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An Essay on the History of Civil Society
Edinburgh: for A. Millar & T. Cadell in London; and A. Kincaid & J. Bell in Edinburgh,, 1767. Quarto. Contemporary tan calf sprinkled red and black, spine in compartments with raised bands, double gilt rules and a red morocco label, red sprinkled edges. Splitting to joints and rubbing to ends and corners, some restoration, minor scratches and marks to covers, leaves lightly cockled with a few faint spots; a very good copy overall. First edition of Ferguson's masterpiece, a key text of the Scottish Enlightenment. "The Essay touched a chord in its British readers because it offered a detailed, colourful, non-deterministic historical account of the way nations advance morally and materially towards the state of commerce, refinement, and liberty associated with eighteenth-century Britain" (ODNB). Ferguson made a distinctly modern economic analysis of morality, arguing that the danger was not luxury, but political laziness, or a reluctance to fulfil the duties of citizenship. Identifiably Scottish without being overtly so, Ferguson followed Montesquieu by acknowledging a great variety of factors, climatic and geographic, as well as cultural and moral, affecting the rise and fortunes of polities in Europe and beyond. "Of special significance was the Essay's impact on the early attempts at creating the disciplines of social sciences by Ferguson's contemporaries at the University of Göttingen. They were impressed by his comparative attitude to societies ancient and modern, and by his attack on Rousseau's concept of the state of nature. Ferguson's approach inspired a comparative ethnography that went beyond the traditional dichotomy between 'primitive' and 'civilized', and tried to map the varieties of social mores without grading them on a strict ladder of historical progress" (op. cit). "Ferguson is today remembered for his Essay … he was what we would now call an intellectual historian, tracing the gradual rise of the human mind from barbarism to political and social refinement … Debates between Reid, Dugald Stewart, Hume, Adam Smith, Lord Kames and Ferguson himself reveal Scottish philosophy in general to be important sociologically … His discussions of politics, economics, history, aesthetics, literature and ethnology were the synthesis of the thought of his time" (Encyclopedia of Philosophy III, p. 187). This copy, attesting to Ferguson's continental influence, is from the Château Dampierre library (with the bookplate) of the Ducs de Luynes, which was one of the most important private libraries in France. It was probably bought into the Dampierre library by the 6th Duc de Luynes (1748–1807), who was close to the philosophes and physiocrats, and stocked the library with Enlightenment texts by the likes of Montesquieu, Adam Smith and Rousseau.
      [Bookseller: Peter Harrington]
Last Found On: 2013-07-20           Check availability:      Biblio    

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