Wandering through the streets of Edinburgh, one encounters statue of the heroes of the city (like any other cityscape that tries to connect with their glorious past). In the case of Edinburgh, these statues are often philosophers from the “Scottish Enlightenment” which was an amazing outpouring of ideas in the late 18th and early 19th century from this city by legendary scholars such as David Hume, Adam Smith, Robert Burns and others. This was an incredible place at that time, and they are right to be proud of those accomplishments that changed not only Scottish thinking, but the intellectual trajectory of the modern world. Often, these statues would depict the figures in dress of a different time period to show connections to another great period in human history such as this statue of David Hume dressed in a Greek toga to make the tie to 5th Century Athens in the time of Plato and Aristotle (among many other great thinkers living at that place and time).
Others, like this statue of Adam Smith, surround the hero with symbols of to remind passers by of their achievements. In this case, Adam Smith is depicted with the plow and the barrel, symbols of his role in the transition from an age of agriculture to an age of commerce, which his book Wealth of Nations (1776) played no small part in facilitating. I was humbled to walk the same streets trod by the fathers of empiricism and capitalism, even if these have not been two of my favorite intellectual movements.
You might note that the toe of the Hume statue above is bright and shinny from a tradition that has arisen in urban folk legend to rub his toe for good luck. Even though his statue looks as if it has been there for hundreds of years, it is actually only 25 years old and there is some speculation that the artist intentionally stuck the big toe out to start such a tradition which will come to define a must do experience while visiting Edinburgh. This is how these legends come about. Well, certainly a political theorist wandering about on a sabbatical sojourn should connect with the father of modern empirical inquiry, but as you can see from my expression below, a poet and a scientist don’t always see eye to eye…
2 thoughts on “Hume is in the house!”
Fun read. Keep them coming.
Sure that ain’t Brit?