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Timeline of Scottish History

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Scottish Philosophers & Historians

Adam Smith Philosopher

Adam Smith

  • Name  : Smith
  • Born  : 1723
  • Died  : 1790
  • Category  : Philosophers and Historians
  • Finest Moment : Publication of The Wealth of Nations (1776)

Yet another Scot from Fife, Adam Smith was an unquestioned genius. He was born in Kirkcaldy, five months after his father had died. Went to Glasgow University aged 14, for a diet of mathematics, physics and philosophy. He became Professor of Logic at this University in 1751, then Professor of Moral Philosophy the next year, a post he held for 12 years.

In 1764, he resigned in mid-session, refunding his tuition fees, despite protests from his students that he had already given more than enough value. He toured the Continent as a tutor to the Duke of Buccleuth, returning home to his mother in Kirkcaldy. There he remained for 10 years (he never married), comfortable with a life pension equivalent to a professional salary (he was a Fifer, remember!)

His ten years in Kirkcaldy saw the publication in 1776 of An Enquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, required reading still for students of political economy and others. His other writings are equally impressive and his moral philosophy well worthy of long consideration; his prescription for national wealth combined individual free enterprise with cooperation, specialisation and the division of labour that went with it. He foresaw dangers in free enterprise and envisaged some degree of state control.

He moved to Edinburgh in 1788, as Commissioner of Customs, living with his mother in the Canongate. Latterly he asked his friends James Hutton and Joseph Black to burn many of his papers, leaving a selected list for posthumous publication as Essays on Philosophical Subjects (1795). He died in Edinburgh, on 17 July 1790.

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John Duns Scotus

John Duns Scotus / Philosophers and Historians

  • Name  : Scotus
  • Born  : c. 1265
  • Died  : 1308
  • Category  : Philosophers and Historians
  • Finest Moment : The claim that universal concepts are based on a 'common nature' in individuals.

'A brilliant philosopher who caused the word dunce to enter the dictionary'

Also known as the Subtle Doctor (Doctor Subtilis), he was Scottish but of uncertain origin; he may have been born in or around Duns, in Berwickshire (there is a statue of him there). What is certain is that he had a brilliant mind, and was one of the most influential philosophers of the 14th century.

He was ordained as a priest in Northampton in 1291, and was at Oxford in 1300, alternating between there and Paris for some time. A short period of exile, from 1303-4 took place when he sided with the papal party in a dispute with the King, Philip the Fair. In 1305 he was created Doctor of Theology in Paris. Moving to Cologne as professor, he lectured there until his death on 8 November, 1308. He was buried in the Franciscan church.

Scotus was a transitional figure, seeing a difference between faith and reason for example, and between theology and philosophy. He was therefore somewhat dangerous on these grounds, and his departure for Cologne may have been a hasty one. He made the controversial claim that Mary need never have contracted original sin, which seemed to conflict with the doctrine of Christ's universal redemption. He made a brilliant defence of the Immaculate Conception, which was immediately challenged by secular and Dominican colleagues.

When the same question arose in a solemn disputation, the secular master Jean de Pouilly declared the Scotist thesis not only improbable, but even heretical. At a time when Philip the Fair had initiated heresy trials against the wealthy Knights Templars, these words may have sent a fiery breath down Scotus' neck.

Renaissance scorn of the dry academic arguments used by disciples of Scotus led to the coinage of the word 'Duns' or 'dunce', meaning a 'dull, obstinate person, impervious to the new learning'. Bit of a paradox really.

He was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1993.

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John Mair Major

John Mair (or Major) / Philosophers and Historians

  • Name   : Mair / Major  
  • Born  : 1467/8
  • Died  : 1550
  • Category  : Philosophers and Historians
  • Finest Moment : Teaching the cream of Europe in Europe. Teacher of John Knox & Jean Calvin 

One of a large number of Scots who became renowned for their teaching of logic & philosophy.

Born in Gleghornie near Haddington, East Lothian, John Mair studied briefly at Cambridge before living in Paris for some time. He returned to Scotland, teaching there from 1518-25, first at Glasgow, then at St Andrews. He taught scholastic logic and theology, and although his methods, and those of similar bent from Scotland, were regarded as old-fashioned by many Europeans, in some ways they were in fact ahead of their time.

There were also a rather large number of such smarties for such a small country. Perhaps something to do with the long winter nights.

In 1521 he wrote Historia Maioris Britanniae, in which he favoured the union of Scotland and England. In St Andrews, he was Provost of St Salvator's College in 1533. John Knox, who was one of his pupils, held him in high regard. Mair did not live to see the Reformation, but would no doubt have had some interesting observations on it. He had made comments on the abuse of the Church, and in Paris Jean Calvin was probably a pupil.

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Scottish Philosophers Historians

Philosophers & Historians of Scotland

Adam Smith / Philosophers and Historians

A well-balanced genius of philosophy and political economics.

David Hume / Philosophers and Historians

One of the greatest of all philosophers.

Hector Boece / Philosophers and Historians

Author of an important history of Scotland, written in Latin.

Robert Lindsay / Philosophers and Historians

Compiler of a history of Scotland written in Scots.

John Mair / Philosophers and Historians

A logician and historian, theologian and churchman.

John Duns Scotus / Philosophers and Historians

A philosopher who separated religious thought from general logical argument.

6 matches in the Philosophers and Historians sector

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Robert Lindsay

Robert Lindsay / Philosophers and Historians

  • Name  : Lindsay
  • Born  : c.1500
  • Died  : 1565
  • Category  : Philosophers and Historians
  • Finest Moment : Writing The Historie and Cronicles of Scotland

'One of the earliest Scottish historians'

Born about 1500 in Pitscottie, near Cupar in Fife, Lindsay is remembered for having written a history of Scotland, The Historie and Cronicles of Scotland, covering the years 1435 to 1565. He wrote it in Scots, intending it to be a continuation of Scotorum Historiae by Hector Boece.

It was first published in 1728, and later edited in three volumes by A.J.G. Mackay between 1899 and 1911. Lindsay's style is better than his accuracy, though it became one of Sir Walter Scott's reference works for his writings on that period.

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