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Wednesday, May 23, 2012


David Hume in His Armenian Get Up

Crowded With Genius
The Scottish Enlightenment: Edinburgh's Moment of the Mind
by James Buchan
Originally published in 2003 as Capital of the Mind: How Edinburgh Changed the World (John Murray)
This edition  2003 by Harper Collins

     The Scottish Enlightenment was a "scene" in what Randall Collins prosaically  calls, "Figure 11.1. French and British Network During the Enlightenment, 1745-1800 in his seminal The Sociology of Philosophies: A Global Theory of  Intellectual Change.

     The major scenes in Figure 11.1 are geographically located in Edinburgh and Paris.  The Edinburgh "scene" consisted of George Berkeley, David Hume and Adam Smith and the Paris scene involved Voltaire, Rousseau, Diderot and the rest of the Encyclopedists.  Clearly this interaction: between Edinburgh and Paris, was central to both philosophy and Art.   Buchans book, Crowded With Genius The Scottish Enlightenment: Edinburgh's Moment of the Mind focuses on this Scottish Enlightenment crowd, moving through all the different sub-scenes that contributed to the intellectual "ferment" that resulted in so many great Works.

Jean Jacques Rousseau in his Armenian Get Up

    Buchan includes a last chapter on Henry Mackenzie and his literary classic, A Man of Feeling, but most of the book deals with Philosophers, Economists and Scientists.  Given that the boundaries between Art and Science were much, much looser then they are today, but many of these disciplines were virtually invented by the key figures of the Scottish Enlightenment.

   From the perspective of a modern reader, the two key figures of the Scottish Enlightenment are David Hume and Adam Smith, though of course you need to consider that Adam Smith has had a dominating couple of centuries, and the two haven't been competitive since the mid 19th century (GOOGLE NGRAM ADAM SMITH VS. DAVID HUME)

   From a reader perspective, Crowded With Genius is a series of well written biographical sketches of the key figures of the Scottish Enlightenment and a lose chronological narrative bridging the chapters.  It's def. written for a general Audience, but the kind of general Audience that is interested in the key figures of the Scottish Enlightenment.

Henry MacKenzie: Man of Feeling

   Crowded With Genius The Scottish Enlightenment: Edinburgh's Moment of the Mind shed light on Henry MacKenzie's Man of Feeling, and it also gave context for other 18th century Enlightenment era works by French, English and Scottish authors.  Particularly, Crowded With Genius allows you to see the contemporary influence that Jean Jacques Rousseau had on his Scottish analogues.   Perhaps the key contribution of the Scottish Enlightenment was the the development of "Sensitivity" as an emotional concept worth understanding.   This Sensitivity or "Sensibility" as it was then called, took root in multiple countries and bore continuing fruit in the Romantic movement, not to mention being a direct source of inspiration in the Victorian Novel.

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