The Moral Culture of the Scottish Enlightenment

The Moral Culture of the Scottish Enlightenment: 1690–1805

Thomas Ahnert
Copyright Date: 2014
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 224
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  • Book Info
    The Moral Culture of the Scottish Enlightenment
    Book Description:

    In the Enlightenment it was often argued that moral conduct, rather than adherence to theological doctrine, was the true measure of religious belief. Thomas Ahnert argues that this "enlightened" emphasis on conduct in religion relied less on arguments from reason alone than has been believed. In fact, Scottish Enlightenment champions advocated a practical program of "moral culture," in which revealed religion was of central importance. Ahnert traces this to theological controversies going back as far as the Reformation concerning the conditions of salvation. His findings present a new point of departure for all scholars interested in the intersection of religion and Enlightenment.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-15381-1
    Subjects: Philosophy, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. I-IV)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. V-VI)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. VII-VIII)
  4. Introduction: Religion, Morality, and Enlightenment
    (pp. 1-16)

    In recent years there has been a growing body of secondary literature concerned with elucidating the relationship of European Enlightenment thought to religion, from the second half of the seventeenth century to the early nineteenth. There were a few well-known atheists during that period, such as the Franco-German Baron d’Holbach or the physician Julien Offray de La Mettrie, and many less famous thinkers whose writings were sometimes so inflammatory that they went unpublished and circulated only as clandestine manuscripts.¹ In general, however, the intellectual elites of eighteenth-century Europe were committed to religious beliefs that were at least broadly Christian. The...

  5. 1. Presbyterianism in Scotland After 1690
    (pp. 17-33)

    Following the Glorious Revolution of 1688–89, Presbyterianism was restored as the established Church of Scotland. The authority of bishops within the ecclesiastical hierarchy was abolished; the General Assembly was now the supreme governing body; Episcopalian ministers were removed from their parishes, often in violent “rabblings,” in which a mob ejected the minister by force;¹ and a visitation commission purged universities of Episcopalian regents, many of whom went into temporary or permanent exile in England or Continental Europe.² Nevertheless, the return to Presbyterianism in Scotland seemed insecure and precarious to many of its adherents, until well into the eighteenth century....

  6. 2. Conduct and Doctrine
    (pp. 34-65)

    A number of heterodox Presbyterians held views similar to Simson’s from the 1720s onward; Simson had taught some of them when he was professor of divinity at Glasgow, although others had not initially been influenced by him. They did not necessarily agree with Simson in every respect, but shared his skepticism of federal theology and creedal orthodoxy, and valued righteous conduct above doctrinal accuracy. Often, their emphasis on actions rather than doctrinal opinions in matters of religion can seem similar to the beliefs of deistic authors like Matthew Tindal, who said that “True Religion” consisted “in a constant Disposition of...

  7. 3. Moderatism
    (pp. 66-93)

    In the early 1750s there emerged from within the established Presbyterian Kirk a group of clergymen who came to be known as the “Moderates.” They included several of the most prominent contributors to Enlightenment culture in the mid-to late eighteenth century. Among them was Hugh Blair, one of the rising stars in the Presbyterian church of the 1750s and a minister at St. Giles’s Cathedral from 1758, who was also the first incumbent of the newly created Regius chair of Rhetoric and Belles-Lettres at the University of Edinburgh from 1762. Another example is William Robertson, moderator of the General Assembly...

  8. 4. Orthodoxy
    (pp. 94-121)

    The divisions between Moderates and orthodox over church patronage were accompanied by several other controversies. In his 1753 satire, theEcclesiastical Characteristics,John Witherspoon criticized and lampooned the Moderates on various grounds, not just for their support of lay patrons. Two years later, in 1755–56, orthodox clergymen tried to have Lord Kames and David Hume censured by the General Assembly for their philosophical beliefs. The campaign against them came to nothing, as the Moderate Party within the Assembly prevented the original motion from being put to a vote, and then succeeded in watering it down until it was no...

  9. Conclusion: Moderates in the Late Enlightenment
    (pp. 122-140)

    By the early nineteenth century Moderates were sometimes described as a conservative interest group that had lost its intellectual vigor and openmindedness, and was held together primarily by its members’ opposition to social and political change.¹ Moderates not only were critical of the French Revolution, but also worked closely with the crown’s political manager in Scotland, Henry Dundas, Viscount Melville, who used his far-reaching control over appointments to various posts and offices to secure support for the government. Moreover, in the early 1800s they seemed suspicious of any skeptical or heterodox ideas, far more than had been the case in...

  10. Notes
    (pp. 141-182)
  11. Bibliography
    (pp. 183-204)
  12. Index
    (pp. 205-216)