‘Scottish Cato’?: A re-examination of Adam Ferguson’s engagement with classical antiquity
Nicolai, Katherine Cecilia
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Adam Ferguson (1723-1816) was one of the leading figures of the Scottish Enlightenment, an influential eighteenth-century moral and political philosopher, as well as a professor of ethics at the University of Edinburgh from 1764 to 1785. There has been a wealth of scholarship on Ferguson in which central themes include his role as a political theorist, sociologist, moral philosopher, and as an Enlightenment thinker. One of the most frequent topics addressed by scholars is his relationship to ancient philosophy, particularly Stoicism. The ease with which scholars identify Ferguson as a Stoic, however, is problematic because of the significant differences between Ferguson‟s ideas and those of the „schools‟ of classical antiquity, especially Stoicism. Some scholars interpret Ferguson‟s philosophy as a derivative, unsystematic „patchwork‟ because he drew on various ancient sources, but, it is argued, did not adhere to any particular system. The aim of my thesis is to suggest an alternative interpretation of Ferguson‟s relationship to ancient philosophy, particularly to Stoicism, by placing Ferguson in the context of the intellectual history of the eighteenth century. The first section of this thesis is an examination of Ferguson‟s response to the Quarrel between the Ancients and the Moderns, modern eclecticism and the experimental method to demonstrate how Ferguson‟s approach to and engagement with ancient philosophy is informed by these intellectual contexts. The second section is a close analysis of the role that ancient schools play in his discussion of the history of philosophy as well as the didactic purpose found in his lectures and published works thereby determining the function of ancient thought in his philosophy. The third section is a re-examination of Ferguson‟s concept of Stoicism and his engagement with Stoic ethics in his moral philosophy re-interpreting his relationship to the ancient school. With a combination of a new understanding of Ferguson‟s methodology and new assessment of his engagement with ancient thought, a new interpretation of Ferguson‟s moral philosophy demonstrates his unique contribution to eighteenth-century thought.