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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 Philosophy

Moral Philosophy

(p.80) 3 Moral Philosophy
Adam Ferguson and the Idea of Civil Society

Craig Smith

Edinburgh University Press

This chapter looks at Ferguson’s attempts to build a normative moral philosophy on the basis of his moral science. The relationship between universal attributes of human nature and their manifestation in the circumstances of particular societies leads Ferguson to attempt the creation of a clear moral vocabulary that will allow for ‘censorial inspection’ and moral decision making. Ferguson is not suggesting that we are bound by the content of current moral beliefs, but rather that these beliefs are the material that can help us clarify our thinking about moral issues. The chapter examines the key elements of Ferguson’s theory including his account of virtue, sociability, benevolence, happiness, action, and ambition. It argues that we should see Ferguson as a modern casuist, preparing a language for clear moral thinking.

Keywords:   Adam Ferguson, Moral Philosophy, Normative Ethics, Sociability, Benevolence, Virtue, Ambition, Action

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