Our second scholar-host was Dr. Thomas Ahnert, also of the University of Edinburgh, an expert on the history of the Scottish Enlightenment. Thomas began our time together with a lengthy and strenuous tour of Old Town and environs, with visits to the Sir Walter Scott monument (which some students climbed for stunning views) and Calton Hill. Calton Hill affords panoramic views of Edinburgh and the Firth of Forth, and is always whipped with high winds. Hence our appearance in our all-class photo below.
|The whole class on Calton Hill, right before several were blown away...|
After another lunch at the Elephant House, we returned to the history department at the University of Edinburgh to go deep on topics related to the Scottish Enlightenment, focusing again on David Hume, William Robertson, and contemporaries such as Hugh Blair and John Witherspoon.
One interesting theme brought out by Thomas concerned the role of revelation in the consideration of the existence and nature of the human soul. The standard view of the time is that "conserative" Presbyterianism (which represented majority views of faith and doctrine) emphasized revelation while the moderate thinkers now associated with Enlightenment emphasized reason and "science" in their analysis of such issues. But when it came to the question of the soul, these roles were typically reversed: conservatives insisted (contra Hume) that the philosophy of the soul was complete, and that nothing remained unaccounted for, while many moderates agreed with Hume that philosophy could not prove such things, and that therefore revelation was required. Demanding stuff, but interesting.
Tomorrow: a visit with an expert on literature and an emphasis on the Scottish Reformation