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The Enlightenment: British

The major philosophers with whose work we are primarily occupied represent only a portion of the eighteenth century's great cultural upheaval, often known as the Enlightenment. A host of other figures throughout Europe responded to the challenges of life and thought in ways that are independently interesting, even though they proved to be somewhat less influential on the philosophical tradition. Among the British, we continue to see an intense concern with the practical affairs of morality and politics.

As a professor of moral science, Adam Smith defended Hutcheson's notion of a moral sense and proposed the application of Hume's naturalism to the emerging discipline of political economy. His results are often regarded as the classic statement of the theoretical foundations for modern capitalism. Richard Price expressed many similar concerns. But William Paley, on the other hand, rejected the intuitionistic approach of his contemporaries. Paley grounded morality as a rational consequence of natural theology based on the teleological argument for the existence of god.


Mary Wollstonecraft defended the principles of the French revolution and argued that women were no less rational and therefore as deserving of educational and economic opportunity as men.


Scottish professor Thomas Reid believed that Hume's skepticism demonstrated the abject failure of its representationalist origins. On Reid's view, we should reject the entire "way of ideas" and adopt the straightforward realism of common sense. Sense perception, then, is a direct relation between the perceiver and an existing external object; apparent cases of illusion must be resolved by appeal to the distinction between primary and secondary qualities. Although it is now little remembered, Reid's thought was greatly influential in Britain and the United States for more than a century.

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