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Adam Ferguson and the Idea of Civil SocietyMoral Science in the Scottish Enlightenment$
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Craig Smith

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9781474413275

Published to Edinburgh Scholarship Online: September 2019

DOI: 10.3366/edinburgh/9781474413275.001.0001

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Moral Science

Moral Science

(p.40) 2 Moral Science
Adam Ferguson and the Idea of Civil Society

Craig Smith

Edinburgh University Press

This chapter outlines Ferguson’s commitment to an empirical, observation based, form of moral science. It begins by looking at Ferguson’s critique of the philosophical vices of existing schools of thought. Ferguson criticises these as being excessively abstract, imprecise in the use of language and overly complex, or subtle, in their arguments. The chapter argues that Ferguson sought to create a practical philosophy for use in the real world and was in the mainstream of the Scottish Enlightenment’s attempts to use history as data for social theory. The chapter then discusses the various underlying universals of human nature and social life that form the basis of Ferguson’s moral science. A central claim is that Ferguson believed it to be a fact that all humans are censorial creatures who pass judgement on each other leading to the claim that morality is a human universal even while humans disagree on its content.

Keywords:   Adam Ferguson, Moral Science, Philosophical Vices, Conjectural History, Empiricism, Social Theory

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