Pick from a range of interesting facts and detailed information about Scotland and the Scottish people.
Scotland is known the world over as a place of history and heritage as well as cutting edge art and culture
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Scotland is renowned across the globe for its rich culture and heritage, and its contribution to the world past and present. From its thriving contemporary arts and music scene to its achievements in industry, medicine, science, law and literature, Scotland's story is one of immense achievement
Athens of the North
Edinburgh is built on seven hills, like Rome. But it's not called the Rome of the North. On one of those hills Calton Hill, overlooking the city's main thoroughfare Princes Street there is a cluster of Greek style buildings reminiscent of the Parthenon in Athens. But this is not the reason why the city is called The Athens of the North. The acropolis is an unfinished building that was started in 1816 to commemorate those who had died in the Napoleonic Wars. However, it gives a Grecian touch to the dramatic skyline that reinforces the intriguing alias.
Greek philosophy is one of the fundamental pillars of western thought the other being Christian theology and it was the flowering of philosophical thinking in Edinburgh between 1740 and 1790 that earned the city this epithet. One figure in particular dominated the new intellectual arena David Hume and his thinking and writing is still widely studied and debated today in the philosophy departments of universities across the world.
The other intellectual giant who is still regarded as a seminal thinker was the political economist Adam Smith who was a professor at Glasgow University. These forerunners led a shining field of other protagonists tackling key issues of moral philosophy, history and political economy across Scotland, particularly in the four universities. The roll call included such luminaries as Adam Ferguson, Dugald Stewart and William Robertson (Edinburgh); Francis Hutcheson, Thomas Reid and John Millar (Glasgow); and outside of academia as was Hume himself Lord Kames, Sir James Steuart and Dr. James Anderson. Such was the intense output of thought in this fifty year period that it became known as the Scottish Enlightenment.
The Treatise of Human Nature
Hume was a sceptic and an atheist and his finest work, the three volume 'Treatise of Human Nature' which he wrote when only twenty eight years of age in 1739 was actually seen as far too radical in his own day. It took about 200 years, with the emergence of the science of psychology, for his thought on human nature to be fully appreciated. His political and historical writings were most appreciated in his own day and he was a great influence on Adam Smith. But his most radical thesis that has influenced contemporary thinking was that morality forms in the early years of life, within the family. He espoused sociability, sympathy, affection and concern for both self and others as being the mainsprings of moral life.
He also rejected everyday logic and questioned the idea of cause and effect. The theologians of the day argued that because we see an orderly universe there must be a creator. Hume expressed doubt: how do we know, for we have not seen any other universes to compare with our own.
His writings reveal a brilliant sceptical mind at work and as well as influencing Smith he influenced the great German philosopher Kant and the thinkers behind the American Revolution, which indeed he predicted. His free thinking, which scandalised some, was tempered with a great sense of humour and he was a constant guest in intellectual circles both in Scotland and France. There's a story that a devout old lady once found him stuck in some deep mud on a road outside Edinburgh the philosopher was a bon viveur and rather portly. Recognising immediately who the famous figure was she agreed to help him out of his predicament only if he recited the Apostles' Creed and the Lord's Prayer. We can only assume that he complied, chuckling to himself.
The Wealth of Nations
When Adam Smith published 'An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations' in 1776 the same year his mentor Hume died he can have had no idea how profound an influence this book would have on the world. It has been described as one of the most important books ever written: it was, in essence, the foundation of the science of political economics and is referred to in every history of the subject.
The book's basic doctrine is that labour is the true source of a nation's wealth. Smith advocated the division of labour in the production process; he championed individual enterprise and argued the benefits of free trade. The true wealth of a nation, he maintained, lay not in gold but in producing an abundance of the necessities of life. His argument also warned against the unnecessary intervention by the state in this process. If these ideas have a remarkably modern ring it's because they shaped modern political economic thinking.
A tradition of thinking
The Scottish Enlightenment came to an end in the early 1800s, due largely to the rise of Christian pietism in Scotland and universities falling into the control of more conservative and religious-minded academics.
A period came to an end but its influence didn't. And in today's more liberal, secular world the study of philosophy is once again given its due intellectual gravitas. The universities of Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen, St Andrews, Dundee and Stirling all have thriving departments of philosophy where students can engage in the path of reasoned thinking. In Scotland, it's a path that glitters with gems strewn by past thinkers and with the post-devolution emergence of a new nation and all the concomitant wrestling with questions of identity Scotland's current intellectual climate is very bracing.