We have studied James Hutton and Joseph Black separately, but they can be properly understood only if they are considered as part of the close-knit community of philosophers and scientists which also included Adam Smith, David Hume, William Cullen and Dugald Stewart. For nearly seventy years of the eighteenth century, this group produced an intellectual ferment which placed Scotland at the forefront of the European Enlightenment.
By the end of the eighteenth century, Scotland had a mature scientific community, producing work which fed into both the wider European scientific and medical networks, and into Scotland's own developing industrial economy. The members of this community shared a common belief in the importance of reason, the goodness of humankind, and the serenity of nature. Equally, they shared a zeal for the commercial and agricultural improvement of Scotland's and their own fortunes. They were pioneers in several fields, particularly medicine, chemistry, geology, philosophy and economics. The advances they made underpinned the Industrial Revolution and the American Revolution.
What was, at the beginning of the eighteenth century, a small, poor, politically and culturally disorientated country, had, towards the end of that century, achieved a commanding status as one of the European centres of Enlightenment thought and practice.