Adam Ferguson (1723-1816)
Adam Ferguson, a native Gaelic speaker brought up in Perthshire, was a philosopher and historian. He was a member of the Select Society and formed part of the ‘literati’, Edinburgh’s literary élite.
A son of the manse, Ferguson studied divinity at Edinburgh University along with Hugh Blair and William Robertson. Blair and Robertson would later become important figures in the Scottish Enlightenment and also members of the moderate party of the Church of Scotland.
Defended Ossian authenticity
Ferguson spoke out in favour of James Macpherson, the ostensible translator of the controversial Ossian poems. Ferguson used his knowledge of the Gaelic language to defend the authenticity of the poems.
Ferguson’s most important work, ‘An essay on the history of civil society’ (1767), established his reputation as a historian. Along with the works of David Hume and Adam Smith, his publications brought the insights of the Scottish Enlightenment to a broad readership.
Image: ‘Professor Adam Ferguson, 1723-1816. Philosopher and author’, by Sir Joshua Reynolds, 1781/1782. By courtesy of the Scottish National Portrait Gallery.