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The Scottish Enlightenment Caused By Closer Association History Essay

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Published: Mon, 5 Dec 2016

This essay will discuss to what extent the Scottish Enlightenment was caused by closer association with England. The main aspects will be focus on is how the Union of Parliaments in 1707 may have or have not had an impact on Scottish Education and Judicial systems. The essay will review key figures from this era and show how this period was arguably one of the most important in the History of the Scottish Economy.

Far from the days in 1695 blasphemy when was declared a capital offence by Scottish parliament and eighteen year old Thomas Aitkenhead, the son of a surgeon in the city was tried for heresy. He was reported to have declared that ‘theology was a ‘rhapsody of feigned and ill-invented nonsense” [1] , and he ridiculed the Holy Scriptures’ and claimed that they were ‘stuffed with madness, nonsense, and contradictions’. He had called the Old Testament ‘Ezra’s fables’ and said that Christ was an ‘imposter’ who had ‘learned magic in Egypt’ so he could ‘perform those pranks which were called miracles’. [2] Aitkenhead was tried and although he pleaded for mercy on the grounds of his youth. The Lord Advocate James Stewart called for the death penalty. Stewart condemned Aikenhead for ‘shaking off all fear of God’ and for venting ‘wicked blasphemies against God and our Savior Jesus Christ. [3] When Aikenhead was found guilty the Lord Advocate stated ‘you ought to be punished with death… to the example and terror of others.’ [4] And ordered ‘his body to be buried at the foot of the gallows and his movable estate forfeited’. [5] On the day of his execution Thomas Aikenhead wrote ‘It is a principle innate and co-natural to every man to have an insatiable inclination to the truth, and to seek for it as for hid treasure.’ [6] Aitkenhead was hanged at 2 O’clock on January 8 1697. He was the last person to be executed for blasphemy in Scotland.

It has been thought that the death of Thomas Aitkenheas haunted 18th century Scotland. The Presbyterian Church had demanded Aitkenheads life had also decreed that every Scottish person should be able to read the bible. As the 18th centaury approached three-quarters of Scots could read. [7] 

Following the Act of the Union on 1707, Scotland, once arguably the poorest country in Western Europe, had seen a rapid reformation. Opinion of how this union was perceived is varied, as trade routes to Scotland were cut off by a shipping embargo it may be the case that Scotland was forced into union with England. Many Scottish people did not want, nor feel the union necessary, but the majority in support where Scottish landowners fuelled by greed and generous payouts. By the beginning of the 18th Century religious conflicts and rebellions from the previous century had passed. The failure of the Jacobite Uprising was the ending of the Stuart challenge to the Hanoverian dynasty. . the stability of this brought greater prosperity and through this many advances in not only the Scottish attitude towards the church, but also a new diverse and open minded way of thinking. Many great Scottish academics were now teaching in many cities around Europe and with and the great expansion of the British Empire followed the revival of a more philosophical and diverse way of thinking.

Scotland, now united with England was under the rule of one king, and also had merged in parliament at Westminster. With Scotland now free to participate in trade to Colonial markets and endeavors, this opened up a new opportunity as now; the Scots had the opportunity to introduce their philosophies, sciences, economics, and political views into wider world.

Despite the merging of parliament, Scotland had retained not only their cultural identity but also their own judicial and education systems, and does so still to this day. American Law is also very much based on Juris Prudence which is founded upon Scots Law, again, still practice to this day.

In 1900 William Robert Scott introduced the term ‘Scottish Enlightenment’ to describe the idea of a country which had left behind its Calvinist orthodoxy and had now grown to be ‘intellectual powerhouse of Europe’. [8] Economic growth and the intellectual benefits of a highly developed university system, together with Scotland’s traditional connections to France, which was in the throes of the Enlightenment, led Scots intellectuals to develop a uniquely practical branch of humanism to the extent that Voltaire said “we look to Scotland for all our ideas of civilization”. [9] 

With the Enlightenment came the opportunity for more people to enter university, in 1730 the abolishment of lectures taught in Latin, with texts in Standard English made university more accessible to a larger variety of people. 1740 seen fees lowered and combined with an improved and better quality of teaching and the abolishment of regent system, a large number people; predominantly middle-class males were now studying, what became, a variety of different subjects. With a more tolerant society and diverse opinions people were free to express their thoughts and views, making for many great thinkers of this era.

With the Enlightenment came many great figures. The first major philosopher of the Scottish Enlightenment was Francis Hutcheson, who held the Chair of Philosophy at the University of Glasgow from 1729 to 1746. Hutcheson, a moral philosopher, produced alternatives to the ideas of Thomas Hobbes, one of his major contributions to world thought was the utilitarian and consequentialist principle that virtue is that which provides, in his words, “the greatest happiness for the greatest numbers”. [10] Much of what is incorporated in the scientific method – the nature of knowledge, evidence, experience, and causation – and some modern attitudes towards the relationship between science and religion were developed by his protégés David Hume and Adam Smith [11] , whose philosophies and economics theories have shaped the modern political and economic systems. Enlightenment figures including David Hume, James Hutton, Joseph Black and Adam Smith thought it was vitally important think for themselves – they refused to simply believe what they were told. Ideas and theories had to be challenged and investigated; evidence had to be gathered and examined. [12] 

David Hume was a great Scottish Philosopher, Historian, economist and one of the most important figures in the history of Western philosophy and the Scottish Enlightenment. [13] He concluded that desire, rather than reason governed human behavior saying “Reason is, and ought only to be the slave of the passions”. [14] Many modern attitudes towards science and religion were developed by David Hume. Like many learned Scots, he revered the new science of Copernicus, Bacon, Galileo, Kepler, Boyle and Newton; he believed in the ‘experimental method and loathed superstition’. [15] 

At the time of the Enlightenment Scotland had a major importance in internationally, the advances made from this era seem to have had a great impact across Europe, America and Australia. Today it is thought by many historians that the Scottish Enlightenment had a major part in shaping the modern world. Economist Adam Smith, who is often referred to as the ‘founding father of economics’ [16] , correlated with Benjamin Franklin, one of the founding fathers of the American republic, about his economic hypothesis. Many Enlightenment ideas influenced Thomas Jefferson as he was drafting the Declaration of Independence. Smith believed that free trade would bring a positive change around the world. Smith’s experience of mixing with and observing Glasgow’s Tobacco barons and the slave trade was cynical to say the least; Smith believed that the key to a better, fairer, safer world was in economics.


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