Scottish Enlightenment

The Scottish Enlightenment (Scots: Scots Enlichtenment, Scottish Gaelic: Soillseachadh na h-Alba) was the period in 18th- and early-19th-century Scotland characterised by an outpouring of intellectual and scientific accomplishments. By the eighteenth century, Scotland had a network of parish schools in the Lowlands and five universities. The Enlightenment culture was based on close readings of new books, and intense discussions took place daily at such intellectual gathering places in Edinburgh as The Select Society and, later, The Poker Club, as well as within Scotland's ancient universities (St Andrews, Glasgow, Edinburgh, King's College, and Marischal College).[1][2]

David Hume and Adam Smith on the Scottish National Portrait Gallery

Sharing the humanist and rational outlook of the Western Enlightenment of the same time period, the thinkers of the Scottish Enlightenment asserted the importance of human reason combined with a rejection of any authority that could not be justified by reason. In Scotland, the Enlightenment was characterised by a thoroughgoing empiricism and practicality where the chief values were improvement, virtue, and practical benefit for the individual and society as a whole.

Among the fields that rapidly advanced were philosophy, political economy, engineering, architecture, medicine, geology, archaeology, botany and zoology, law, agriculture, chemistry and sociology. Among the Scottish thinkers and scientists of the period were Joseph Black, Robert Burns, William Cullen, Adam Ferguson, David Hume, Francis Hutcheson, James Hutton, John Playfair, Thomas Reid, Adam Smith, and Dugald Stewart.

The Scottish Enlightenment had effects far beyond Scotland, not only because of the esteem in which Scottish achievements were held outside Scotland, but also because its ideas and attitudes were carried all over Great Britain and across the Western world as part of the Scottish diaspora, and by foreign students who studied in Scotland.