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Philosophy of the Scottish Enlightenment

Course Times & Enrolment

Wednesdays from 17th January 2024 (Code PH057-202) Wednesdays from
17th January 2024 11:10am - 1:00pm • (10 classes)
LG46 Paterson's Land, Holyrood Campus • Tutor: John Gordon BA PhD
This course is now closed for enrolments

Course Summary

18th century Edinburgh was described by Smollet as ‘a hotbed of genius’. This course will use extracts from primary sources written by some of the greatest philosophical thinkers of the Scottish Enlightenment to establish the truth of this claim.

Course Details

Pre-requisites for enrolment

No prior knowledge is required.

Content of Course

Students will study texts according to related themes every week such as: origins of the Scottish Enlightenment; Hume and the science of man; Hume’s theory of perception; Reid and common sense; Kames and the existence of god; Hume on suicide; Smith’s moral sentiments; social theory in the Eighteenth Century; Dugald Stewart and the nineteenth century curriculum, and the legacy of the Scottish Enlightenment. We will also touch on some of the controversies that have arisen around thinkers such as Hume.

Teaching method(s)

Each session will combine lecture and teacher-led group discussion. You will be encouraged to critically engage with the course reading, introducing you to some of the key writings about philosophy and the Scottish Enlightenment. You will be encouraged to reflect on the texts through the lenses of your own thoughts and experiences. Feedback provided during class will enhance your ability to understand the course topics.

Learning outcomes

On completion of this course, students will be able to:

  1. Identify key themes in Scottish Enlightenment philosophy.
  2. Locate the various texts studied in the wider context of the Scottish Enlightenment, and of philosophy generally.
  3. Apply basic skills, techniques and practices associated with reading philosophical texts.
  4. Evaluate some central arguments and ideas of philosophy.


Core Readings

Students should wait until the course has been confirmed to run before purchasing any books.


  • Broadie, A., 1997. The Scottish Enlightenment – An Anthology. Edinburgh: Canongate.


  • Broadie, A., 2001. The Scottish Enlightenment. Edinburgh: Birlinn.
  • Rendall, J., 1978. The Origins of the Scottish Enlightenment. London: Macmillan.

Web Sources

Some study materials will be available on the class Virtual Learning Environment (VLE).


BBC In Our Time Podcast


If you have questions regarding the course or enrolment, please contact COL Reception at Paterson's Land by email or by phone 0131 650 4400.

Student support

If you have a disability, learning difficulty or health condition which may affect your studies, please let us know by ticking the 'specific support needs' box on your course application form. This will allow us to make appropriate adjustments in advance and in accordance with your rights under the Equality Act 2010. For more information please visit the Student Support section of our website.