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The Discovery of Society

Margaret Thatcher once famously suggested that there was no such thing as society - in fact, the 17th-19th century developed a line of thinking in which society became recognised and distinguished for the first time. Moreover, the things that Thatcher did admit existed, individuals and families, came increasingly to be seen, not as the building blocks of society, but as its product. This has a long course of development, but we can see the start of this line of thinking in the increasing awareness, in Mandeville, the Tatler and Spectator, and in a range of other early 18th century texts, that there is an emerging dimension of human interaction which has a logic and rythym of its own, which, by the later part of the century has become a complete stadial theory of social and political development rooted in production and economic relations.

From an early stage there were thinkers who specifically addressed the status and changing conceptions of the place of women - especially Poulain de la Barre at the end of the 17th century, and in the 18th C John Millar, and Henry Lord Kames in his History of Man.This will be our main focus in the class - as a way of seeing how the argument is made.

For the class this week please read:

Pages 478-487 (Smith on Stadial Theory), and 488-97 (Millar on Rank) in Alexander Brodie, The Scottish Enlightenment: An anthology (avaliable here and here )

And then look at one of the following:

John Millar, The Origin of the Distinction of Ranks, ch 1 (Rank and Distinction of Women)

Lord Kames, Sketches of the History of Man, Book I, sketch VI (progress of the female sex)-

Questions to consider

What is 'stadial' theory? What place did it occupy in Scottish Enlightenment thought?

What are the stages of history as charactized by Millar and Smith?

What is the relationship in Millar's theory between economic change and authority? How does Millar link stadial theory to his account of changing conceptions of the position of women?

What are Kames' views on the origins of sexual difference and its relationship to stadial theory?

How systematic is their thinking - and how far does it seem wholly ad hoc? And what do you think they thought they were doing?

Suggested secondary reading

Nicholas Miller, John Millar and the Scottish Enlightement (2017)

Istvan Hont and Michael Ignatieff, Wealth and virtue : the shaping of political economy in the Scottish enlightenment (1983) - avail as an ebook

Alexander Brodie, The Scottish Enlightenment (1997)

Christopher Berry, The idea of commercial society in the Scottish Enlightenment (2013) - avail as an ebook