Published online by Cambridge University Press: 24 October 2013
Scholars have hitherto found little to no place for natural philosophy in the intellectual makeup of the Enlightened historian William Robertson, overlooking his significant contacts with that province and its central relevance to the controversy surrounding David Hume and Lord Kames in the 1750s. Here I reexamine Robertson's Situation of the World at the Time of Christ's Appearance (1755) in light of these contexts. I argue that his foundational sermon drew upon the scientific theism of such thinkers as Joseph Butler, Edmund Law, and Colin Maclaurin to counter the autonomous figurations of the universe associated with Hume and Kames, and to develop a historical account of progress based around Christian progressivism rather than the stadial theory of Adam Smith. Robertson conceived of history neither in secular terms nor in those of traditional religion, but sought instead to update the language of providentialism by naturalizing the sacred within a framework of general laws.
For valuable comments on versions of this paper I would like to thank David Armitage, Duncan Kelly, Nicholas Phillipson, Richard Sher, Jeffrey Smitten, and the anonymous referees.
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