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Rhetoric and Citizenship in Adam Ferguson's Essay on the History of Civil Society

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There is a tension apparent in Adam Ferguson's Essay on the History of Civil Society between his naturalistic account of the history of societies as emanating from principles of human nature on the one hand, and on the other, the rhetorically charged moralism that readers have generally noted in his critique of contemporary polished and commercial societies. This is related in the article to questions about the appropriate relationship between forms of rhetoric and the writing of moral and political philosophy as they appeared in early-modern political thought and were taken up by other figures in the Scottish Enlightenment (most notably Hume). The article shows how reading Ferguson's text as an exercise in political rhetoric, which harnesses the additional force of forensic and demonstrative forms of eloquence, can provide a basis for understanding not only the intended relationship between the two sides of its argument but also its relationship with Ferguson's role as a teacher of morals at Edinburgh University.
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Keywords: Adam Ferguson; Civic humanism; David Hume; Edinburgh University; Essay on the History of Civil Society; Machiaveliian; Scottish Enlightenment; citizenship; civil society; education; eloquence; human nature; republican; republicanism; rhetoric

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Research Fellow, School of Politics & International Relations: Dublin European Institute and the Geary Institute, University College Dublin., Email: [email protected]

Publication date: January 1, 2006

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