The Scottish Enlightenment & the Distinction of Ranks (October 2022)

david hume adam ferguson john millar

October, 2022

with Amy Willis

What is the origin of authority, and how does it change over time? This question, combined with the question of what prompts economic progress, was at the core of Scottish Enlightenment thinking. This reading group will take John Millar's The Origin of the Distinction of Ranks as its primary text, paired with brief excerpts from fellow Enlightenment luminaries Adam Smith, Adam Ferguson, and David Hume.

Millar based his work largely on the stadial theory of history presented by Smith, along with the natural law's traditional division of domestic duties. Millar provides a rich historical analysis of the ways in which progressive economic change transforms the nature of authority, as well as expanding and diversifying the ranks of the people.

Pre-registration is required, and we ask you to register only if you can be present for ALL sessions. Readings are available online. (For those who would like to purchase the Smith, Hume, and/or Millar titles, use promo code VRG2022 to receive 35% off your purchase at Liberty Fund Books.) The other readings Participants who successfully complete ALL sessions will be eligible to receive an Amazon e-gift certificate.

The sessions and readings are as follows:

Session One: Tuesday, October 18, noon-1pm EST 
Of the Rank and Condition of Women in Different Ages
●    John Millar, The Origin of the Distinction of Ranks, Chapter 1 (pages 83-156)
Session Two: Tuesday, October 25, noon-1pm EST
Of the Jurisdiction and Authority of a Father

Session Three: Tuesday, November 1, noon-1pm EST
Of the Authority of Chiefs and Sovereigns

Session Four: Tuesday, November 8, noon-1pm EST  
Of Changes in Arts, Sciences, and Manners