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Scotland's Influence on Civilization
The Science and Philosophy of Scotland


IT is in the two closely-affiliated realms of science and philosophy that the intellectual education and development of a nation may be said to attain its higher levels. To this needs only to be added the equally important moral and religious development to make the education complete and the work of advancement satisfactory and perfect. Without claiming for the Scottish people any superior excellence over other civilized communities in these respects, it is enough now to say that during the past two centuries their progress has been manifest, and they have now reached these higher levels of modern cultivated thought.

In the wide fields of invention and discovery and of the natural and physical sciences the sons of Scotland have ever marched with the vanguard in the grand army of human progress. From James Watt, the constructor of the steam-engine, and John Napier, the inventor of logarithms, and Colin Maclaurin's great treatise On Fluxions, down to Sir David Brewster the astronomer, Playfair the geometrician, Sir Roderic Murchison the geographer, Sir Charles Lyell and Hugh Miller the geologists, and from the early African travelers Mungo Park and Clapperton down to her great missionaries Robert Moffat and David Livingstone in Africa, Claudius Buchanan and Alexander Duff in India,--little Scotland has borne her full share in the great work of scientific investigation and discovery, and in the still greater work of the world's evangelization. Her sons of science, her Christian civilizers, her heroic missionaries, have "stood before kings; they have not stood before mean men."

In the advancement of the inductive sciences, as well as in that of intellectual and moral philosophy, in Scotland, her great universities bore no inconsiderable part. These ancient and honored seats of learning, though never so richly endowed as those of England, were from their early foundations the radiating centres of light and influence to the whole Scottish people. Around them gathered the most learned and noted men of the times. In them were educated the young men who devoted themselves to scientific research or philosophic inquiry, and who in after-life were called back, crowned with honors, to fill the professor's chair in their alma mater, and from these centres of learning to send forth to the world the matured results of their investigations. Scotland has been highly favored with such seats of learning, having had four of them from early times-----the two principal ones in the two chief cities of the realm, the renowned universities of Edinburgh and Glasgow, and the other two in the ancient cities of St. Andrews and Aberdeen, not so widely known, but still ancient, honorable and influential in their share of the scientific, classical, philosophical, literary and theological training of the successive generations of her youth. Nor has she from the foundation of these great schools ever been without an influence, both direct and indirect, upon the world at large. Through these schools, back to their origin, Scotland has been to a large extent the educator of the youth of other Christian lands. Into their academic halls from year to year have come the sons of the wealthy, from England, from Ireland, from America, from all the British dependencies abroad, and even from the Continent, to receive the higher culture of science, theology, law, medicine, philosophy. Especially in the earlier history of our own country, when institutions of learning were in comparative infancy here, was this educational influence of Scotland manifest in our pulpits and in all the learned professions. Here, from the lips of the most eminent professors, did many of our youth go to receive the finishing instructions of their life-work. And thither still do some of them go.

One of the distinguished men first named, the celebrated mathematician and philosopher Colin Maclaurin, was successively connected with three of these noted schools. He studied at Glasgow, where he took the degree of Master of Arts at the age of fifteen. He then obtained the mathematical chair at Marischal College, Aberdeen, at the age of seventeen. At nineteen he was made a fellow of the Royal Society. In 1725, at the age of twenty-seven, he was elected professor of mathematics at Edinburgh, where his lectures contributed much to raise the character of that university as a school of science. A controversy with Bishop Berkely led to the publication of his Treatise out Flexions.

Of all the Scottish savans of the last century, the one who has probably acquired the widest and most enduring fame was Adam Smith, the author of the celebrated treatise on The Wealth of Nations. Before this book appeared he had already won a high reputation as an acute thinker in his chair of logic, and afterward of moral philosophy, at the University of Glasgow, having published two important works—The Theory of the Moral Sentiments and a Dissertation on Languages. The appearance of his Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations at once established his higher fame. It constituted a new departure in economical science. It revolutionized the public opinion of the world on many questions of trade and commerce. It broke down a thousand ancient prejudices and gave a new impulse to thought and a new direction to commercial enterprise. It demonstrated how both individuals and nations could grow rich without despoiling or interfering with each other. It entitled the author to rank as a pioneer—if not, indeed, the very founder—of political economy as a separate branch of human knowledge. He raised it to a position which it has never lost—of being one of the most important of all the modern sciences. His profound treatise became a text-book of instruction in many of the higher schools and colleges of all lands. It gave to the doctrine of free trade a prominence which it has held to this day among the deep problems of political economy. After all the advances of a century, the name of Adam Smith still stands as an authority among the greatest thinkers of the world.

The mathematical and physical sciences in Scotland during the same century were well represented at her universities by the distinguished names of Robert Simson, James Hutton and John Playfair, whose learned researches, given to the public in many forms of publication, contributed not a little to the general advancement of knowledge at home and abroad.

The present century has furnished a bright cluster of scientific names in Scotland, contributing their full share to that exalted estimation in which scientific pursuits are now held in all civilized nations. Of these was Hugh Miller, a self-taught man from the stone-quarries and a master of pure English diction, author of the Old Red Sandstone and the Testimony of the Rocks, the devotee and the martyr of scientific investigation. He brought to the elucidation of these studies a fresh and brilliant literary ability almost as untutored and spontaneous as that of his immortal countryman Robert Burns. Seldom has science in any country been made so clear, and so attractive to the popular mind as in his learned yet fascinating pages. Another eminent scientist of Scotland contemporary with Hugh Miller was Sir Charles Lyell, whose popular geological writings and extended geological tours in many lands did much to develop his favorite science. The honor of knighthood was conferred upon him in recognition of the great services he had rendered to the cause of scientific knowledge.

In this honored class stand the great names of Sir David Brewster and Sir Roderic Murchison of Edinburgh, well worthy, in the value and extent of their scientific labors, to be associated with the illustrious names of Michael Faraday and Sir John Herschel of the same period in London. Perhaps no two men of the tines have conferred greater lustre upon British science than these two distinguished North Britons. Sir David Brewster--inventor of the kaleidoscope, editor of the Edinburgh EncyclopOdlia and the Philosophical 7ourzal, author of numerous scientific volumes covering a wide range of knowledge—lived long to adorn his native land by his rare virtues of character and by his contributions to science. "We love to think of him," says a contemporary, "as the experimental philosopher who combined in so extraordinary a degree the strictest severity of scientific argument and form with a freedom of fancy and imagination which lent picturesqueness to all his illustrations and invested his later writings especially with an indefinable charm." While he lived no intelligent visitor of Edinburgh from abroad missed seeing the genial and accomplished Sir David Brewster. Scarcely less distinguished is the far-famed geologist and geographer Sir Roderic Murchison, the friend of Livingstone, president of the Royal Geographical Society and of the British Association for the Advancement of Science. No man living, perhaps, has contributed more by his studies and his pers,,nal exertions to promote geographical science in Great Britain and to enkindle a spirit of adventure among the scientific explorers in distant lands.

Another distinguished representative of the most recent Scottish science is Professor William Thomson of the University of Glasgow, one of the ablest of living mathematicians and natural philosophers. He is the author of many learned works and of some brilliant discoveries in submarine telegraphy, to which he has devoted much research. His name is intimately associated with the successful solution of the great and once-difficult problem of connecting the two continents by the Atlantic cable. By his long-continued experiments and investigations he contributed—perhaps more than any other one man—to the ultimate accomplishment of that great scheme of interoceanic communication which now so wonderfully binds the world together in thought, and so magnificently illustrates the triumph of modern science. Whatever of good this practical realization of one of the great ideas of our most recent science may yet bring to the final triumph of Christian civilization among all nations, it is not without significance that Scotland, through her ancient university and her learned professor, has labored in the problem. In the coming glory Scotland, though small among the world's great potentates and dominions, will be entitled to her share.

In the recent authorship of Scotland the duke of Argyle has won a distinguished position by several popular works which have been greatly admired on both sides of the Atlantic. His Reign of Law and his Primeval Man--mainly contributions to science, but written in a profound philosophic spirit—have passed through many editions, and certainly take rank with the ablest works of our times on subjects of this kind. He is a thinker and a scholar, showing on every page a thorough mastery of the intricate and important subjects he discusses. His volumes are replete with strong, sound, discriminating thought presented in a style of great clearness, reminding one of the lucid pages of his countryman Hugh Miller. It is refreshing to find the broadest scientific culture of the age thus combined in an author who at every step fills us with a conviction of his deep earnestness in the quest of truth and of his judiciousness in the statement of his opinions. The noble author deserves well of his country, and by these volumes has made rich contributions to the cause of popular science and philosophic truth. At its first appearance a competent critic pronounced Primeval Man "the most clear, graceful, pointed and precise piece of ethical reasoning which had been published for a quarter of a century." "Its great end is to show that it is impossible to pursue any investigation of man's history from the purely physical side. Its reasoning seems to us absolutely conclusive against the upholders of the natural-selection theory."

In his work on the Reign of Law the accomplished author has discussed some of the most abstruse and perplexing problems which divide the ablest speculative thinkers of our times. The great aim of the volume is to show that, while law reigns supreme in all the universe throughout mind and matter, its supremacy does not exclude a divine Lawgiver: "Creation by law, evolution by law, development by law—or, as including all these kindred ideas, the reign of law—is nothing but the reign of creative force, directed by creative knowledge, worked under the control of creative power and in fulfillment of creative purpose."

We scarcely know a finer passage in our recent literature than that which occurs at the close of this able discussion, where the author vindicates the presence and agency of God in all parts of this law-governed universe. He says:

"The superstition which saw in all natural phenomena the action of capricious deities was not more irrational than the superstition which sees in them nothing but the action of invariable law. Men have been right, and not wrong, when they saw in the facts of nature the variability of adjustment even more surely than they saw the constancy of force. They were right when they identified these phenomena with the phenomena of mind. They were right when they regarded their own faculty of contrivance as the nearest and truest analogy by which the construction of the universe can be conceived and its order understood. They were right when they regarded its arrangements as susceptible of change, and when they looked upon a change of will as the efficient cause of other .changes without number and without end. It was well to feel this by the force of instinct; it is better still to be sure of it in the light of reason. It is an immense satisfaction to know that the result of logical analysis does but confirm the testimony of consciousness and run parallel with the primeval traditions of belief It is an unspeakable comfort that when we come to close quarters with this vision of invariable law seated on the throne of Nature we find it a phantom and a dream—a mere nightmare of ill-digested thought and of God's great gift of speech abused. We are, after all, what we thought ourselves to be. Our freedom is a reality, and not a name. Our faculties have, in truth, the relations which they seem to have to the economy of nature. Their action is a real and substantial action on the constitution and course of things. The laws of nature were not appointed by the great Lawgiver to baffle his creatures in the sphere of conduct, still less to confound them in the region of belief. As parts of an order of things too vast to be more than partly understood they present, indeed, some difficulties which perplex the intellect, and a few also, it cannot be denied, which wring the heart. But, on the whole, they stand in harmonious relations with the human spirit. They come visibly from one pervading Mind and express the authority of one enduring kingdom. As regards the moral ends they serve, this too can be clearly seen—that the purpose of all natural laws is best fulfilled when they are made, as they can be made, the instruments of intelligent will and the servants of enlightened conscience."

These able contributions to natural science are the more important as coming from one who has thus made good his position both as a scientist and as a philosopher. They inspire us with confidence both by their research and by their conservatism. They illustrate how the widest scientific culture of the age is still consistent and harmonious with all those fundamental ethical principles that underlie the Christian system, and that distinguish the Scottish philosophy as a philosophy of sound reason and common sense. While the noble writer is at home in the fields of physical science and does not shrink from discussing the deepest ethical and philosophical problems, yet, true to the genius of his country, he ever stands on solid ground and is never carried off to the dreamlands of an uncertain metaphysical speculation. He can look back upon an illustrious ancestry of stern, heroic, fighting men. lie has here fought a higher and better battle.

Let us turn now to survey another field of Scotland's authorship and influence, closely allied to that of the natural sciences. It is that of the higher intellectual and moral philosophy, or, as it may be called, metaphysical speculation. This elevated region of abstract logical thought, which the educated men of all civilized ages and races have cultivated just in proportion as they have advanced in knowledge, has not lacked attraction for the Scotch. If knowledge is power, then thought is power, philosophy is power; for philosophy has to deal with thought and with knowledge as its essential elements. If, as has been said, the world is governed by ideas, then philosophy governs the world of thinking men; for it is philosophy that classifies our ideas, systematizes our science and gives direction to all the great energies and enterprises of educated men. In this realm of pure reason, this wide domain of intellectual, moral and metaphysical philosophy, Scotland may be said to have created an independent school of her own whose power, almost omnipotent at home, has extended its modifying influences over all other Christian lands.

In the olden times, as we have seen, the Scots were great fighters and dealt hard blows; in more recent times they have been content to fight the higher battles of the mind. They have been great thinkers, deep thinkers, hard thinkers. They have well cultivated the reasoning faculties and sharpened them by use. They are dialecticians and logicians of the first order. In no country in the world has its dominant philosophy had more to do with the living thought of its people. It has stamped itself upon their character. It has been a potential factor in their education. It has given a coloring to their whole literature. It has gone into the ministrations of the pulpit as no other philosophy ever did. In all her history Scotland has probably produced no one thing which is more distinctly her own, which has exerted a stronger influence over her leading minds or contributed more to make her influence felt and respected abroad, than her indigenous, strongly-marked and solid philosophy. It has never been a philosophy of dreams and fancies, but a philosophy resting on the fundamental experience and axioms of intuition and common sense, the observed facts of human experience and the clear deductions of enlightened reason. This philosophy, the matured growth of ages, has been taught from generation to generation in the four great universities, especially in the lawn and divinity schools, and has been promulgated to the world not only by the leading reviews and magazines, but in many profound systematic treatises.

By this philosophy, both at home and in foreign lands, Scotland has spoken in a voice as potential as it has been decided. There has never been much ambiguity in her teaching. With a few exceptions like David Hume, the Scottish philosophers have in the main uttered but one voice and taught one great system. By it they have become educators to mankind, and they have largely led the thinking of the English-speaking race both in the Old World and in the New. There can be no question that they Ied it through all the colonial period of our own history, and that they still lead it both here and in Canada, notwithstanding the large influx, during the present century, of the more pretentious schools of German and French philosophy. So far as this New World can be said to have any one philosophy which it can claim as its own and call "American," it is certainly in its fundamental principles much more closely allied to Scotland than to Germany or to France. Philosophy, like all other departments of human knowledge, is progressive and changes both its teachers and its text-books from age to age, the old and imperfect systems giving place to the new and improved methods. So has it been in Scotland. Still, there is to-day no sounder philosophy in the world than that which has been expounded in the writings of Reid and Brown, Abercrombie and Dugald Stewart, the brilliant Sir William Hamilton and our honored James McCosh. Many errors have from time to time been exploded and cast off: the true philosophy is in the substantial residuum of truth that remains.

Dr. McCosh is at this time probably the ablest living representative of the Scottish philosophy. No man is better qualified to expound it. His own contributions to its elucidation have not been inconsiderable. In himself he well illustrates that strong and sound educational influence which we have been tracing in these pages, and which has gone out from his native land over all the earth. He may well be called a missionary not only of gospel truths, but of philosophical thought. Since he came among us, and even before, he has been doing in America that kind of educational work which his great countryman Witherspoon did a hundred years ago. His Method of the Divine Goverii men t, which gave hi in his early and world-wide reputation, his Typical Forms, Intuitions of the Mind and Fundamental Truth, are all thoroughly imbued with the spirit of the Scottish philosophy, as they are with sound Christian doctrine. These works form a part of the best literature of the age, have been studied in many colleges, have been read by the leading scholars of many lands, and their principles have been inculcated from many pulpits.

In his volume entitled The Scottish Philosophy, Biographical, Expository, Critical, from Hutcheson to Hamilton, Dr. McCosh has given an interesting sketch of the leading thinkers and writers of the school for a period of about two hundred years. He has introduced the work with a chapter on the characteristics of this philosophy, singling out its three most prominent points. He styles it the philosophy of observation, the philosophy of self-consciousness and the philosophy and out of it rises against the sombre blue and the frosty stars that mass and bulwark of gloom pierced and quivering with innumerable lights. There is nothing in Europe to match it. Could you but roll a river down the valley, it would be sublime. That ridged and chimneyed bulk of blackness with splendor bursting out at every pore is the wonderful Old Town, where Scottish history mainly transacted itself, while, opposite, the modern Prince's street is blazing throughout its length. During the day the castle looks down upon the city as out of another world, stern with all its peacefulness, its garniture of trees, its slopes of grass. The rock is dingy enough in color, but after a shower its lichens laugh out greenly in the returning sun while the rainbow is brightening on the lowering cloud beyond. How deep the shadow which the castle throws at noon over the gardens at its feet where the children play! How grand where giant bulk and towery crown blacken against the sunset!

"Fair, too, the New Town, sloping to the sea. From George's street, which crowns the ridge, the eye is led down sweeping streets of stately architecture to villas and woods that fill the lower ground and fringe the shore; to the bright azure belt of the Forth, with its smoking steamer or its creeping sail; beyond, to the shores of Fife, soft, blue and flecked with fleeting shadows in the keen, clear light of spring, dark purple in osophy in the University of Edinburgh. his subtle and ingenious arguments against Christianity were satisfactorily answered in his own day by many able writers both in Scotland and in England, and they have since been answered a thousand times. Still, it is not to be denied that by his writings he has for more than a hundred years wielded an influence which has been as widely spread as it has been pernicious. His example is an illustration of the indestructible power of philosophic thought even when the philosophy has been false and its teachings have been baneful. his writings unquestionably had much to do in creating that skeptical and anti-Christian public sentiment in France which brought in the Revolution of 1789 with all its terrific results. To this day there is scarcely a writer of former times who has done more to unsettle all fundamental beliefs in Christian truth than David Hume. In this case it is most sadly true that the influence of Scotland has been enduring and as wide as the world. But in the great skeptic the philosophy of Scotland is not to be held responsible for what one of her gifted sons has done in her name.

It is not the purpose of the present brief survey to describe the character and the work of these eminent philosophers—not even of those who may be regarded as the greater lights of the school. Reid, Stewart, Brown and Hamilton may perhaps be taken as the truest representatives of the school. If not the founders (for they followed a considerable line of earlier writers), they certainly may be considered as the ablest expounders of the Scottish philosophy. Dr. McCosh pronounces a just eulogium on each of these great masters of the school, especially on Dugald Stewart and Sir William Hamilton. Of the former he says: "I have noticed that in many cases Stewart hides his originality as carefully as others boast of theirs. Often have I found, after going the round of philosophers in seeking light on some absolute subject, that in turning to Stewart his doctrine is, after all, the most profound, as it is the most judicious." He tells us that at the time when the metropolis of Scotland was the residence of many of the principal Scottish families, and of persons of high literary and social distinction, the house of Dugald Stewart became the centre and bond of an accomplished circle, himself the chief attraction. Young men of rank and fortune became inmates of his family, and received impressions from his teaching and society which they carried through life." "In his classes of moral philosophy and political economy he had under him a greater body of young men who afterward distinguished themselves than any other teacher that I can think of. Among them we have to place Lord Brougham, Lord Palmerston, Lord John Russell, Francis Horner, Lord Landsdowne, Francis Jeffrey, Walter Scott, Sydney Smith, Thomas Brown, Thomas Chalmers, James Mill, Archibald Alison, and many others who have risen to great eminence in politics, in literature or philosophy. Most of them have acknowledged the good they received from his lectures, while some of then have carried out in practical measures the principles which he inculcated."

In the brilliant Sir William Hamilton the two centuries of Scottish philosophy may be said to have reached the flower. Not that he was nearer the truth than his predecessors—perhaps he was not so near as some of them—but because of his originality and his learning. He had a genius for philosophy and was certainly one of the greatest thinkers of his own or any other age. In his thorough acquaintance with the philosophical writers of all ages, ancient and modern, it would be difficult to find his equal. Dr. McCosh speaks of him as the most learned of all the Scottish metaphysicians. "When he was alive," says he, "he could always be pointed to as redeeming Scotland from the reproach of being without high scholarship. Oxford had no man to put on the same level. Germany had not a profounder scholar or one whose judgment in a disputed point could be so relied on. No man has ever done more in cleansing the literature of philosophy of commonplace mistakes, of thefts and impostures. For years to come ordinary authors will seem learned by drawing from his stores. For scholarship in the technical sense of the term, and in particular for the scholarship of philosophy, they (his predecessors) were all inferior to Hamilton, who was equal to any of them in the knowledge of Greek and Roman systems and of the earlier philosophies of modern Europe, and vastly above them in a comprehensive acquaintance with all schools, standing alone in his knowledge of the more philosophic fathers, such as Tertullian and Augustine; of the more illustrious schoolmen, such as Thomas Aquinas and Scotus; of the writers of the Revival, such as the elder Scaliger; and of the ponderous systems of Kant and the schools which ramified from him in Germany."

The influence of the Scottish philosophy, regarded as a whole, both upon Scotland and upon other countries, is admirably stated in the following striking passage from Dr. McCosh's volume.: "The Scottish metaphysicians and moralists have left their impress on their own land—not only on the ministers of religion, and through them upon the body of the people, but also on the whole thinking mind of the country. The chairs of mental science in the Scottish colleges have had more influence than any others in germinating thought in the minds of Scottish youth and in giving a permanent bias and direction to their intellectual growth. We have the express testimony of a succession of illustrious risen for more than a century to the effect that it was Hutcheson, or Smith, or Reid, or Beattie, or Stewart, or Jardine, or Mylne, or Brown, or Chalmers, or Wilson, or Hamilton, who first made them feel that they had a mind and stimulated them to independent thought. We owe it to the lectures and writings of the professors of mental science—acting always along with the theological training and preaching of the country—that men of ability in Scotland have commonly been more distinguished by their tendency to inward reflection than inclination to sensuous observation. Nor is it to be omitted that the Scottish metaphysicians have written the English language, if not with absolute purity, yet with propriety and taste—some of them, indeed, with elegance and eloquence—and have thus helped to advance the literary cultivation of the country. All of them have not been men of learning in the technical sense of the term, but they have all been well informed in various branches of knowledge (it is to a Scottish metaphysician we owe the Wealth of Nations). Several of them have had very accurate scholarship, and the last great man among them was not surpassed in erudition by any scholar of his age. Nor has the influence of Scottish philosophy been confined to its native soil. The Irish province of Ulster has felt it quite as much as Scotland, in consequence of so many youths from the North of Ireland having been educated at Glasgow University. Though Scottish metaphysicians are often spoken of with contempt in the southern part of Great Britain, yet they have had their share in fashioning the thought of England, and in particular did much good in preserving it, for two or three ages toward the close of the last century and the beginning of this, from falling altogether into low materialistic and utilitarian views; and in the last age Mr. J. S. Mill got some of his views through his father from Hurne, Stewart and Brown, and an active philosophic school at Oxford has built on the foundation laid by Hamilton. The United States of America, especially the writers connected with the Presbyterian and Congregational Churches, have felt pleasure in acknowledging their obligations to the Scottish thinkers. It is a most interesting circumstance that when the higher metaphysicians of France undertook, in the beginning of this century, the laborious work of throwing back the tide of materialism, skepticism and atheism which had swept over the land, they called to their aid the sober and well-grounded philosophy of Scotland. Nor is it an unimportant fact in the history of philosophy that the great German metaphysician Emmanuel Kant was roused, as he acknowledges, from his dogmatic slumbers by the skepticism of David Hume."


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