The Philosophical Society of Edinburgh 1737–1747

British Journal for the History of Science 12 (2):154-191 (1979)
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Several essays, articles, and papers have appeared during the last fifteen years which have shed light on the place and function of science in the intellectual life of eighteenth-century Scotland. Some have concentrated on ideological factors such as the increasing concerns with polite culture, improvement, and the reaction of the Scottish élite to the Act of Union. Others have noted the roles of Jacobites and Whigs in the production of a culture which was unique to Scotland. The generalist educational ideals held by Scots have been explored, as have their philosophical, methodological, and mathematical traditions. Another set of papers has fruitfully examined ‘the social role of knowledge’ and has attempted through studies of the politics of Scottish science and a consideration of its audience to show how the characteristics of local provincial society could influence if not ‘determine scientific activity, its social organization or intellectual structure’. Concerns with the institutionalization of scientific activities and the acceptance of new values have also led to studies of the universities, medical corporations, and societies which provided focuses for scientific enquiry. All of these studies have emphasized the aspects of science north of the Tweed between about 1690 and 1830 which seem uniquely Scottish. No one would deny the value of these works but perhaps it is now time to redress the balance and to notice how typical much of the scientific work of the Scots was, and how easily it and the institutions through which it was pursued can be fitted into the wider context of the European Enlightenment



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