The Scottish Enlightenment refers to a remarkable period in 18th century Scotland characterized by a great outpouring of intellectual and scientific accomplishments rivalling that of any other nation at any time in history. What made it even more remarkable was that it took place in a country which was among the poorest and was thought to be among the most backward in western Europe prior to that time.
Sharing the humanist and rationalist outlook of the European Enlightenment of the same time period, the thinkers of the Scottish Enlightenment asserted the fundamental importance of human reason combined with a rejection of any authority which could not be justified by reason. They held to an optimistic belief in the ability of man to effect changes for the better in society and nature, guided only by reason.
Among the advances of the period were achievements in philosophy, economics, engineering, architecture, medicine, geology, archaeology, law, agriculture, chemistry, and sociology. Among the outstanding Scottish thinkers and scientists of the period were David Hume, Adam Smith, Robert Burns, Adam Ferguson, and James Hutton.
The Scottish Enlightenment had effects far beyond Scotland itself, not only because of the esteem in which Scottish ahievements were held in Europe and elsewhere, but also because its ideas and attitudes were carried across the Atlantic as part of the Scottish diaspora which had its beginnings in that same era.
- According to T.M. Devine, the term originated in 1900 with William Robert Scott. Some researches refer to the period as the Scottish Renaissance.
- Arthur Herman, How the Scots Invented the Modern World
- James Buchan, Crowded with Genius: Edinburgh's Moment of the Mind
- John Clive, The Social Background of the Scottish Renaissance in Scotland in the Age of Improvement edited by N.T. Phillipson and Rosalind Mitchison