Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
School of Education
As commercial society began to emerge in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Europe, it was widely thought to be inherently individualistic--whether such individualism was viewed as a strength, in the Mandevillean view, or as a weakness, by the civic humanists. Five thinkers from the Scottish Enlightenment--Francis Hutcheson, David Hume, Adam Smith, Adam Ferguson, and John Millar--confronted this problem. First, they questioned whether some aspects of individualism constitute genuine problems at all. For instance, their analysis of conspicuous consumption or luxury indicated that it could inspire an individual's virtue by sensitizing him to the beautiful and the fitting. Second, they pointed out that commercial societies exhibit conflicting tendencies. Commerce can bring benefits in the wake of its problems--and not just the material benefits of wealth or liberty, but also intangible benefits that can ultimately exert moral influence over the individual. They drew attention to how markets can multiply the number of social ties held by each individual and can also alter the nature of those ties in the direction of greater interdependence. Third, some of them analyzed the conditions under which commercial society's more positive tendencies might prevail in the end. Fourth, they suggested government policies that might nudge commercial society in the direction of greater virtue.
Ramirez, Sarah, "The Road to Virtue and the Road to Fortune: The Scottish Enlightenment and the Problem of Individualism in Commercial Society" (2012). Dissertations. 382.
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Copyright © 2012 Sarah Ramirez