Adam Ferguson (1723-1816)

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Early Life

The philosopher and historian Adam Ferguson was born at Logierait, Perthshire, on 20 June 1723. He was educated at home, locally in Logierait, and in Perth. When he was sixteen he began studies at St. Andrews University, taking his M.A. in July 1742. Studies in divinity followed, first at St. Andrews, then at Edinburgh University. In 1745, Ferguson was appointed as Deputy-Chaplain then Chaplain to the (42nd) Black Watch and he was present at the Battle of Fontenoy (11 May 1745) a major confrontation of the War of the Austrian Succession.


He left the army the same year to embark on a literary career. For a brief period in 1757, Ferguson held the post of Librarian at the Advocates' Library in succession to David Hume (1711-1776). In 1759 he was appointed as Professor of Natural Philosophy at Edinburgh University, and in 1764 to the Chair of Pneumatics and Moral Philosophy. A syllabus of his lectures appeared as the Analysis of pneumatics and moral philosophy for the use of students in the College of Edinburgh (1761). In 1773 became tutor to Charles, the 3rd Earl of Chesterfield, accompanying him on a tour of Europe. In 1778, Ferguson was appointed as Secretary to the Commissioners to the American Colonies, accompanying them to Philadelphia for the negotiation of a settlement.


In addition to the publications mentioned above, others include a history or Essay on civil society (1766) which influenced Schiller and Hegel, and was also known later to Karl Marx, Institutes of moral philosophy (1772), History of the Roman republic (1783), Principles of moral and political science (1792), and the posthumous Biographical sketch or memoir of Lieutenant-Colonel Patrick Ferguson (1817).

Later Life

Ferguson retired from the Chair of Moral Philosophy in 1785, but so that he could still draw a salary he was appointed to the Chair of Mathematics. Professor Adam Ferguson died at St. Andrews on 22 February 1816 and he was buried in the grounds of the ruined Cathedral of St. Andrews.