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  • Scottish Philosophy in the Eighteenth Century. Vol. 1: Morals, Politics, Art, Religion ed. by Aaron Garrett, and James A. Harris
  • Simon Grote
Aaron Garrett, and James A. Harris, editors. Scottish Philosophy in the Eighteenth Century. Vol. 1: Morals, Politics, Art, Religion. New York: Oxford University Press, 2015. Pp. x + 482. Cloth, $99.00.

Together with Scottish Philosophy in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries, edited by Gordon Graham, this volume inaugurates the series A History of Scottish Philosophy, published by Oxford University Press under Graham's general editorship. A collection of "collaborative studies by expert authors," the series is projected to "provide a comprehensive account of the Scottish philosophical tradition" (ii). In their introduction to this particular volume, however, editors Aaron Garrett and James A. Harris propose a more modest purpose. "It will be plain to the reader," they acknowledge, "that we are not presenting here a comprehensive account of the philosophy of eighteenth-century Scotland" (13). Leaving psychology and the natural sciences for treatment in a separate volume, they offer here an account of "themes in the moral and political thought of the period" (13), consisting of four chapters devoted to individual luminaries—Francis Hutcheson (by Daniel Carey), David Hume (by James A. Harris and Mikko Tolonen), Adam Smith (by Aaron Garrett and Ryan Hanley), and Thomas Reid (by Paul Wood)—interspersed among six other chapters that incorporate briefer treatment of other canonical authors (such as Adam Ferguson) into surveys of Scottish discussions of particular issues. In doing so, the editors hope to provide "new perspectives" on well-known themes, enabled by the contributors' special attention to the specifically Scottish contexts of canonical philosophical texts (2).

As the editors acknowledge, the volume is entering a crowded field, populated by a plethora of other handbooks on eighteenth-century philosophy, many of which address Scottish texts, survey similar issues, and boast some of the same—or equally formidable—contributors and editors. These now include the Routledge Companion to Eighteenth Century Philosophy (2014, edited by Garrett) and the Oxford Handbook of British Philosophy in the Eighteenth Century (2014, edited by Harris).

This volume nonetheless breaks new ground, even while drawing upon the similarly context-aware research that has dominated Scottish Enlightenment studies for many years. In general, the most explicitly innovative chapters are those devoted to a single author; instead of aiming at comprehensiveness, they survey multiple works from a perspective that allows them at least gently to push the boundaries of existing scholarship. So, for example, Carey paints an unusually differentiated picture of Hutcheson's development into a "canonized figure" by attending to the often critical reception of his ideas and to the various modes of their dissemination. Harris and Tolonen survey the Scottish and international contexts of several major texts by Hume, in order to specify the extent to which Hume's Scottishness affected what he wrote. Garrett and Hanley's innovation consists in their use of the concepts "history" and "impartiality" to highlight the unity of Smith's philosophical corpus. And in perhaps the most arrestingly original, manuscript-rich chapter of all, Wood traces the impact of Newton on, and more generally the importance of the natural sciences for, Reid, in order to "put the science back into the Scottish Enlightenment's 'science of man'" (405). Other chapters derive novelty from treating conventional handbook topics under somewhat less conventional headings—the luxury debate in a chapter on "barbarism and republicanism" (by Silvia Sebastiani), for example.

Although the chapters, independently readable but linked by cross-references, tend to enhance rather than duplicate one another, they are unlikely to be equally accessible to non-experts unfamiliar with the surveyed texts. Some lean toward the introductory mode, leading the reader slowly through a series of contextualized quotations, whereas others more frequently employ rapid series of sparsely documented generalizations—the author's mature reflections on a corpus of texts he or she knows well.

The portrait of the Scottish Enlightenment that emerges from the volume as a whole is, by design, Scotland-centric. International contacts are occasionally thematized (as in Roger Emerson's chapter, reprinted from a 2009 collection of his essays), and there is no shortage of references to such non...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1538-4586
Print ISSN
0022-5053
Pages
pp. 357-358
Launched on MUSE
2017-04-11
Open Access
No
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