End of the Scottish Enlightenment in its transatlantic context: moral education in the thought of Dugald Stewart and Samuel Stanhope Smith, 1790-1812
Bow, Charles Bradford
The thesis explores the history of the Scottish Enlightenment in its transatlantic context and, in particular, the diffusion of Scottish Enlightenment moral philosophy in late eighteenth and early nineteenth-century Scotland and the United States. This project is the first full-scale attempt to examine the tensions between late eighteenth-century Scottish Enlightenment intellectual culture and counter-Enlightenment interests in the Atlantic World. My comparative study focuses on two of the most influential university educators in Scotland and the newly-founded United States. These are Dugald Stewart at the University of Edinburgh and Samuel Stanhope Smith at the College of New Jersey (which later became Princeton University). Stewart and Smith are ideal for a transatlantic comparative project of this kind, because of their close parallels as moral philosophy professors at the University of Edinburgh (1785-1810) and the College of New Jersey (1779-1812) respectively; their conflicts with ecclesiastical factions and counter-Enlightenment policies in the first decade of the nineteenth century; and finally their uses and adaptations of Scottish Enlightenment moral philosophy. The broader question I address is how the diffusion and fate of Scottish Enlightenment moral thought was affected by the different institutional and, above all, religious contexts in which it was taught. Dugald Stewart’s and Stanhope Smith’s interpretations of central philosophical themes reflected their desire to improve the state of society by educating enlightened and virtuous young men who would later enter careers in public life. In doing so, their teaching of natural religion and metaphysics brought them into conflict with religious factions, namely American religious revivalists on Princeton’s Board of Trustees and members of the Scottish ecclesiastical Moderate party, who believed that revealed religion should provide the foundation of education. The controversies that emerged from these tensions did not develop in an intellectual vacuum. My research illustrates how the American and Scottish reception of the French Revolution; the 1793-1802 Scottish Sedition Trials; Scottish and American ‘polite’ culture; Scottish secular and ecclesiastical politics; American Federalist and Republican political debates; American student riots between 1800 and 1807; and American religious revivalism affected Smith’s and Stewart’s programmes of moral education. While I identify this project as an example of cultural and intellectual history, it also advances interests in the history of education, ecclesiastical history, transnational history, and comparative history. The thesis has two main parts. The first consists of three chapters on Dugald Stewart’s system of moral education: the circumstances in which Stewart developed his moral education as a modern version of Thomas Reid’s so-called Common Sense philosophy, Stewart’s applied ethics, and finally, his defence of the Scottish Enlightenment in the context of the 1805 John Leslie case. Complementing the chronology and themes in part one, the second part consists of three chapters on Smith’s programme of moral education: the circumstances that gave rise to Smith’s creation of the Princeton Enlightenment, Smith’s applied ethics, and finally, Smith’s defence of his system of moral education in the contexts of what he saw as two converging counter- Enlightenment factions (religious revivalists and rebellious students) at Princeton. In examining these areas, I argue that Dugald Stewart and Samuel Stanhope Smith attempted to systematically sustain Scottish Enlightenment ideas (namely Scottish philosophy) and values (‘Moderatism’) against counter-Enlightenment movements in higher education.