Growing morality

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PROFESSOR Lynn Abrams discusses the unruly Highlands in the 18th century (your report, 
16 April) and suggests that the Scottish Enlightenment, and Adam Smith particularly, introduced ideas of a new morality that helped change people towards more gentle manners. Smith taught his students that one bad effect of commerce is that “it sinks the courage of mankind and tends to extinguish martial spirit”.

He said of one of its causes: “In the year 1745 four or five thousand naked Highlanders took possession of the improved parts of this country without any opposition from the unwarlike inhabitants. Had they not been opposed by a standing army they would have seized the throne with little difficulty.” (Lectures on Jurisprudence, 1766.)

It was not the ideas of the Scottish Enlightenment that changed moral attitudes, so much as the slowly evolving changes in the economy towards commercial markets. Adam Smith understood that relationship. He was less impressed about the much slower power of ideas to cause social changes. Many countries experienced these moral changes without anything akin to the Scottish Enlightenment.

(PROF EMERITUS) 
Gavin Kennedy

Suffolk Road

Edinburgh