Adaptations: History, Gender, and Political Economy in the Work of Dugald Stewart

History of European Ideas 38 (1):143-161 (2012)
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Abstract

Summary This paper notes and explores the attraction of Dugald Stewart's moral philosophy for women readers and a few women writers. Student lecture notes reveal the chronological development of his ideas, as he drew upon the works of Thomas Reid, Adam Smith, and Adam Ferguson, and responded to political events. Particular attention is paid to Stewart's comments relating to women and gender, through discussions of education, the institution of marriage, and population questions. After 1800, he shifted away from a speculative conjectural history towards a philosophy of moral progress rooted in common sense philosophy and a belief in perfectibility. He taught a system of practical morality relevant to the education of children and strongly emphasised the importance of the association of ideas in childhood. For women readers, the message was contradictory in that he united an apparently conservative reinforcement of the relations of the sexes with a belief in the improvement of the condition of women through education in a modern, progressive, and commercial society.

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