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  • Print publication year: 2015
  • Online publication date: September 2017

I - Introduction

Summary

Lord Kames's Idea of Enlightened Scientific and Social Progress: the Interrelated Disciplines of Moral Philosophy, Aesthetics, Anthropology and Law

During a short period between around 1740 and 1790, Scotland became an intellectual centre of Europe. The intellectual and cultural movement in that period of Scottish history is commonly called the Scottish Enlightenment. This expression will be used here uncritically because it is not the purpose of this book to discuss the complex and controversial problems as to what were the distinguishing intellectual features of the era that is termed ‘Enlightenment’, what was specifically Scottish about the Scottish Enlightenment, and what were the factors which brought about the phenomenon of the Scottish Enlightenment. In any case, ‘Scottish Enlightenment’ is a well-established term today. Edinburgh, it is true, could never quite compete with the centre of the Enlightenment, Paris, and possibly not with London either, but it ranked above the German and Italian cities at the time. What was thought, published, disputed and discussed particularly in Edinburgh and in Glasgow mattered to the world then, and to a significant extent it still matters today. The literati and philosophes of the Enlightenment, in Paris, in London, in the cities of the German and Italian principalities, in Northern and Eastern Europe, and in colonial America would listen carefully to what the Scottish intellectuals had to say, engaged critically with them, and were often also influenced by them.

This book is about one of these influential intellectuals of the Scottish Enlightenment who was listened to by Voltaire (and fiercely criticised), by Herder, Mendelssohn and Lessing, by John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and Benjamin Franklin who was even a personal friend: the jurist and philosopher Henry Home, who took the title Lord Kames when he was elevated to the Bench of the Scottish Court of Session in 1752. The book is not about Kames's life – excellent biographies about him exist – but about Kames's thought, about Kames as a legal and social theorist. This already reveals that the characterisation ‘jurist and philosopher’ used before is just a convenient but simplifying and possibly misleading shorthand expression. What Kames really was is extremely difficult to describe. He was one of the makers of the Scottish Enlightenment – the ‘Father’ of the Scottish Enlightenment was, however, Francis Hutcheson, if such an accolade is needed at all.