International Encyclopaedia
of the Histories of Anthropology

An eminent representative of the Scottish Enlightenment, Adam Ferguson (1723-1816) was one of the most important theoreticians of progress and the author of the Essay on the History of Civil Society (1767). He was one of the very first thinkers to propose a theory of the origins of civilisation in four stages (hunting, pastoralism, agriculture, trade). In his Essay, the Iroquois are the paradigmatic example to define savagery, which is not a state but a stage. Just as much as civilised people, savages are fully and naturally social beings. Ferguson insists on the importance of the economy in characterising social organisation – private property, social inequalities and division of labour being decisive criteria in defining a society. His Essay was admired by E.E. Evans-Pritchard and Ernest Gellner.

Keywords: Enlightenment | 18th century | Scotland | Iroquois | Notion of progress | Civilisation