionist thesis. R. Emerson, ‘Peter Gay and the Heavenly City’, Journal of the History of Ideas, Vol. 28,(3), 1967, pp. 383–402, p. 391. For further discussion see M. Bernal, Black Athena, London: Free Association Books, 1987, Vol. 1, pp. 121–60.Google Scholar
  101. 431.
    Essay, p. 121.Google Scholar
  102. 432.
    Smith, WN. I. IV. v.b.43. p. 540.Google Scholar
  103. 433.
    Montesquieu, Laws, 3. 19. 5. p. 310.Google Scholar
  104. 434.
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  105. 435.
    Essay, p. 120.Google Scholar
  106. 436.
    Smith, TMS, p. 234. Hume likewise rejected all large-scale ‘plans of government’ such as Plato’s Republic and Thomas More’s Utopia as ‘plainly imaginary’. But he made an exception in the case of Harrington’s ‘Commonwealth of Oceana’, which he described as ‘the only valuable model of a commonwealth, that has yet been offered to the public’. Hume,‘Idea of a Perfect Commonwealth’, Essays, p. 514.Google Scholar
  107. 437.
    John Millar, An Historical View of the English Government from the Settlement of the Saxons in Britain to the Accession of the House of Stuart, Four Volumes, Glasgow: 1787–1803, III., p. 329.Google Scholar
  108. 438.
    Gilbert Stuart, A View of Society in Europe, Edinburgh: Bell and Murray, 1778, pp. 54–5.Google Scholar
  109. 439.
    Hume, Treatise, II. iii, p. 486.Google Scholar
  110. 440.
    P.II., pp. 511–12.Google Scholar
  111. 441.
    As also noted by Lehmann, Adam Ferguson, pp. 247–8.Google Scholar

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