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Quotations about Liberty and Power

About this Quotation:

Ferguson is grappling with a couple of ideas in this chapter on “Intellectual Powers”. The first is the commonly held view that the ancient world was superior to the modern world in intellectual and other accomplishments. The second was the idea that commercial society produced narrow and selfish individuals who placed greater emphasis on cold economic accounting than other aspects of human culture and achievement. Ferguson rejected both these viewpoints in his History of Civil Society in which he argued hhat “there is a felicity of conduct in human affairs, in which it is difficult to distinguish the promptitude of the head from the ardour and sensibility of the heart.”

Other quotes about Politics & Liberty:

21 November, 2011

Ferguson250

Ferguson on the flourishing of man’s intellectual powers in a commercial society (1767)

Read the full quote in context here.

The Scottish enlightened thinker Adam Ferguson (1723-1816) believed that in a commercial society where the division of labor operated mankind’s intellectual powers would develop and flourish best:

To act in the view of his fellow-creatures, to produce his mind in public, to give it all the exercise of sentiment and thought, which pertain to man as a member of society, as a friend, or an enemy, seems to be the principal calling and occupation of his nature. If he must labour, that he may subsist, he can subsist for no better purpose than the good of mankind; nor can he have better talents than those which qualify him to act with men. Here, indeed, the understanding appears to borrow very much from the passions; and there is a felicity of conduct in human affairs, in which it is difficult to distinguish the promptitude of the head from the ardour and sensibility of the heart. Where both are united, they constitute that superiority of mind, the frequency of which among men, in particular ages and nations, much more than the progress they have made in speculation, or in the practice of mechanic and liberal arts, should determine the rate of their genius, and assign the palm of distinction and honour.

The full passage from which this quotation was taken can be be viewed below (front page quote in bold):

To act in the view of his fellow-creatures, to produce his mind in public, to give it all the exercise of sentiment and thought, which pertain to man as a member of society, as a friend, or an enemy, seems to be the principal calling and occupation of his nature. If he must labour, that he may subsist, he can subsist for no better purpose than the good of mankind; nor can he have better talents than those which qualify him to act with men. Here, indeed, the understanding appears to borrow very much from the passions; and there is a felicity of conduct in human affairs, in which it is difficult to distinguish the promptitude of the head from the ardour and sensibility of the heart. Where both are united, they constitute that superiority of mind, the frequency of which among men, in particular ages and nations, much more than the progress they have made in speculation, or in the practice of mechanic and liberal arts, should determine the rate of their genius, and assign the palm of distinction and honour.

When nations succeed one another in the career of discoveries and inquiries, the last is always the most knowing. Systems of science are gradually formed. The globe itself is traversed by degrees, and the history of every age, when past, is an accession of knowledge to those who succeed. The Romans were more knowing than the Greeks; and every scholar of modern Europe is, in this sense, more learned than the most accomplished person that ever bore either of those celebrated names. But is he on that account their superior?

Men are to be estimated, not from what they know, but from what they are able to perform; from their skill in adapting materials to the several purposes of life; from their vigour and conduct in pursuing the objects of policy, and in finding the expedients of war and national defence. Even in literature, they are to be estimated from the works of their genius, not from the extent of their knowledge. The scene of mere observation was extremely limited in a Grecian republic; and the bustle of an active life appeared inconsistent with study: But there the human mind, notwithstanding, collected its greatest abilities, and received its best informations, in the midst of sweat and of dust.

[More works by Adam Ferguson (1723 – 1816) and on The Scottish Enlightenment]