Ferguson Adam

Ferguson Adam

(1723-1816) a philosopher who was a central figure in the SCOTTISH ENLIGHTENMENT and, in effect, a practitioner of sociology before Auguste COMTE had even coined the term. Ferguson, whose work influenced MARX among many others, was particularly interested in the process of historical change, which he understood within a broadly evolutionary framework (see EVOLUTIONARY THEORY). An Essay on the History ofCivil Society (1767) discusses the emergence of civilized society from prior states characterized as ‘savage and barbaric’ – a theme which was to become familiar in the social theories of later thinkers.

For Ferguson, civil society was just that -refined, morally sensitive and politically sophisticated. Yet the achievement of this condition was not a guarantee of its stability or longevity. What distinguished SAVAGERY from BARBARISM was the institution of private property, and it was the kind of egoistic, individualistic and self-interested pursuit of wealth which this institution encouraged, progressively embedded as it was in the increasingly complex DIVISION OF LABOUR and network of commercial relations characteristic of CIVIL SOCIETY, that could dissolve the social bonds between the individual and society and lead to the degeneration of civil society into political despotism. Like Emile DURKHEIM after him, Ferguson was acutely aware of the problems of social order posed by economic individualism; like Marx, he under stood the alienating (see ALIENATION) effects of a capitalistic division of labour.

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