Enlightenment Scotland

Enlightenment Scotland

‘We look to Scotland for all our ideas of civilisation’

(‘Nous nous tournons vers l’Écosse pour trouver toutes nos idées sur la civilisation’)

Voltaire, French philosophe

Scottish Enlightenment thinkers included university professors, scholars, doctors, writers, artists, ministers and lawyers. Eighteenth century Scotland has been described as ‘a hotbed of genius’.

The Scottish Enlightenment was centred on the Universities of Edinburgh, Glasgow and Aberdeen. Scholars, born and educated in Scotland, sought to understand the natural world and the human mind.

They wanted to improve the world through new ideas, discoveries and inventions.

Many of the leading lights of the Enlightenment were close friends. They regularly met to eat, drink and debate. They started clubs and societies where they could socialise, discuss and exchange ideas. When scholars from different fields shared their ideas they learned from one another.

Enlightenment figures including David Hume, James Hutton, Joseph Black and Adam Smith thought it was vitally important think for themselves – they refused to simply believe what they were told. Ideas and theories had to be challenged and investigated; evidence had to be gathered and examined.

Print of the orginal plan for Edinburgh's New Town

Edinburgh, the ‘Athens of the North’

The New Town was the physical expression of Enlightenment thinking – rational, planned and beautiful.

A photo of the Trades Hall in Glasgow, built by Robert Adam

Enlightenment Glasgow flourishes

The intellectual atmosphere of Glasgow University and the city’s new-found wealth nurtured key Enlightenment figures.

A black and white photo of storm clouds over King's College in Aberdeen

The Wise Club of Aberdeen

Members of this club investigated science, philosophy and the arts with observation, deduction and debate.