Published online by Cambridge University Press: 24 October 2013
Jean-Jacques Rousseau's Discourse on the Origin and the Foundations of Inequality is now recognized to have played a fundamental role in the shaping of Scottish Enlightenment political thought. Yet despite some excellent studies of Rousseau's influence on Adam Smith, his impact on Smith's contemporary, Adam Ferguson, has not been examined in detail. This article reassesses Rousseau's legacy in eighteenth-century Scotland by focusing on Ferguson's critique of Rousseau in his Essay on the History of Civil Society (1767), his History of the Progress and Termination of the Roman Republic (1783), and his lectures and published writings in moral philosophy. Ferguson's differences from Rousseau were more pronounced than is sometimes assumed. Not only did Ferguson offer one of the most substantial eighteenth-century refutations of the Genevan's thinking on sociability, nature, art, and culture, he also provided an alternative to the theoretical history of the state set out in the Discourse on Inequality.
The argument developed here was originally presented at the Civic Virtue and Modernity: Rousseau in Germany and Britain conference organized by Andreas Gestrich and Avi Lifschitz and held at the German Historical Institute in London in the summer of 2009. A slightly revised version was delivered at the Forum Ideengeschichte of Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität, Munich, in January 2010. I am grateful to the audience on both occasions for their questions and comments, and to Nicholas Phillipson for originally encouraging this work on Ferguson's contribution to the Scottish “science of man.” I am also indebted to Richard Bourke, John Robertson, Silvia Sebastiani, Tony La Vopa and the anonymous readers for Modern Intellectual History for their many insightful criticisms of an earlier draft and for valuable suggestions for improvement.
1 For these claims see Wallace, Robert, Various Prospects of Mankind, Nature and Providence (London, 1761), 111–12Google Scholar; Home, Henry, Kames, Lord, Essays on the Principles of Morality and Natural Religion, ed. with an intro. by Catherine Moran, Mary (Indianapolis, 2005), 71, 76–7Google Scholar; Beattie, James, An essay on the nature and immutability of truth, in opposition to sophistry and scepticism, 4th edxn (London, 1773), 437–40Google Scholar. Works which discuss Rousseau's legacy in eighteenth-century Scotland include Warner, James, “The Reaction in Eighteenth-Century England to Rousseau's Two Discours,” Modern Language Association 48 (1933), 471–87CrossRefGoogle Scholar; France, Peter, “Primitivism and Enlightenment: Rousseau and the Scots,” Yearbook of English Studies 15 (1985), 64–79CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Leigh, R. A., “Rousseau and the Scottish Enlightenment,” Contributions to Political Economy 5 (1986), 1–21CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Carey, Daniel, “Reconsidering Rousseau: Sociability, Moral Sense and the American Indian from Hutcheson to Bartram,” British Journal for Eighteenth-Century Studies 21 (1998), 25–38CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Robertson, John, The Case for the Enlightenment: Scotland and Naples 1680–1760 (Cambridge, 2005), 402–3CrossRefGoogle Scholar; and the works cited in note 2 below.
2 There is now a lively scholarly debate about the precise nature of Smith's relation to Rousseau. Recent works on the topic include Force, Pierre, Self-Interest before Adam Smith: A Genealogy of Economic Science (Cambridge, 2003)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Berry, Christopher, “Smith under Strain” (review of Force, Self-Interest before Adam Smith), European Journal of Political Theory 3 (2004), 455–63CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Robertson, The Case for the Enlightenment, 392–7; Hanley, Ryan Patrick, “Commerce and Corruption: Rousseau's Diagnosis and Adam Smith's Cure,” European Journal of Political Theory 7 (2008), 137–58CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Rasmussen, Dennis C., The Problems and Promise of a Commercial Society: Adam Smith's Response to Rousseau (University Park, PA, 2008)Google Scholar; Phillipson, Nicholas, Adam Smith: An Enlightened Life (New Haven, CT, 2010), 138–79Google Scholar. For an earlier but still useful examination see West, E. G., “Adam Smith and Rousseau's Discourse on Inequality: Inspiration or Provocation?”, Journal of Economic Issues 5 (1971), 56–70CrossRefGoogle Scholar. For an eighteenth-century comparison of Smith's sympathy with Rousseau's pity see Kames, Essays on the Principles of Morality and Natural Religion, 70–71. One purpose of the present essay is to provide a balance to the overwhelming dominance of Smith in studies of Rousseau's impact in Scotland.
3 Rousseau and Ferguson are frequently described as “men of republican principles” who shared a common framework in thinking about the opposition between virtue and commerce. J. G. A. Pocock identified both Ferguson and Rousseau as Machiavellian civic humanists who were embarked in tracking the contradictions between virtue and commerce, history and corruption; see Pocock, J. G. A., The Machiavellian Moment: Florentine Political Thought and the Atlantic Republican Tradition, 2nd edn (Princeton, 2003), 499–505Google Scholar. See also France, “Rousseau and the Scots,” 70; Winch, Donald, “Commercial Realities, Republican Principles,” in Skinner, Quentin and Gelderen, Martin van, ed.s, Republicanism: A Shared European Heritage, 2 vols. (Cambridge, 2002), 2: 298–300Google Scholar; Hill, Lisa, The Passionate Society: The Social, Political, and Moral Thought of Adam Ferguson (Dordrecht, 2006), 3, 39–40Google Scholar.
4 On this point see Berry, Christopher J., Social Theory of the Scottish Enlightenment (Edinburgh, 1997), 23Google Scholar; Finlay, Christopher J., “Rhetoric and Citizenship in Adam Ferguson's Essay on the History of Civil Society,” History of Political Thought 27 (2006), 27–49Google Scholar. Fania Oz-Salzberger, in her important study of Ferguson's reception in Germany, rightly underlines Ferguson's criticism of Rousseau's non-social state of nature, but misleadingly suggests that Ferguson's idea of citizenship was substantially similar to that of Rousseau; see Oz-Salzberger, Fania, Translating the Enlightenment: Scottish Civic Discourse in Eighteenth-Century Germany (Oxford, 1995), 110–11, 28CrossRefGoogle Scholar.
5 Ferguson's concern to refute speculative accounts of the “origin of Inequality or Subordination” is particularly visible in his lecture course; see Adam Ferguson, Lectures on Pneumatics and Moral Philosophy, Edinburgh University Library Special Collections MS, Papers of Professor Adam Ferguson, Dc.1.84 (lecture of 22 Dec. 1783).
6 Ferguson, Lectures, lecture of 25 Nov. 1783.
7 On this see Rousseau, Jean-Jacques, “Discourse on Political Economy,” and Rousseau, “The Social Contract,” both in Rousseau, The Social Contract and Other Later Political Writings, ed. Gourevitch, Victor (Cambridge, 1995), 19, 35, 78 nGoogle Scholar.
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9 For Ferguson's dismissal of the arguments of “speculative reasoners” on this subject see Ferguson, Adam, History of the Progress and Termination of the Roman Republic, 2nd edn, 5 vols. (Edinburgh, 1799), 1: 95–8Google Scholar.
10 For the critique of modern superiority see Ferguson, Essay, 33. For the more specific claim that the arts and sciences could be sources of corruption see Ferguson, Adam, “Of Statesmen and Warriours,” in Ferguson, The Manuscripts of Adam Ferguson, ed. Merolle, Vincenzo, with Dix, Robin and Heath, Eugene (London, 2006), 40Google Scholar.
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13 Compare Rousseau, Jean-Jacques, Second Discourse, in Rousseau, The Discourses and Other Early Political Writings, ed. Gourevitch, Victor (Cambridge, 1997), 184–8, with Ferguson, Essay, 213–20, 224–31, 247–64Google Scholar.
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20 Ferguson, History, 5: 418–19; Ferguson to Edward Gibbon, 18 April 1776, in Ferguson, Correspondence, 1: 141.
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26 Beattie, An Essay on the Nature and Immutability of Truth, 438 n.
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31 Müller's Beobachtungen über Geschichte, Gesetze und Interessen der Menschen represents a selection from a much larger set of notes written in Geneva between 1774 and 1776. For the edited text see Müller, Johannes von, Sämmtliche Werke, ed. Müller, Johann Georg, 40 vols. (Stuttgart and Leipzig, 1835), 37: 46–130Google Scholar.
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33 Rousseau, Second Discourse, 113.
35 This paragraph draws from the analysis contained in my Adam Ferguson in the Scottish Enlightenment: The Roman Past and Europe's Future (Cambridge, MA, 2013). For these passages, see Ferguson, Essay, 7–16, 161–3.
36 Ferguson, Principles, 1: 55. This was a rejection of Rousseau's belief that pity prevented humans from degenerating into monsters or beasts, a claim Rousseau associated with Mandeville; see Rousseau, Second Discourse, 153.
37 Ferguson, Essay, 10–12, 73.
38 Ibid., 24–9. For Rousseau's claim that enmity and war emerge from property relations see especially Rousseau, Social Contract, 46; and Rousseau, “The State of War,” in Rousseau, The Social Contract, 162–76. I have written in more detail about this subject in “Unsocial Sociability in the Scottish Enlightenment: Adam Ferguson on War, International Relations, and Agonistic Patriotism,” in Eva Piirimäe and Alexander Schmidt, eds., Sociability, Patriotism and Cosmopolitanism in Enlightenment Political Thought, special issue of History of European Ideas, forthcoming.
39 Ferguson, Essay, 35–43. Here Ferguson was adapting Francis Hutcheson's argument that benevolence and sociability were the foundations of moral sentiment; see Hutcheson, Francis, An Inquiry into the Original of Our Ideas of Beauty and Virtue, ed. with an intro. by Leidhold, Wolfgang (Indianapolis, 2008), 85–100, 116–47Google Scholar.
40 Ferguson, Essay, 12, 17. For the centrality of inventiveness see also Ferguson, Institutes, 16–17.
41 For Rousseau's conception of perfectibility see Rousseau, Second Discourse, 141. For Ferguson's more straightforward understanding of the “desire of perfection” see Ferguson, Essay, 14; Ferguson, Institutes, 96.
42 Ferguson, Lectures, lectures of 26 Nov. 1776 and 22 Nov. 1776.
43 Ferguson, Lectures, lectures of 20 Nov. 1776 and 16 Nov. 1784.
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51 In emphasizing the correlation between virtue and happiness, Ferguson was echoing similar statements made earlier in the century by Francis Hutcheson and Bishop Joseph Butler. On this theme see Brooke, Christopher, Philosophic Pride: Stoicism and Political Thought from Lipsius to Rousseau (Princeton, 2012), 159–67, 176Google Scholar.
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53 Ferguson, Essay, 116, 119. Compare Rousseau, Second Discourse, 161, 171–2.
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58 Colden was a Scottish natural philosopher who was also surveyor-general of New York in the 1720s; see Colden, Cadwallader, The History of the Five Indian Nations of Canada, which are dependent on the province of New-York in America, and are the barrier between the English and French in that Part of the world, 3rd edn, 2 vols. (London, 1755), 1: 2–3Google Scholar.
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61 Ferguson, Principles, 1: 256–7.
62 Ferguson, Essay, 84, 121.
63 Ferguson, History, 1: 5–15.
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68 Ferguson, Essay, 42.
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77 Although Rousseau consistently warned that extreme inequalities between rich and poor were a threat to the rule of law and justice, it is important to note that he did not call for the egalitarian redistribution of property. Rather, he called for the prevention of inequality before it arose. He did claim that extremes should be brought “as close together as possible.” See Rousseau, “Discourse on Political Economy,” 19; Rousseau, The Social Contract, 56, 78.
78 Ferguson, Essay, 255.
79 See Institutes, 274.
80 Ferguson, History, 1: 42, 390, 396.
81 Ferguson, Principles, 2: 463.
82 Ferguson, Essay, 203–13.
89 Rousseau, Social Contract, 109.
90 This theme was given a more providential gloss in the Principles of Moral and Political Science, in which Ferguson noted that “some species of government being necessary to the peace of society, Providence has kindly ordained, that wherever there is a society, there should be government also.” Ferguson, Principles, 2: 244.