Culture and Society in the Scottish Enlightenment

Explore 18th Century Edinburgh and its world-leading ideas

This course will let you explore the culture and society of 18th century Edinburgh and how this context led to the major developments in the Scottish Enlightenment. 

You will be introduced to the social, political, and religious thought of the period and investigate key areas of development in the Scottish Enlightenment , including philosophy, aesthetics, medicine, and literature. Special consideration will also be given to the influence of Scottish thinking on America, and the circumstances which led to the eclipse of Enlightenment thinking.

The course is interdisciplinary: thinkers such as David Hume and Adam Smith studied and wrote on a wide range of academic disciplines, on the basis that each discipline is helpful to shed explanatory light on the others. This is a traditional Scottish approach to study, which predates the Scottish Enlightenment – and it is the approach which this course will adopt. As philosophy was the central discipline of the Scottish Enlightenment, a philosophical approach will be used to consider each of the other key themes and developments.  

You will consider the enduring relevance of the Enlightenment, including current approaches to its study, and areas of contemporary debate among scholars. This approach will let you enhance your critical, discursive and analytical skills.

There will be the opportunity for guided tours of museums and galleries, as well as locations in Edinburgh which relate to the period of the Scottish Enlightenment. You will also take part in a philosophical walking tour of Edinburgh, visiting key sites and locations across the city, and helping you understand the context of the ground-breaking developments of this period.


Course format

The course will be delivered via structured seminar sessions, with an introductory lecture and tutorials in the first week. There will be prescribed and optional readings for all classes, which you will be expected to read outside of class time. 

You will also take part in museum and gallery visits across Edinburgh, and a philosophical walking tour of the city.

You will take an multidisciplinary approach, while focusing on philosophy as the central discipline of the Enlightenment. No prior knowledge of the Scottish Enlightenment is needed.



Informal assessment will take place through group discussion and classroom activities as guided by the tutor.


Course Organiser

Dr John Gordon is a Tutor in Philosophy and Classics at the University of Edinburgh's Centre for Open Learning.

By the end of this course, students will be able to:

  • Understand key themes, issues, and ideas associated with the Scottish Enlightenment
  • Show awareness of the cultural and intellectual legacy of the Scottish Enlightenment
  • Demonstrate Enhanced critical, discursive and analytical skills, gained through tutorial participation and completion of written assessments
  • Appreicate the intellectual, cultural and historical significance of Edinburgh and Scotland

A number of fee packages are available for the Summer School. Full fee information can be found on the Fees page.

All fee packages include tuition costs, selected social activities, and your chosen accommodation type. Full information on our accommodation options can be found here.

Costs are provided per week. To calculate your total cost, select your package type, then multiply this cost by the number of weeks in your course.

e.g. A student selecting a Silver package for a 4-week course in July would calculate:

£776 x 4 weeks = £3104

To secure your place at the Summer School, you will be required to pay a deposit of £125 which can be reclaimed towards your fee package.

Please note that study in the UK may incur additional costs e.g. visa application fees.

If you submit your application and deposit before 31 January 2018, you can claim our special early bird rate. We also offer a range of special rates for students at our valued partner institutions. Please see our Fees page for more details.