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Postcards from Scotland

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Carol Craig is the Centre's Chief Executive. She is author of The Scots' Crisis of Confidence, Creating Confidence: A Handbook for Professionals Working with Young People, The Tears that Made the Clyde: Well-being in Glasgow and The Great Takeover: How materialism, the media and markets now dominate our lives. She is Commissioning editor for the Postcards from Scotland series. Carol blogs on confidence, well-being, inequality, every day life and some of the great challenges of our time. The views she expresses are her own unless she specifically states that they reflect the Centre's thinking.

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Posted 13/05/2005

The Centre’s flagship event this year is the Vanguard Programme and I’m heavily involved in finalising some of the arrangements for it. As many of you will know one of the themes is the Scottish Enlightenment. Two main reasons for this. One is that there is a break down in social science categories at the moment. For example, economists, such as Professor Richard Layard, are turning their attention to happiness – the terrain of psychology. Social science emerged in Scotland during the Enlightenment - it was figures such as Adam Smith, Adam Ferguson, John Miller, Lord Monboddo and others who created economics, sociology and political science. So it seems most appropriate that Scotland should play a pivotal part in the emerging debate amongst social scientists on happiness, well-being and so forth. What’s more Martin Seligman, the leader of the ‘positive psychology’ movement, believes that Francis Hutcheson, the father of the Scottish Enlightenment, was the first positive psychologist. Hutcheson wrote extensively on happiness and it is his thinking which resulted in the reference in the American constitution to ‘the pursuit of happiness’. Most of the Scottish Enlightenment greats wrote considerably on topics which are now considered psychology. Some of this is fairly academic theorising on perception but in their writings they also make reference to topics which we would now call personal development. For example, here’s a couple of quotes from David Hume:

'Though an overweening conceit of our own merit be vicious and disagreeable, nothing can be more laudable than to have a value for ourselves, where we really have qualities that are valuable.... it is certain that nothing is more useful to us, in the conduct of life, than a due degree of pride, which makes us sensible of our own merit, and gives us a confidence and assurance in all our projects and enterprises.'
David Hume, Treatise of Human Nature, vol. 2

'Never literary attempt was more fortunate than my Treatise of Human Nature. It fell dead-born from the press... But being naturally of a cheerful and sanguine temper, I very soon recovered the blow, and prosecuted with great ardour my studies in the country. In 1742 I printed at Edinburgh the first part of my Essays: the work was favourably received, and soon made me entirely forget my former disappointment...'
David Hume, My Life

Wouldn’t it be great if some of the experts on the Scottish Enlightenment scoured some of these old texts to find out what these great thinkers had to say about issues which are now of great concern to us, namely confidence, optimism and the balance to be struck between the individual and the collective.

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