An Essay on the History of Civil Society

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Adam Ferguson.

An Essay on the History of Civil Society is a book by the Scottish Enlightenment philosopher Adam Ferguson, first published in 1767. The Essay established Ferguson's reputation in Britain and throughout Europe.[1]


Part I. Of the General Characteristics of Human Nature.
Part II. Of the History of Rude Nations.
Part III. Of the History of Policy and Arts.
Part IV. Of Consequences that result from the Advancement of Civil and Commercial arts.
Part V. Of the Decline of Nations.
Part VI. Of Corruption and Political Slavery.


The Essay was critically acclaimed upon publication with a wide readership for about thirty years after it was published.[2] Voltaire praised Ferguson for "civilizing the Russians" as it was being taught in the University of Moscow.[3]

David Hume, a friend of Ferguson's and an admirer of his earlier Essay on Refinement (1759), disliked the book.[4]

Ferguson's writings on the division of labour in Part IV influenced Karl Marx.[5]


  1. Fania Oz-Salzberger, ‘Ferguson, Adam (1723–1816)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, Sept 2004; online edn, Oct 2009, accessed 22 Oct 2009.
  2. Fania Oz-Salzberger, 'Introduction', in Oz-Salzberger (ed.), An Essay on the History of Civil Society (Cambridge University Press, 1995), p. xvi.
  3. Oz-Salzberger, 'Introduction', pp. xvi-xvii.
  4. Oz-Salzberger, 'Introduction', p. xvii.
  5. Oz-Salzberger, 'Introduction', p. xxi.