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Science in the Scottish Enlightenment
How is it that a small, poor country in northern Europe became one of the most dynamic...
How is it that a small, poor country in northern Europe became one of the most dynamic centres of Enlightenment thinking? This unit examines the cultural, intellectual and religious characteristics of Scotland in the eighteenth century that led to the emergence of such intellectual pioneers as James Hutton, Joseph Black and William Cullen, and briefly describes their key ideas and findings.
By the end of this section you should be able to:
- understand developments in Scotland with regard to the Enlightenment period;
- give Scottish examples from the community of philosophers and scientists from the Enlightenment period;
- describe how these Scots helped influence the Industrial Revolution and the American Revolution.
- Current section: Introduction
- Learning outcomes
- 1 The Enlightenment in Scotland
- 2 Origins of the Scottish Enlightenment
- 3 The Enlightenment milieu
- 4 The leading figures of the Scottish Enlightenment
- 5 James Hutton
- 6 Joseph Black
- 7 Conclusion
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Science in the Scottish Enlightenment
Inspired by the Scientific Revolution of the seventeenth century, the intellectuals of eighteenth-century Europe launched a dazzling programme for the extension of knowledge and for the promotion of human welfare. Their programme has become known as the ‘Enlightenment’ and their age is often called the ‘Age of Enlightenment’.
This unit is concerned with science in Scotland, one of the most dynamic centres of Enlightenment thinking. Writers speak of the mid-eighteenth century as Scotland's ‘Golden Age’. In order to get the flavour of this age, it is necessary to take a very broad view of what we mean by ‘science’. If we stay within the boundaries recognised by modern science faculties, we will miss most of what is distinctive about eighteenth-century Scotland. The interconnections and cross-fertilisation between disciplines that we now regard as having little to do with each other is one of the remarkable features of the Scottish scene. Geologists associated with historians, economists with chemists, philosophers with surgeons, lawyers with farmers, church ministers with architects.
This material is from our archive and is an adapted extract from The Rise of Scientific Europe, 1500-1800 (AS208) which is no longer taught by The Open University. If you want to study formally with us, you may wish to explore other courses we offer in this.
This is an extract from an Open University course which is no longer available to new students. If you found this interesting you could explore more free History of Science, Technology and Medicine courses or view the range of currently available OU History of Science, Technology and Medicine courses.
Copyright & revisions
Originally published: Friday, 24th June 2011
- Creative-Commons: The Open University is proud to release this free course under a Creative Commons licence. However, any third-party materials featured within it are used with permission and are not ours to give away. These materials are not subject to the Creative Commons licence. See terms and conditions. Full details can be found in the Acknowledgements section.
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