The Political Theory of the Scottish Enlightenment

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


This chapter offers a new overview of the Scottish Enlightenment political theory, deploying both classic and recent scholarship to delineate its canon, scope, major concerns, inner tensions and European contexts. Emphasis is placed on the major Scottish thinkers David Hume, Adam Smith, Adam Ferguson and others – who developed a profoundly novel vision of political thought itself as a vital political and moral act, and hence of their own historical agency. The chapter juxtaposes Scotland s historical uniqueness, its rich sources of inspiration, and its pioneering vantage points on modern society, economy and human autonomy. It traces the tensions between statehood and citizenship, law and civic alertness, commerce and virtue, unintended consequences and affective human volition. It is argued that, while mostly moderate in political temperament, the Scottish Enlightenment thus helped revolutionize political theory as well as practice.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Cambridge Companion to the Scottish Enlightenment, Second Edition
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages26
ISBN (Electronic)9781108355063
ISBN (Print)9781108420709
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2019

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019 Cambridge University Press.


  • Ferguson
  • Hume
  • Politics
  • Smith
  • citizen
  • civil society
  • commerce
  • republic
  • theory
  • unintended consequences

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Arts and Humanities


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