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Theories of economic development in the Scottish enlightenment


  • Alexander Dow

    (Stirling Centre for Economic Methodology)

  • Sheila Dow

    (University of Stirling)


The purpose of this paper is to consider why Scottish Enlightenment thought should have generated a particular theory of economic development. Ideas about economic development in the Scottish Enlightenment period involve a certain circularity. One of the key arguments was that economic development encourages creativity and ideas, which promote productivity growth. The Enlightenment itself, as a set of ideas, can be seen in part as the outcome of earlier economic development in Scotland, particularly in the form of agricultural improvement. This process of innovation or 'art', encouraged by the division of labour, applies particularly to the fourth of the stages of economic development: commercialisation (the stages approach being a characteristic feature of Enlightenment thought). We explore further the argument that the Scottish Enlightenment was as much a product as a cause of economic development. In particular we consider whether the characteristics of prior economic development, and its cultural context, can help us understand the distinctive features of Scottish Enlightenment thought on economic development, with particular emphasis on the role of ideas. In the process, we address the current argument that this thought was directed at the Scottish Highlands, by considering how far ideas in the Scottish Enlightenment more generally were influenced by the cultural environment.

Suggested Citation

  • Alexander Dow & Sheila Dow, 2009. "Theories of economic development in the Scottish enlightenment," SCEME Working Papers: Advances in Economic Methodology 032/2009, SCEME.
  • Handle: RePEc:sti:wpaper:032/2009

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    economic development; Scottish enlightenment;

    JEL classification:

    • B41 - Schools of Economic Thought and Methodology - - Economic Methodology - - - Economic Methodology

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