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Title: James Hutton's metaphysics, theory of language, and science, in the Scottish Enlightenment
Author: Ross, Kevin
Awarding Body: University of Edinburgh
Current Institution: University of Edinburgh
Date of Award: 2011
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James Hutton (1726-1797) is most famous for his 'Theory ofthe Earth' in which he demonstrated the vast time scale of the geological process and has become known as "the founder of modern geology." Much therefore has been written about Hutton's work on geology, but he was in fact a polymath who published on a variety of subjects in natural philosophy and philosophy which have been largely neglected. Indeed, his longest publication the three-volume metaphysical work 'An Investigation of the Principles of Knowledge and of the Progress of Reason, from Sense to Science and Philosophy' (1794) has been virtually ignored. Yet without an examination of his metaphysical inquiry it is difficult to comprehend his approach to science. Embedded within his metaphysics was Hutton's theory of language which is the main subject of this thesis. Beginning with an introduction which biographically and historiographically contextualizes Hutton, this thesis is then divided into three parts: Metaphysics, Language, and Science. The first part contains an analysis of Hutton's metaphysics and an explanation of why it has been neglected. It also considers the influence of Hutton's university professors - specifically Colin MacLaurin and John Stevenson - on his metaphysics and theory of language. Additionally this part includes an examination of what has been written about Hutton's metaphysics most notably in the contemporary periodicals 'The Analytical Review', 'The Critical Review', and 'The English Review'. The second part begins by illustrating the importance that Hutton attached to his work on language as he presented it to an intellectually elite audience as part of a linguistic debate at the Royal Society of Edinburgh. Using manuscript evidence from the Society's records this part also illustrates the extent of Hutton's activities in both the Physical Class and the Literary Class of the Royal Society of Edinburgh. Additionally this part shows that Hutton's published theory of language, which contained dissertations on speech and orthography, was a social, cultural and pedagogical response to the period's preoccupation with standardization. But Hutton's theory differed completely from the preoccupation with an elitist standard that was prevalent at the time, as he thought that the fashionable pronunciation of the Court and the polite metropolitan society of London were just as erroneous as any regional dialect since they all failed to adhere to proper principles. In the third part it is argued that Hutton's principles of orthography had implications for his and other's science since if natural philosophy continued to be written on an erroneous etymological standard it would eventually fall into scientific ruin. The thesis concludes that since Hutton's theory of language was ultimately part of his metaphysics which he applied to his science, then in order to fully comprehend Hutton's science his metaphysics and theory of language should be taken into consideration.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available