IN this short series I am going to try to show how the Scottish Enlightenment truly was the flowering of Scotland’s genius by concentrating on some of the lesser figures of the period in Scotland between 1740 and 1820, though I should say that what are recognisable Enlightenment ideas flourished in the decades either side of the period.

I am doing so to show the sheer breadth of the Enlightenment and how it embraced sciences old and new, saw the arts flourish, and made Scotland and particularly Edinburgh a world centre of learning.

Back in January 2018, I wrote a short series of columns on the Enlightenment and focused on three of its major figures – David Hume, Adam Smith and Thomas Reid. Yet how many Scots know anything more than a bare modicum of the details of their lives and careers, if anything at all? That is a truly disgraceful state of affairs, caused by the Brito-centric nature of schooling in this country for so many decades.

Not blowing my own trumpet, but please do look back at the 2018 series that I finished by writing: “I have said before and will repeat it again: it is a time for a new Scottish Enlightenment to once again make ideas and innovation the weapons that we use to confront the future in a world that has never needed common sense more than it does now.”

READ MORE: Looking back at the key figure in the Scottish Enlightenment

A reader kindly reminded me that I had also written that if no-one else would write a Scottish Manifesto then I should do so, and do you know what? I think I might just do so and I will try and have it out before the campaign starts for the second independence referendum. It will be a call to intellectual arms, I can assure you.

Any such Scottish Manifesto must take inspiration from the Scottish Enlightenment, for what is the point of regaining our independence and changing Scotland for the better if we do not then go on and change the world for the better, as was the legacy of the Scottish Enlightenment?

The people I am going to mention today were all part of the Enlightenment and were all renowned in their time but are largely forgotten in this age of ephemera where precious few seem able to look back and learn from our marvellous Scottish history.

One remarkable man who is also largely forgotten but who is often credited with being the founding father of the Scottish Enlightenment was Francis Hutcheson (1694-1746). Whisper it, he was Irish.

Born to a family of Scottish Presbyterian stock, Hutcheson’s father John a minister in County Down. Hutcheson was sent to study at Glasgow University in 1710 and excelled at the Classics, later writing he had his “first taste of the immortal sublimities of Homer and Virgil” at the university where he also studied philosophy and theology.

According to his biography on the Glasgow University website: “When Hutcheson was training to become a Presbyterian minister, his teacher Robert Simson (1667-1740) was tried for heresy by the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland. The same body would later accuse William Leechman (1706-1785) and Hutcheson himself of heretical teaching.”

Even though he was well qualified, in the circumstances it was going to be tough to gain a Scottish parish so Hutcheson went off to Dublin to help run a Presbyterian academy.

It was in Dublin that he wrote his most famous work, An Inquiry into the Original of our Ideas of Beauty and Virtue, published in 1725, the same year that he married his cousin Mary née Wilson. That early book contains many famous lines such as: “That action is best which procures the greatest Happiness for the greatest Numbers, and that worst, which, in like manner, occasions Misery.”

That line is often quoted as the “the greatest good of the greatest number” and is the very definition of utilitarianism as later espoused by the likes of the philosophers Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill, who was himself the son of an Enlightenment figure.

THE 1725 Inquiry advances other thoughts that were almost revolutionary in political terms.

He wrote: “For wherever any Invasion is made upon unalienable Rights, there must arise either a perfect, or external Right to Resistance. ... Unalienable Rights are essential Limitations in all Governments.” Hutcheson advocated limited rights, stating that “there can be no Right, or Limitation of Right, inconsistent with, or opposite to the greatest public Good”.

Hutcheson later elaborated on this idea of unalienable rights in his A System of Moral Philosophy (published posthumously in 1755), based on the Presbyterian principle of the liberty of conscience. He argued no-one could give up the capacity for private judgment, for instance about religious questions – that right is “unalienable”.

Hutcheson wrote: “Thus no man can really change his sentiments, judgments, and inward affections, at the pleasure of another; nor can it tend to any good to make him profess what is contrary to his heart. The right of private judgment is therefore unalienable.”

The effect of these thoughts, as passed down by his pupils and through his books, was most felt in France and America – founding fathers Rev John Witherspoon and Thomas Jefferson were huge admirers – and can be said to have influenced the revolutions in these countries.

It was in Scotland, however, that Hutcheson had his most immediate effects. After publishing An Essay on the Nature and Conduct of the Passions and Affections, with Illustrations on the Moral Sense in 1728, he became Professor of Moral Philosophy at Glasgow in 1729, and students flocked to learn from him at a time when Glasgow University, and not that of Edinburgh, was leading the breakthrough in thought that became the Enlightenment.

Glasgow University’s biography states: “It was Hutcheson’s own desire ‘to promote the more moderate and charitable sentiments in religious matters in [Scotland].’ Hutcheson also inaugurated the method of lecturing in English rather than the customary Latin. This went on to become more common across other Scottish universities.”

The National: David Hume is thought to have said that 'truth springs from an honest disagreement amongst friends'

He was a huge influence on Adam Smith who described him as “the never to be forgotten” Hutcheson, a phrase he only ever used about David Hume. It was Hutcheson’s lectures that were imprinted on Smith’s mind, because he left relatively few books, and his chief concerns remained ethics and human nature.

Hume and Smith – later himself the Professor of Moral Philosophy at Glasgow – took Hutcheson’s teachings on reason and ethics and worked them into their own philosophies.

He was also one of the first people to rail against slavery, his System of Moral Philosophy stating: “As to the notions of slavery which obtained among the Grecians and Romans, and other nations of old, they are horridly unjust. No damage done or crime committed can change a rational creature into a piece of goods void of all right, and incapable of acquiring any, or of receiving any injury from the proprietor.”

For that alone he should be renowned.

HUTCHESON always kept his links with Ireland and died on a visit to Dublin in 1746 at what we would now consider the young age of 52. His burial place has since become a public park but there is a plaque nearby which commemorates Hutcheson and his influence.

One wonders if that thought on slavery influenced the judges in the famous 1777 case of Joseph Knight, about which I have previously written, in which Lord Kames, among others, decreed there could be no slavery in Scotland.

Kames himself was a genuine Enlightenment man who is also largely forgotten these days, yet in his time he was a friend and debating partner of all the major personalities of the Enlightenment.

Born Henry Home in 1696 at the family seat of Kames near Eccles in Berwickshire, he was the son of local laird George Home. After his education by a private tutor Home was apprenticed as a solicitor and was called to the bar in 1724. His most famous case was his defence of Captain Jock Porteous who had ordered the shooting of protestors in Edinburgh in 1736 – the case was lost but the Westminster Government attempted to have the verdict and sentence of death set aside, which enraged the Edinburgh mob who duly lynched Porteous.

Home wrote superb works on Scottish law that gained him considerable reputation and began to form his own thoughts on history and how society develops – he was one of the first writers on what we would now call sociology and anthropology.

Appointed a judge in 1752, Lord Kames was only beginning to show the breadth of his knowledge and interests which included agricultural improvements, aesthetics and the art of criticism.

He co-founded the Linen Bank, and promoted the Forth and Clyde Canal. He conceived of the draining of Flanders Moss beside the Drummond estate which came to him through marriage.

The National:

Kames influenced Adam Smith as can be seen from his Essays on the Principles of Morality and Natural Religion – the Kirk’s General Assembly debated whether it was heretical – as he argued that the hoarding appetite was universal and that it was the basis of the idea of property rights.

He wrote: “A relation is formed betwixt every man and the fruits of his own labour, the very thing we call property, which he himself is sensible of, and of which every other is equally sensible. Yours and mine are terms in all languages, familiar among savages, and understood even by children. This is a fact, which every human creature can testify.”

He also argued tellingly: “Luxury may possibly contribute to give bread to the poor, but if there were no luxury there would be no poor.”

Friend to many, including American Founding Father Benjamin Franklin, many of Kames’ letters are preserved and make fascinating reading due to the vast range of subject matters.

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Kames died on December 27, 1782, at the age of 86. His obituary was written by his friend Alexander Dick, so we can forgive some of the hagiography.

“To do justice to the conspicuous figure in which he shone by the goodness of his head, and the warmness of his heart as a Friend to his Country & to Mankind, we must own he was an excellent Judge, with an unremitting attention to his Duty, being one of the Senators who sat in Judgement, in civil, as well as criminal Causes, in Scotland for many years, and one of the most active Trustees of its Fisheries and Manufactures. His Writings, which he has from time to time published, & have undergone various editions, having already obtain’d the most general & public applause, will speak for themselves.

“It is but just and decent, that I here own to posterity, that with respect to jurisprudence, equity, and the moral duties; the Art of Criticism, and what relates to the improvement of Ground & Agriculture; there does [do] not exist better principles, nor counsels, than are wisely & elegantly set forth in these numerous Volumes, for the benefit of his Country, the utility, as well as the agreeable entertainment of Mankind.”

A Renaissance man, then, as well as a “Lad o Pairts”. Next week I will profile another Enlightenment figure called Home.