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Sir Robert Sibbald, Kt, The Royal Society of Scotland and the origins of the Scottish enlightenment

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This paper shows that in late seventeenth-century Scotland there existed a sizeable virtuoso community whose leaders were abreast of European developments in philosophy, history and science. Moreover, by c. 1700, Sir Robert Sibbald was attempting to organize a learned society modelled upon those he knew in Europe and upon London's Royal Society. The interests of the virtuosi and their attempts to institutionalize their pursuits laid much of the ground work for the Scottish Enlightenment. The Royal Society of Scotland which Sir Robert hoped to found never became a reality, but the academic ideals which he propounded came to fruition in the Philosophical Society of Edinburgh and later bodies such as the Royal Society of Edinburgh and the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland. The intellectual inquiries and achievements of Sir Robert and his friends, particularly those in medicine and natural history, continued to be of interest to later Scots. They, thanks in part to the influence of the Newtonian physician Archibald Pitcaire, improved upon Sibbald's naïve Baconianism, but to a surprising degree their concerns had also been his.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Department of History, University of Western Ontario, London, Ontario, N6A 5C2, Canada

Publication date: 1988-01-01

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