This paper will examine eighteenth- century Scottish views
on primitive societies from the standpoint of the following three
1. Adam Ferguson. An Essay on the History of
Civil Society 1767, ed. Duncan Forbes.
2. John Millar. The Origin of the Distinction of
Ranks: or, An Inquiry into the Circumstances
which give Use to Influence and Authority,
in the Different Members of Society, 4th ed.
3. William Robertson. The History of America,
Bks. I -VIII, 1st ed. 2 vols. London, 1777.
The History of America, Bks. IX -X, 1st ed. London, 1796.
These works reflect widely different attitudes and approaches
toward primitive societies, and thus represent a broad range of
eighteenth-century Scottish Opinion. Ferguson's appraisal of
primitive societies is sympathetic, Millar's is unsympathetic, while
Robertson is considerably more objective.
Each work will be discussed in a separate chapter. The
chapters will be arranged in chronological sequence according to
each work's date of first publication (1767, 1771, and 1777,
respectively). And the orks will be compared with one another
as the paper advances.
Within each chapter, the author's evaluation of primitive
societies will be carefully examined in the light of his more general
outlook and prejudices (as expressed in the work under consideration).
Thus, each chapter will consider:
I. The author's intentions.
II. His methods and prejudices.
III. His analyses of primitive societies.
IV. His evaluations of primitive societies
in the light of his own culture.
Throughout the paper, an effort will be made to allow
each author to speak for himself, insofar as possible under the
format outlined above. Wherever a striking relationship may be
drawn between the thought of Ferguson, Millar,or Robertson and
another eighteenth- century Scottish writer, it will be presented,
in an effort to reconstruct some of the issues regarding primitive
societies which were most actively debated in eighteenth- century
An Introduction will be included to provide some insight into the historical and biographical aspects of the works
and authors under discussion, and a Conclusion will be appended
which will attempt to summarise some of their many arguments.