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

IV - Moral Philosophy II: Development


Development of the Reasoning Faculty

Forms of reasoning

A characteristic feature of the Scottish Enlightenment was a social theory that encompasses the development, and usually improvement, of man as an individual and of man set in society. Kames is a principal representative of this approach; the whole idea and structure of his Sketches of the History of Man in particular is built upon a notion of progress. Therefore there is a temporal element in his concept of social institutions; stages of evolution are identified or postulated, and these stages are connected with a narrative, a history. That applies to political history in the strict sense, and to social history, especially the history of legal systems and legal institutions, such as property which is a central theme in Kames's work. But this method is also used for the natural sciences and for the ‘social’ sciences, here understood as a scientific approach to social phenomena of man and society that takes its cue from the natural scientists, especially from Newton, and relies philosophically mainly on Robert Boyle and Francis Bacon. The influence of Bacon's division of history as being either natural (works and acts of nature) or civil (works and acts of men) is clearly present. This historical-empirical approach, a philosophical understanding or arrangement of historical processes, will be discussed in full detail in the context of political philosophy, anthropology and legal history. It was only consequent for Kames to apply the same method, comprising temporality, narrative connections and empirical or conjectural evidence, to systems of thought and to human behaviour guided by these systems of thought: on this basis Kames expounds the development of human reasoning, the development of morality and manners, and of religion. That is what we look at in this chapter. Here one will encounter already the distinctive mixture between ahistorical ‘pure’ philosophical thought and an anthropological/social history of man that is founded on philosophical assumptions. Kames's historising approach is a typical method in the armoury of the Enlightenment: one can present divergent positions and back these up with undeniable evidence from history.