Introducing the Dugald Stewart Project 2020-2024

Professor Dugald Stewart, 1753-1828

We are delighted to present a guest blog by Professor Knud Haakonssen and Professor Paul Wood, heading up the Dugald Stewart Fellows at IASH from September 2020. Their project, working with Professor Thomas Ahnert, Professor Christian Maurer, Dr Emanuele Levi Mortera, Dr Anna Plassart, Dr Ryan Walter, Dr Lina Weber and Professor Richard Whatmore, will run until 2024, with each editor spending time at IASH to develop their contributions to a new comprehensive edition of Dugald Stewart’s works. Professors Haakonssen, Wood, Ahnert and Maurer are former Fellows of the Institute, and we look forward to welcoming the whole team to IASH over the coming years.


Dugald Stewart (1753-1828)

At the beginning of the nineteenth century, Dugald Stewart was the best-known British philosopher with a truly global reputation. His fame was due to his standing as the foremost representative of the intellectual culture that we now identify as the Scottish Enlightenment. His repute was based upon a published output that was exceptionally wide-ranging, including epistemology, metaphysics, ethics, politics, political economy and aesthetics, as well as empirical studies in the psychology of perception. His major writings were quickly translated into French, they were widely re-published in America, and, already during his lifetime, they were issued together in editions of his collected works.

While his published works were of great importance, Stewart’s teaching was perhaps even more decisive in forging his reputation. For over thirty years, he attracted students from all over Europe and America and taught courses that gave him a status and an influence which transcended those of other British intellectuals in his time. His ‘core course’ was on moral philosophy understood in the wide sense that was common in the eighteenth century, encompassing the theory of the mind, ethics, politics and political economy. In 1800, Stewart made his lectures on political economy into a separate course which was the first of its kind in the world. This innovative course was a major boost to the emergence of economics as a discipline – as well as to his own fame.

Stewart’s role as a ‘public intellectual’ made him a key figure in the international republic of letters. Not only did he facilitate careers, contacts and publications through his epistolary network, he also used it to develop intellectual work that he never published, such as original contributions to mathematics.


The need for a new edition

The aim of the Edinburgh Edition of Dugald Stewart is to present in modern critical editions the three pillars of his reputation: his published works, his lectures, his unpublished papers and correspondence.

A comprehensive edition of Dugald Stewart’s writings is necessary because posterity has not been kind to him. He has commonly been seen as a marginal or transitional figure. The most extensive scholarship on him treats him as a philosopher in our modern sense of the word. He has long been regarded as the last representative of ‘common sense’ philosophy, or ‘the Scottish school’, and as an epigone of the towering figure of Thomas Reid. For those concerned with the intellectual and cultural history of Scotland, Stewart is virtually the terminus ad quem of the Scottish Enlightenment, not least because he was instrumental in articulating the idea of that intellectual culture as a historical phenomenon. For an understanding of nineteenth-century Britain, Stewart is the connecting link between Enlightenment and Romanticism, between Adam Smith and classical political economy, and between polite letters and modern criticism. These roles as a facilitator between the ideas and movements of others have had the somewhat paradoxical effect of commentators tending to see Stewart’s own work as a static unit. Consequently, little attention has been devoted to the question of the development of his ideas, or to their meaning and function in his own time.

This tendency is particularly evident in the main vehicle for the study of Stewart, namely the collected edition compiled by Sir William Hamilton in the mid-nineteenth century, which in various ways seeks to present Stewart systematically, with scant attention to the development and revisions that his published works underwent. Since the publication of Stewarts major works spanned one of the most dramatic periods in modern European history, it would indeed be surprising if his thinking was as static as Hamilton and others have suggested. There is ample evidence, however, that Stewarts thought, interests and attitudes changed in response to the intellectual and political upheavals of his day.

The evolution of Stewart’s thought can only be properly studied through new critical editions of his published works, a reconstruction of his lectures and a presentation of all his extant correspondence as well as other surviving manuscripts. We are proud to announce that Edinburgh University Press will publish The Edinburgh Edition of Dugald Stewart. This work will involve a team of editors who individually or in collaboration will produce the titles in the series: Thomas Ahnert (Edinburgh), Christian Maurer (Lausanne), Emanuele Levi Mortera (Rome), Anna Plassart (Open University), Ryan Walter (Queensland), Lina Weber (St. Andrews), and Richard Whatmore (St. Andrews). We are delighted to have the invaluable support of Special Collections in Edinburgh University Library, which holds Dugald Stewart’s private library and other Stewart material.