The Scottish Enlightenment in Context

Find out how Edinburgh became the birthplace of modern science, economics, and philosophy

In this course, you will consider the key developments of the Scottish Enlightenment in areas including philosophy, ethics, social and political thought, historiography, medical science, aesthetics, literature, and religious thinking. You will also have the opportunity to assess the influence of Scottish thinking on America, and the circumstances which led to the eclipse of Enlightenment thinking.

Introducing students to the central themes, issues and theories of the Scottish Enlightenment, there will be a particular emphasis on the enduring relevance of the Enlightenment. Students will examine current approaches to the Scottish Enlightenment, and areas of contemporary debate among scholars. The course also aims to enhance students’ critical, discursive and analytical skills.

The course is interdisciplinary: thinkers such as David Hume and Adam Smith studied and wrote on a wide range of academic disciplines, each discipline shedding explanatory light on the others. This is a traditional Scottish approach to study, which predates the Scottish Enlightenment. Philosophy was the central discipline of the Scottish Enlightenment – and it will similarly be central to our studies.

Explorations of Edinburgh through guided walking tours and visits to museums and galleries will let you place Enlightenment developments in context and understand the major influences of of this historical period.

Course format

The course takes an inter-disciplinary approach, while focusing on philosophy as the central discipline of the Enlightenment. No prior knowledge of the Scottish Enlightenment is needed.

The course will be delivered principally via structured seminar sessions, with an introductory lecture and tutorials in the first week. There will be prescribed and optional readings for all classes.



  • 1500-word source analysis (40%)
  • 2500-word essay (60%)

There will be a choice of disciplines for each assessment component.


Course Organiser

Dr John Gordon is a Tutor in Philosophy and Classics at the University of Edinburgh's Centre for Open Learning.

By the end of this course students should be able to:

  • Display knowledge and understanding of the key themes, issues and ideas associated with the Scottish Enlightenment
  • Appreciate the cultural and intellectual legacy of the Scottish Enlightenment
  • Explain the most recent critical thinking on the Scottish Enlightenment, and areas of continuing debate
  • Exhibit enhanced critical, discursive and analytical skills, gained through class participation and completion of written assessments
  • Understand the intellectual, cultural and historical significance of Edinburgh and of Scotland

A number of fee packages are available for the Summer School. Full fee information can be found on the Fees page.

All fee packages include tuition costs, selected social activities, and your chosen accommodation type. Full information on our accommodation options can be found here.

Costs are provided per week. To calculate your total cost, select your package type, then multiply this cost by the number of weeks in your course.

e.g. A student selecting a Silver package for a 4-week course in July would calculate:

£776 x 4 weeks = £3104

To secure your place at the Summer School, you will be required to pay a deposit of £125 which can be reclaimed towards your fee package.

Please note that study in the UK may incur additional costs e.g. visa application fees.

If you submit your application and deposit before 31 January 2018, you can claim our special early bird rate. We also offer a range of special rates for students at our valued partner institutions. Please see our Fees page for more details.