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Smith, C. (2006)
Publisher: Edinburgh University Press
Languages: English
Types: Article
Throughout his career Adam Ferguson made a series of conservative political pronouncements on contemporary events.This paper treats these pronouncements as having a solid basis in his social theory and examines his place in the conceptual development of the tradition of British conservatism.It examines Ferguson's distinction between two forms of human knowledge: book learning of abstract science acquired from formal education and capacity acquired from practical experience in real affairs. Ferguson's empiricism leads to a series of sustained warnings against the danger of excessive abstraction to the pursuit of science and these concerns are extended into the social and political realm as he cautions against reliance on abstract philosophy and defends the superiority of practical politicians.
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    • Fagg, Jane B. (1995) 'Introduction' in Vincenzo Merolle (ed.) The Correspondence of Adam Ferguson, Vol. 1, London: William Pickering, pp. xx-cxvii.
    • Ferguson, Adam (1756) Refl ections Previous to the Establishment of a Militia, London R. & J. Dodsley.
    • Ferguson, Adam (1973) [1792] Principles of Moral and Political Science, 2 Vols. New York: AMS Press.
    • Ferguson, Adam (1994) [1769] Institutes of Moral Philosophy, London: Routledge/ Thoemmes Press.
    • Ferguson, Adam (1995) [1767] An Essay on the History of Civil Society, (ed.) Fania OzSalzberger, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
    • Ferguson, Adam (1856) The History of the Progress and Termination of the Roman Republic, New York: J.C. Derby. University of Michigan: Historical Reprint Series.
    • Ferguson, Adam (1995) The Correspondence of Adam Ferguson, 2 Vols. (ed.) Vincenzo Merolle, London: William Pickering.
    • Ferguson, Adam (2006) The Manuscripts of Adam Ferguson (ed.) Vincenzo Merolle, London: Pickering & Chatto.
    • Kettler, David (2005) Adam Ferguson: His Social and Political Thought, New Brunswick & London: Transaction Press.
    • Lehmann, W.C. (1930) Adam Ferguson and the Beginnings of Modern Sociology, New York: Columbia University Press.
    • MacRae, Donald G. (1969) 'Adam Ferguson' in T. Raison (ed.) The Founding Fathers of Social Science, Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, pp. 17-26.
    • Merolle, Vincenzo (2006) 'Ferguson's Political Philosophy' in Vincenzo Merolle (ed.) The Manuscripts of Adam Ferguson, London: Pickering & Chatto, pp. xi-xlv.
    • Oakeshott, Michael (1991) Rationalism in Politics and other Essays, Indianapolis: Liberty Fund.
    • Pocock, J.G.A. (1975) The Machiavellian Moment, Princeton University Press.
    • Polanyi, Michael (1958) Personal Knowledge: Towards a Post-Critical Philosophy, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.
    • Sher, Richard B. (1985) Church and University in the Scottish Enlightenment, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.
    • Sher, Richard B. (1990) 'Professors of Virtue: The Social History of the Edinburgh Moral Philosophy Chair in the Eighteenth Century' in M.A. Stewart (ed.) Studies in the Philosophy of the Scottish Enlightenment, Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 87- 126.
    • Smith, Adam (1982) [1795] Essays on Philosophical Subjects, ed. W.P.D. Wrightman, Indianapolis: Liberty Fund.
    • Smith, Adam (1984) [1759] The Theory of Moral Sentiments, ed. D.D. Raphael & A.L. Macfi e, Indianapolis: Liberty Fund. that his apparent predilection for Stoicism left him open to precisely this charge and was quick to assert that he was “not conscious of having warped the truth to suit any system whatever” (Principles 1: 7).
    • 7 A point recognised by Kettler (2005: 108) who attributes it to Ferguson's attempt to counter Hume's arguments on epistemology.
    • 8 Both Michael Polanyi (1958) and Michael Oakeshott (1991) stress that successful human action depends largely on the application of both “express” and “tacit” knowledge, both “technical” and “practical” knowledge.
    • 9 Ferguson's argument here is almost identical to that later made famous in Michael Oakeshott's description of practical and technical knowledge (1991: 12).
    • 10 A point recognised by Lehmann who relates Ferguson's rejection of “substituting books for life, libraries for social laboratories, literary orthodoxy for social experience, and generally the orthodoxy of books for social reality” (1930: 170).
    • 11 See also (Principles 1: 269; Manuscripts: 283-87). The recurring image is noted by Lehmann (1930: 54).
    • 12 This aspect of Ferguson's thought leads Kettler (2005: 170, 175) to view him as “an intellectual” rather than a philosopher. His concern was with the practical use of knowledge and its application in society rather than with cloistered academic debate between philosophers.
    • 13 Lehmann also notes Ferguson's attack on “the danger of closet philosophy, intellectual retirement, and a bookish, cloistered education” (1930: 166). Kettler adds that Ferguson was “frequently prepared to deprecate the value of knowledge not directly applicable to action and to deny the desirability of contemplation” (2005: 144).
    • 14 For a discussion of Ferguson's active pedagogy see Kettler (2005: 7) and Fagg (1995: xli).
    • 15 Ferguson begins his pamphlet Refl ections Previous to the Establishment of a Militia with the assertion that men of speculation are rarely able to bring about reform. He argues: “Remarkable changes in Policy commonly arise from some urgent Occasion; and the projects of speculative Men meet with little attention, when not supported by a prevailing Sense of Necessity or Expedience” (Militia: 1).
    • 16 Indeed Ferguson praises the active engagement of men of philosophical principle in the everyday life of the Roman Republic (Rome: 179, 343, 358-9). Men such as Cicero are praised, however, precisely because their action was imbued and not obsessed with the guidance of philosophical schools. They were men of action before they were men of speculation.
    • 17 Richard Sher (1985, 1990) has discussed this aspect of eighteenth-century Scottish University education in some detail, attributing it in part to the wide admiration for the teaching style of Francis Hutcheson.
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