Adam Ferguson (1723-1816)
By Richard B.
New Jersey Institute of Technology
Last revised 13 March 2004
- Jane B. Fagg, "Biographical Introduction," in The
Correspondence of Adam Ferguson (cited under Editions,
Note: No edition of Ferguson's works has ever been
published. Although reprint editions have occasionally appeared
of some of his major works other than the Essay on the History
of Civil Society, including The History of the Progress
and Termination of the Roman Republic (1783) and
Principles of Moral and Political Science (1792), none is
currently in print as far as I have been able to ascertain.
- An Essay on the History of Civil Society, ed. Duncan
Forbes (Edinburgh: Edinburgh Univ. Press, 1966). A reliable
reprint of the first edition (1767) of Ferguson's most famous
work, with a list of textual variants that appeared in the sixth
edition of 1814 (the last of the author's lifetime) and a
brilliant introduction from a civic humanist perspective.
Forbes's text and list of variants is also used (without so
indicating) in the edition published by Transaction Books of New
Brunswick, NJ, in 1980, although that edition replaces Forbes's
introduction with a more sociological one by Louis Schneider.
- An Essay on the History of Civil Society, ed. Fania
Oz-Salzberger (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1995). Widely
available in the Cambridge Texts in the History of Political
Thought series, this edition contains a new introduction, a
chronology of Ferguson's life, a bibliographical guide, the text
of the first edition of 1767, and a comprehensive list of
variants in all six lifetime editions.
- Collection of Essays, ed. Yasuo Amoh (Kyoto: Rinsen
Book Co. [Imadegawa, Kawabata, Sakyo-ku, Kyoto 606, Japan],
1996). An edition of Ferguson's manuscript essays in Edinburgh
University Library, edited by a Japanese scholar who has done his
best with a manuscript that is difficult to decipher. To the list
of the essays that appears in Kettler, The Social and
Political Thought of Adam Ferguson, 79-80 (cited below), Amoh
adds a few others, including Ferguson's Memorial on the American
Colonies. This edition supersedes a generally inaccessible one
put together by Winifred M. Philip in 1986, under the title
The Unpublished Essays of Adam Ferguson.
- The Correspondence of Adam Ferguson, ed. Vincenzo
Merolle, with an introduction by Jane B. Fagg, 2 vols. (London:
William Pickering, 1995). Despite some editorial shortcomings,
this is an extremely valuable collection of more than four
hundred letters, with a fine biographical introduction by Jane
Fagg that is keyed to the correspondence.
- Grundsaetze der Moralphilosophie (Institutes of
Moral Philosophy), trans. Christian Garve, Introduction by
Heiner Klemme (Bristol: Thoemmes Press, 2003; available
separately and as volume 6 in Klemme's 7-volume series,
Reception of the Scottish Enlightenment in Germany: Six
Significant Translations, 1755-1782). Garve's 1772
translation of the first edition of Ferguson's Institutes
(1769) was notable in its own right, but it became a particularly
important work for understanding the German appropriation of the
Scottish Enlightenment as a result of Garve's extensive
documentation (pp. 285-420 in this edition).
- Jane B. Fagg, "Biographical Introduction," in The
Correspondence of Adam Ferguson (cited under
Correspondence, above), ix-cxvii. The new standard
biography, superseding Small and the author's 1968 Ph.D.
dissertation at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill,
"Adam Ferguson: Scottish Cato."
- John Small, "Biographical Sketch of Adam Ferguson, LL.D.,
F.R.S.E., Professor of Moral Philosophy in the University of
Edinburgh," Transactions of the Royal Society of Edinburgh
23 (1864): 599-665. The standard biographical account, now
completely superseded by Fagg.
Social and Political Thought
- Sergio Bartolommei, "Forza del 'progetto,' potere delle
'circostanze' e teoria del 'progresso' in An Essay on the
History of Civil Society di Adam Ferguson," Il Pensiero
Politico 12 (1979): 344-60.
- Sergio Bartolommei, "Adam Ferguson critico delle 'notions of
vulgar minds,'" Il Pensiero Politico 18 (1985): 164-81.
- Ted Benton, "Adam Ferguson's Critique of the 'Enterprise'
Culture," in The Values of the Enterprise Culture: The Moral
Debate, ed. Paul Heelas and Paul Morris (London and New York:
Routledge, 1992), 100-119. Nearly identical to Benton's article
in The Enlightenment and Its Shadows, ed. Peter Hulme and
Ludmilla Jordanova (London: Routledge, 1990), 101-20.
- John Andrew Bernstein, "Adam Ferguson and the Idea of
Progress," Studies in Burke and His Time (now The
Eighteenth Century: Theory and Interpretation) 19 (1978):
99-118. Argues that "Ferguson's demand for perpetual striving" is
the heart of his doctrine of progress and "the key to his entire
- Christopher J. Berry, Social Theory of the Scottish
Enlightenment (Edinburgh: Edinburgh Univ. Press, 1997).
Treats Ferguson among other social theorists of the "Scottish
school," updating Bryson's classic account (see below); contains
a good bibliography of recent studies in this field, many of
which discuss Ferguson.
- Bertrand Binoche, Les trois sources des philosophies de
l'histoire (1764-1798) (Paris: Presses Universitaires de
France, 1994). See especially chapter 5: "L'histoire naturelle de
l'humanité (I): Ferguson."
- Daniel Brühlmeier et al., eds., Schottische
Aufklärung: "A Hotbed of Genius" (Berlin: Akademie
Verlag, 1996). Contains relevant articles by Nicholas Phillipson
on the Scottish Enlightenment, Fania Oz-Salzberger on the
Scottish Enlightenment in Germany, and Norbert Waszek on
Ferguson's translator Christian Garve, among others.
- Gladys Bryson, Man and Society: The Scottish Inquiry of
the Eighteenth Century (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press,
1945). Still useful in general, but chapter 2 -- "Adam Ferguson's
System of Moral Philosophy" -- is particularly valuable as a
summary of Ferguson's approach to moral philosophy.
- Duncan Forbes, "Adam Ferguson and the Idea of Community," in
Edinburgh in the Age of Reason, ed. Douglas Young et al.
(Edinburgh: Edinburgh Univ. Press, 1967), pp. 40-47.
- Claude Gautier, L'invention de la société
civile: lectures Anglo-écossaises: Mandeville, Smith,
Ferguson (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1993).
- Ernest Gellner, "Adam Ferguson and the Surprising Robustness
of Civil Society," in Liberalism in Modern Times: Essays in
Honour of José G. Merquior, ed. Ernest Gellner and
César Cansino (Budapest: Central European Univ. Press,
- Margo Geuna, "Il linguaggio del repubblicanesimo in Adam
Ferguson," Il Pensiero politico 16 (19992): 143-59. A
paper delivered at a 1990 conference on political language at
Lecce, edited by Eluggero Pii.
- Ernest Gellner, Conditions of Liberty: Civil Society and
Its Rivals (London: The Penguin Press, 1994). See chapter 8:
- Ronald Hamowy, The Scottish Enlightenment and the Theory
of Spontaneous Order (Carbondale and Edwardsville, Ill.:
Univ. of Southern Illinois Press, 1987). Stresses the unplanned
nature of social development for Ferguson and fellow Scots,
within the conservative tradition of analysis associated with van
- Ronald Hamowy, "Progress and Commerce in Anglo-American
Thought: The Social Philosophy of Adam Ferguson,"
Interpretation: A Journal of Political Philosophy 14
(1986): 61-87. Argues that Ferguson was an "unambiguous"
supporter of modern, commercial progress.
- Lisa Hill, "Anticipations of Nineteenth and Twentieth Century
Social Thought in the Work of Adam Ferguson," Archives
européens de sociologie 37 (1996): 203-28. Situates
Ferguson's "liberal-Stoicism" between classical civic humanism
and "modern" ideas of liberalism.
- Lisa Hill, "Adam Ferguson on the Paradox of Progress and
Decline," History of Political Thought 18 (1997): 677-706.
Identifies a Stoic, theological resolution to the conflict
between progress and declinei n Ferguson's thought.
- Malcolm Jack, Corruption & Progress: The
Eighteenth-Century Debate (New York: AMS Press, 1989).
Includes a chapter on Ferguson.
- David Kettler, The Social and Political Thought of Adam
Ferguson (Columbus: Ohio State Univ. Press, 1965). Still a
- David Kettler, "History and Theory in Ferguson's Essay on
the History of Civil Society: A Reconsideration,"
Political Theory 5 (1977): 437-60.
- David Kettler, "The Political Vision of Adam Ferguson,"
Studies on Burke and His Time (now The Eighteenth
Century: Theory and Interpretation) 9 (1967): 763-78.
- David Kettler, "Ferguson's Principles: Constitution in
Permanence," Studies on Burke and His Time 19 (1978):
- Gary L. McDowell, "Commerce, Virtue, and Politics: Adam
Ferguson's Constitutionalism," Review of Politics 45
- Hiroshi Mizuta, "Two Adams in the Scottish Enlightenment:
Adam Smith and Adam Ferguson on Progress," Studies on Voltaire
and the Eighteenth Century 191 (1981): 812-19.
- Francesco D. Perillo, "Adam Ferguson e la storia della
società civile," Studium 71 (1975): 405-20.
- J. G. A. Pocock, The Machiavellian Moment: Florentine
Political Thought and the Atlantic Republic Tradition
(Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1975). Stresses the tension
between the ideologies of virtue and commerce in Ferguson's
- J. G. A. Pocock, Barbarism and Religion, 2 vols.
(Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1999). The second volume of
this important study of Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman
Empire, subtitled "Narratives of Civil Government," deals
extensively with the Scottish Enlightenment, and Section VI is
entitled "Adam Ferguson: The Moderate as Machiavellian."
- Pasquale Salvucci, Adam Ferguson: Sociologia e Philosophia
Politica (Urbino: Argalia, 1972). Highly regarded by readers
- David Spadafora, The Idea of Progress in
Eighteenth-Century Britain (New Haven, Conn.: Yale Univ.
Press, 1990). Valuable study, with much on Ferguson and the
- Norbert Waszek, Man's Social Nature: A Topic of the
Scottish Enlightenment in its Historical Setting (Frankfurt
am Main: Peter Lang, 1986). Chapter 5 is on Ferguson.
- Norbert Waszek, L'Écosse des lumières: Hume,
Smith, Ferguson (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France,
2003). A brief survey, with an introduction and chapters on
contexts, science of man, history, political economy, and the
impact of the Scottish philosophical tradition.
The Division of Labor, Political Economy, and the Origins
of Social Science
- Anthony Brewer, "Adam Ferguson, Adam Smith, and the Concept
of Economic Growth," History of Political Economy 31
(Summer 1999): 237-54.
- John D. Brewer, "Conjectural History, Sociology and Social
Change in Eighteenth-Century Scotland: Adam Ferguson and the
Division of Labour," in The Making of Scotland: Nation,
Culture and Social Change, ed. David McCrone et al.
(Edinburgh: Edinburgh Univ. Press, 1989), 13-30.
- John D. Brewer, "Adam Ferguson and the Theme of
Exploitation," British Journal of Sociology 37 (1986):
461-78. Sees Ferguson as a bridge between civic humanism and
- Marco Geuna, "Adam Ferguson ed il problema della divisione
del lavoro: l'analisi delle 'nazioni commerciali' nell'Essay
on the History of Civil Society," Annali della Fondazione
Luigi Einaudi 18 (1984): 243-71.
- Ronald Hamowy, "Adam Smith, Adam Ferguson and the Division of
Labour," Economica 35 (1968): 249-59.
- Lisa Hill, "Ferguson and Smith on 'Human Nature,' 'Interest'
and the Role of Beneficence in Market Society," History of
Economic Ideas ("Adam Smith Special Edition") 4, nos. 1-2
- Lisa Hill, "The Invisible Hand of Adam Ferguson," The
European Legacy (formerly History of European Ideas)
3, no. 6 (1998): 42-64.
- Lisa Hill, "Homo Economicus, Difference Voices and the
Liberal Psyche," International Journal of Applied
Philosophy 13, no. 1 (Spring 1999): 21-46.
- Lisa Hill, "Eighteenth-Century Anticipations of the Sociology
of Conflict: The Case of Adam Ferguson," Journal of the
History of Ideas 62 (April 2001): 281-99.
- Lisa Hill and Peter McCarthy, "Hume, Smith and Ferguson:
Friendship in Commercial Society," Critical Review of
International Social and Political Philosophy 2, no. 4
(Winter 1999): 33-49.
- Herta Helena Jogland, Ursprünge und Grundlagen der
Soziologie bei Adam Ferguson (Berlin: Dunker & Humbolt,
1959). Part of a long-standing German tradition of scholarship on
- William C. Lehmann, Adam Ferguson and the Beginnings of
Modern Sociology (New York: Columbia Univ. Press, 1930). The
first sustained argument in English for Ferguson as a founder of
- Ronald L. Meek, Social Science and the Ignoble Savage
(Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1979). The savage as a social
scientific problem, for Ferguson among many others.
- Jean-Pierre Séris, Qu'est-ce que la division du
travail?: Ferguson (Paris: J. Vrin, 1994).
- Alan Swingewood, "Origins of Sociology: The Case of the
Scottish Enlightenment," British Journal of Sociology 21
- John Varty, "Civil or Commercial?: Adam Ferguson's Concept of
Civil Society," Democratization 4 (1997): 29-48 (in a
volume entitled Civil Society: Democratic Perspectives,
edited by Robert Fine and Shirin Rai). Emphasizes the role of
economic factors in Ferguson's thinking about civil society.
- Norbert Waszek, "The Division of Labour: From the Scottish
Enlightenment to Hegel," The Owl of Minerva 15 (1983):
The Militia and National Defense
- David Raynor, ed., Sister Peg: A Pamphlet Hitherto Unknown
by David Hume (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1982).
Although Raynor's introduction makes a spirited case for David
Hume as the author of this satirical militia pamphlet of 1760,
entitled The History of the Proceedings in the Case of
Margaret, commonly called Peg, only lawful Sister to John Bull,
Esq., most scholars are inclined to think that Ferguson was
the true author. See the reviews by Roger L. Emerson in Hume
Studies 10 (1983): 74-81, by John Robertson in English
Historical Review 100 (1985): 191-92, and by Richard B. Sher
in Philosophical Books 24 (1983): 85-91.
- John Robertson, The Scottish Enlightenment and the Militia
Issue (Edinburgh: John Donald, 1985). Concludes that Ferguson
and his coterie were guilty of "the most wilful parochialism" in
fighting for a Scots militia.
- Richard B. Sher, "Adam Ferguson, Adam Smith, and the Problem
of National Defense," Journal of Modern History 61 (1989):
240-68. Uses Ferguson's unpublished lecture notes to develop the
comparison between the two Adams.
Connections with European Thought
- Sheila Mason, "Ferguson and Montesquieu: Tacit Reproaches?,"
British Journal for Eighteenth-Century Studies 11 (1988):
- Fania Oz-Salzberger, Translating the Enlightenment:
Scottish Civic Discourse in Eighteenth-Century Germany
(Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1995). Despite the general title,
this book is almost entirely on the problems associated with
translating Ferguson into German.
- Fania Oz-Salzburger, "Adam Ferguson's Histories in Germany:
English Liberty, Scottish Vigour, and German Rigour," in
British and German Historiography, 1750-1950: Traditions,
Perceptions and Transfers, ed. Benedikt Stuchtey and Peter
Wende (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 2000), pp. 49-66.
- Richard B. Sher, "From Troglodytes to Americans: Montesquieu
and the Scottish Enlightenment on Liberty, Virtue, and Commerce,"
in Republicanism, Liberty and Commercial Society
1649-1776, ed. David Wootton (Stanford: Stanford Univ. Press,
1994), 368-402. Largely concerned with Ferguson in relation to
- Norbert Waszek, The Scottish Enlightenment and Hegel's
Account of "Civil Society" (Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic
Publishers, 1988). Much on Ferguson.
- Norbert Waszek, "Aux sources de la 'Querelle' dans les
Lettres sur l'Éducation esthétique de l'Homme de
Schiller: Ferguson and Garve," in Crise et conscience du
temps, ed. J.-M. Paul (Nancy, 1998), pp. 111-29.
- Norbert Waszek, "La 'tendance à la sociabilité
(Trieb der Geselligkeit) chez Christian Garve," Revue
germanique internationale 18 (2002): 71-85. Much attention
is paid to Ferguson, whom Garve translated into German.
- Norbert Waszek, "Bibliography of the Scottish Enlightenment
in Germany," Studies on Voltaire and the Eighteenth
Century 230 (1985): 283-303.
Ossian and Literature
- Dafydd Moore, "James Macpherson and Adam Ferguson: An
Enlightenment Encounter," Scottish Literary Journal 24
- Richard B. Sher, "Percy, Shaw, and the Ferguson 'Cheat':
National Prejudice in the Ossian Wars," in Ossian
Revisited, ed. Howard Gaskill (Edinburgh: Edinburgh Univ.
Press, 1991), pp. 204-45. How the ugliness of Anglo-Scottish
hostility transformed a seemingly minor incident into a major
- Norbert Waszek, "Adam Ferguson on the Dilemma of the Modern
Poet," Chapman 9 (1987): 55-60.
Biographical, Institutional, and Miscellaneous
- Charles Camic, Experience and Enlightenment: Socialization
for Cultural Change in Eighteenth-Century Scotland (Chicago:
Univ. of Chicago Press, 1983). A strained sociological
interpretation of the achieving characters of Ferguson and some
of his friends.
- Roger L. Emerson, "The Social Composition of Enlightened
Scotland: The Select Society of Edinburgh, 1754-1764," Studies
on Voltaire and the Eighteenth Century 114 (1973): 291-329.
Helpful account of one of the major clubs to which Ferguson
belonged, though his date of admission should read 3 August 1756.
- Jane B. Fagg, "'Complaints and Clamours': The Ministry of
Adam Fergusson, 1700-1754," Records of the Scottish Church
History Society 25, pt. 2 (1994): 288-308. An account of
Ferguson's father that is biographically significant for the son.
- Jane B. Fagg, "An 'Ingenious Literary Production': Adam
Ferguson and the Carlisle Commission Manifesto," Scotia 24
- Michael Kugler, "Provincial Intellectuals: Identity,
Patriotism, and Enlightened Peripheries," The Eighteenth
Century: Theory and Interpretation 37 (1996): 156-73.
Ferguson's provincial identity.
- Ernest Campbell Mossner, The Life of David Hume, 2nd
ed. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1980). Contains much information on
Ferguson's ties with Hume.
- Ernest Campbell Mossner, "Adam Ferguson's 'Dialogue on a
Highland Jaunt' with Robert Adam, William Cleghorn, David Hume,
and William Wilkie," in Restoration and Eighteenth-Century
Literature, ed. Carroll Camden (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago
Press, 1963), pp. 297-308.
- D. D. Raphael, "The Professor's Pension," The Times Higher
Education Supplement, 22 March 1985, p. 15. Introduces the
Lord Chesterfield tutor affair, discussed more fully in the two
articles that follow.
- D. D. Raphael, D. R. Raynor, and I. S. Ross, "'This Very
Awkward Affair': An Entanglement of Scottish Professors with
English Lords," Studies on Voltaire and the Eighteenth
Century 278 (1990): 419-63. New correspondence relating to
Ferguson's difficulties in getting paid for his work as tutor to
the Earl of Chesterfield.
- D. D. Raphael, "Adam Ferguson's Tutorship of Lord
Chesterfield," Studies on Voltaire and the Eighteenth
Century 323 (1994): 209-23. More correspondence relating to
the Chesterfield affair.
- Richard B. Sher, Church and University in the Scottish
Enlightenment: The Moderate Literati of Edinburgh (Princeton:
Princeton Univ. Press, and Edinburgh: Edinburgh Univ. Press,
1985). Treats Ferguson within the cultural and institutional
world of the William Robertson circle of Moderate clergymen of
letters in Edinburgh.
- Richard B. Sher, "Professors of Virtue: The Social History of
the Edinburgh Moral Philosophy Chair in the Eighteenth Century,"
Studies in the Philosophy of the Scottish Enlightenment,
ed. M. A. Stewart (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1990), pp. 87-126.
Emphasizes ideological and financial themes in regard to the
moral philosophy chair that Ferguson held.
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