525 Years in the Pursuit of Truth Podcast: Thomas Reid (1710-1796): The Wise Club in the Aberdeen Enlightenment

Charles Bow* (Corresponding Author)

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Non-textual formDigital or Visual Products


The intellectual history of the Aberdeen Philosophical Society, known as the ‘Wise Club’ after its founding in 1758, maps onto the institutional history of King’s and Marischal colleges in the eighteenth century. The proceedings of philosophical and literary societies were woven into the fabric of eighteenth-century Scottish Enlightenment intellectual culture, and, in particular, they promoted collaborative knowledge exchange within a university community.

Following this Scottish pattern in higher education, fourteen of the fifteen Wise Club members, which included Thomas Reid (1710-96), George Campbell (1719-96) and James Beattie (1735-1803), were alumni of and/or held positions at Aberdeen colleges. In spite of unsuccessful attempts to formally unite King’s and Marischal in 1747, 1754, 1770-72 and 1785-87, this cluster of relatively few academics advanced a concerted Aberdeen Enlightenment between 1758 and 1773. Dr Bow contextualises the scientific cultivation of natural knowledge in the thought of Reid as a defining pursuit of the Aberdeen Enlightenment and origin of the Scottish School of common sense philosophy—Scotland’s most successful invisible export by the turn of the nineteenth century. Beyond informing the curricular reforms at Aberdeen colleges, the fruit of the Wise Club’s discourse transformed approaches to moral and intellectual improvement at universities throughout the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Atlantic world.
Original languageEnglish
PublisherUniversity of Aberdeen
Media of outputOnline
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2021

Bibliographical note

A podcast in the series: 525 Years in the Pursuit of Truth: A New History of The University of Aberdeen


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