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Adam Ferguson.

Adam Ferguson, also known as Ferguson of Raith (20 June 1723 (O.S.) (July 1, N.S.) - 22 February 1816) was a philosopher and historian of the Scottish Enlightenment. He is sometimes called "the father of modern sociology."[1]

Contents

Life

Born at Logierait in Atholl, Perthshire, Scotland, he received his education at Perth grammar school and at the University of St Andrews. In 1745, owing to his knowledge of Gaelic, he gained appointment as deputy chaplain of the 43rd (afterwards the 42nd) regiment (the Black Watch), the licence to preach being granted him by special dispensation, although he had not completed the required six years of theological study.

It remains a matter of debate as to whether, at the Battle of Fontenoy (1745), Ferguson fought in the ranks throughout the day, and refused to leave the field, though ordered to do so by his colonel. Nevertheless, he certainly did well, becoming principal chaplain in 1746. He continued attached to the regiment till 1754, when, disappointed at not obtaining a living, he left the clergy and resolved to devote himself to literary pursuits.

After residing in Leipzig for a time, he returned to Edinburgh where in January 1757 he succeeded David Hume as librarian to the Faculty of Advocates (see Advocates' Library), but soon relinquished this office on becoming tutor in the family of the Earl of Bute. In 1759 Ferguson became professor of natural philosophy in the University of Edinburgh, and in 1764 transferred to the chair of "pneumatics" (mental philosophy) "and moral philosophy."

In 1767, against David Hume's advice, he published his Essay on the History of Civil Society, which was well received and translated into several European languages. In the mid 1770s he travelled again to the Continent and met Voltaire. His membership of The Poker Club is recorded in its Minute Book of 1776.

Ferguson.

In 1776 appeared his (anonymous) pamphlet on the American Revolution in opposition to Dr Richard Price's Observations on the Nature of Civil Liberty, in which he sympathised with the views of the British legislature. In 1778 Ferguson was appointed secretary to the Carlisle commission which endeavoured, but without success, to negotiate an arrangement with the revolted colonies.

In 1783 appeared his History of the Progress and Termination of the Roman Republic; it became very popular, and went through several editions. Ferguson believed that the history of the Roman Republic during the period of their greatness formed a practical illustration of those ethical and political doctrines which he studied especially. The history reads well and impartially, and displays conscientious use of sources. The influence of the author's military experience shows itself in certain portions of the narrative. Tired of teaching, he resigned his professorship in 1785, and devoted himself to the revision of his lectures, which he published (1792) under the title of Principles of Moral and Political Science.

In his seventieth year, Ferguson, intending to prepare a new edition of the history, visited Italy and some of the principal cities of Europe, where he was received with honour by learned societies. From 1795 he resided successively at the old castle of Neidpath near Peebles, at Hallyards on Manor Water and at St Andrews, where he died on 22 February 1816.

Thought

In his ethical system Ferguson treats man as a social being, illustrating his doctrines by political examples. As a believer in the progression of the human race, he placed the principle of moral approbation in the attainment of perfection. Victor Cousin criticised Ferguson's speculations (see his Cours d'histoire de la philosophie morale an dix-huitième siècle, pt. II., 1839-1840):

"We find in his method the wisdom and circumspection of the Scottish school, with something more masculine and decisive in the results. The principle of perfection is a new one, at once more rational and comprehensive than benevolence and sympathy, which in our view places Ferguson as a moralist above all his predecessors."

By this principle Ferguson attempted to reconcile all moral systems. With Thomas Hobbes and Hume he admits the power of self-interest or utility, and makes it enter into morals as the law of self-preservation. Francis Hutcheson's theory of universal benevolence and Adam Smith's idea of sympathy he combines under the law of society. But, as these laws appear as the means rather than the end of human destiny, they remain subordinate to a supreme end, and the supreme end of perfection.

In the political part of his system Ferguson follows Montesquieu, and pleads the cause of well-regulated liberty and free government. His contemporaries, with the exception of Hume, regarded his writings as of great importance, but he made minimal original contributions. (see Sir Leslie Stephen, English Thought in the Eighteenth Century, x. 89-90). His work was especially influential for German writers, such as Hegel and Marx.

Main works by Adam Ferguson

- Reprinted in 1995 with a new introduction by Louis Schneider. Transaction Publishers, London, 1995.

Notes

  1. ^ Willcox, William Bradford; Arnstein, Walter L. (1966). The Age of Aristocracy, 1688 to 1830. Volume III of A History of England, edited by Lacey Baldwin Smith (Sixth Edition, 1992 ed.). Lexington, MA. p. 133. ISBN 0-669-24459-7.  

Bibliography

External links

References

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Quotes

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

Adam Ferguson (1723 – 1816) was a Scottish moral philosopher and historian.

Sourced

An Essay on the History of Civil Society, Eighth Edition

  • The attainments of the parent do not descend in the blood of his children, nor is the progress of man to be considered as a physical mutation of the species.
    • PART I, SECTION I
  • Love is an affection which carries the attention of the mind beyond itself, and is the sense of a relation to some fellow creature as to its object.
    • PART I, SECTION II
  • Mankind have always wandered or settled, agreed or quarrelled, in troops and companies.
    • PART I, SECTION III
  • We are fond of distinctions; we place ourselves in opposition, and quarrel under the denominations of faction and party, without any material subject of controversy.
    • PART I, SECTION IV
  • Men are to be estimated, not from what they know, but from what they are able to perform
    • PART I, SECTION V
  • The history of mankind is confined within a limited period, and from every quarter brings an intimation that human affairs have had a beginning.
    • PART II, SECTION I
  • Man, in his animal capacity, is qualified to subsist in every climate.
    • PART III, SECTION I
  • …if we intend to pursue the history of our species in its further attainments, we may soon enter on subjects which will confine our observation to more narrow limits. The genius of political wisdom and civil arts appears to have chosen his seats in particular tracts of the earth, and to have selected his favourites in particular races of men.
    • PART III, SECTION I
  • Every step and every movement of the multitude, even in what are termed enlightened ages, are made with equal blindness to the future; and nations stumble upon establishments, which are indeed the result of human action, but not the execution of any human design.
    • PART III, SECTION II
  • In every commercial state, notwithstanding any pretension to equal rights, the exaltation of a few must depress the many.
    • PART IV, SECTION II

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1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

ADAM FERGUSON (1723-1816), Scottish philosopher and historian, was born on the 20th of June 1723, at Logierait, Perthshire. He was educated at Perth grammar school and the university of St Andrews. In 1745, owing to his knowledge of Gaelic, he was appointed deputy chaplain of the 43rd (afterwards the 42nd) regiment (the Black Watch), the licence to preach being granted him by special dispensation, although he had not completed the required six years of theological study. At the battle of Fontenoy (1745) Ferguson fought in the ranks throughout the day, and refused to leave the field, though ordered to do so by his colonel. He continued attached to the regiment till 1 754, when, disappointed at not obtaining a living, he abandoned the clerical profession and resolved to devote himself to literary pursuits. In January 1757 he succeeded David Hume as librarian to the faculty of advocates, but soon relinquished this office on becoming tutor in the family of Lord Bute.

In 1759 Ferguson was appointed professor of natural philosophy in the university of Edinburgh, and in 1764 was transferred to the chair of "pneumatics" (mental philosophy) "and moral philosophy." In 1767, against Hume's advice, he published his Essay on the History of Civil Society, which was well received and translated into several European languages. In 1776 appeared his (anonymous) pamphlet on the American revolution in opposition to Dr Price's Observations on the Nature of Civil Liberty, in which he sympathized with the views of the British legislature. In 1778 Ferguson was appointed secretary to the commission which endeavoured, but without success, to negotiate an arrangement with the revolted colonies. In 1783 appeared his History of the Progress and Termination of the Roman Republic; it was very popular, and went through several editions. Ferguson was led to undertake this work from a conviction that the history of the Romans during the period of their greatness was a practical illustration of those ethical and political doctrines which were the object of his special study. The history is written in an agreeable style and a spirit of impartiality, and gives evidence of a conscientious use of authorities. The influence of the author's military experience shows itself in certain portions of the narrative. Finding himself unequal to the labour of teaching, he resigned his professorship in 1785, and devoted himself to the revision of his lectures, which he published (1792) under the title of Principles of Moral and Political Science. When in his seventieth year, Ferguson, intending to prepare a new edition of the history, visited Italy and some of the principal cities of Europe, where he was received with honour by learned societies. From 1795 he resided successively at the old castle of Neidpath near Peebles, at Hallyards on Manor Water and at St Andrews, where he died on the 22nd of February 1816.

In his ethical system Ferguson treats man throughout as a social being, and illustrates his doctrines by political examples. As a believer in the progression of the human race, he placed the principle of moral approbation in the attainment of perfection. His speculations were carefully criticized by Cousin (see his Cours d'histoire de la philosophie morale au dix-huitieme siecle, pt. ii., 1839-1840): - "We find in his method the wisdom and circumspection of the Scottish school, with something more masculine and decisive in the results. The principle of perfection is a new one, at once more rational and comprehensive than benevolence and sympathy, which in our view places Ferguson as a moralist above all his predecessors." By this principle Ferguson endeavours to reconcile all moral systems. With Hobbes and Hume he admits the power of self-interest or utility, and makes it enter into morals as the law of self-preservation. Hutcheson's theory of universal benevolence and Smith's idea of sympathy he combines under the law of society. But, as these laws are the means rather than the end of human destiny, they are subordinate to a supreme end, and this supreme end is perfection. In the political part of his system Ferguson follows Montesquieu, and pleads the cause of well-regulated liberty and free government. His contemporaries, with the exception of Hume, regarded his writings as of great importance; in point of fact they are superficial. The facility of their style and the frequent occurrence of would-be weighty epigrams blinded his critics to the fact that, in spite of his recognition of the importance of observation, he made no real contribution to political theory (see Sir Leslie Stephen, English Thought in the Eighteenth Century, x. 89-90).

The chief authority for Ferguson's life is the Biographical Sketch by John Small 0864); see also Public Characters (1799-1800); Gentleman's Magazine, i. (1816 supp.); W. R. Chambers's Biographical Dictionary of Eminent Scotsmen; memoir by Principal Lee in early editions of the Encyclopaedia Britannica; J. McCosh, The Scottish Philosophy (1875); articles in Dictionary of National Biography and Edinburgh Review (January 1867); Lord Henry Cockburn, Memorials of his Time (1856).


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