Skip to main content
  • Get access
    Check if you have access via personal or institutional login
  • Cited by 1
  • Cited by
    This chapter has been cited by the following publications. This list is generated based on data provided by CrossRef.

    Hanley, Christopher 2015. Neoliberalism, emotional experience in education and Adam Smith: readingThe theory of moral sentimentsalongsideThe wealth of nations. Journal of Educational Administration and History, Vol. 47, Issue. 2, p. 105.

  • Print publication year: 2003
  • Online publication date: May 2006

8 - The political theory of the Scottish Enlightenment


Scotland's singular voice within the polyphony of the European Enlightenment has attracted a great deal of debate. As historians attempt to weigh local varieties of Enlightenment, informed by disparate religious, political and cultural settings, against the transnational concerns and cosmopolitan aspirations of 'the' Enlightenment, Scotland posits a remarkable case in point. Scotland's European contexts have often been overlooked; by the same token, its distinct features can only be mapped against the contours of the European Enlightenment. David Hume, Adam Smith, William Robertson, John Millar and Adam Ferguson were subtle disciples of European intellectual traditions, and conversant with a range of Enlightenment cultures. At the same time, their writings convey a powerful sense of Scotland's incomparable position as a kingdom within the British union, set apart by its church and jurisprudence, and by its singular decision to trade sovereignty for empire. Nowhere is this apparent tension more pronounced than in the field of political theory.


Taken as a field of enquiry, politics is a conjuncture of mind-sets responding to contemporary political issues, critical perusals of intellectual traditions and cross-fermentation with other sciences. The balance between these elements may differ according to era and culture; but eighteenth-century Scottish thinkers were able to draw vigorously on all three sources of inspiration. Their political thought was accordingly shaped by three sets of problems: Scotland’s voluntary loss of sovereignty in an age when statehood and statecraft steadily gained importance; the need for a viable modern theory of politics amid clashing idioms of the good life and the good polity; and the tall order set by the natural sciences for standards of certainty, regularity and predictability in the study of human affairs.

Recommend this book

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this book to your organisation's collection.

The Cambridge Companion to the Scottish Enlightenment
  • Online ISBN: 9780511998638
  • Book DOI:
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to *