His incisive style, his fearless and often ruthless criticism, and his wide and penetrating erudition, make him a redoubtable adversary in the field of polemic. The Bulletin critique, founded by him, for which he wrote numerous articles, has contributed powerfully to spread the principles of the historical method among the French clergy.
The use of the historical method has, in fact, raised more reputations than it has destroyed, because by keeping carefully in view the conditions in which economic works have been written, it has shown that many theories hastily condemned as unsound by a priori critics had much to be said for them atthe time when they were propounded.
He carefully analyses the principles of sound historical method and the essentials of a trustworthy historical record.
He early showed a remarkable aptitude for learning, but had a pronounced aversion for pure rhetoric. His studies at the Ecole des Chartes (where he took first place both on entering and leaving) and at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes did much to develop his critical faculty, and the historical method taught and practised at these establishments brought home to him the dignity of history, which thenceforth became his ruling passion.
Throughout his lectures, Adamson pursued the critical and historical method without formulating a constructive theory of his own.
In this way he became the originator of that genetic or historical method which has since been applied to all human ideas and institutions.
Where he went wrong was in his ignorance of the special circumstances of the French nation, and his consequent blindness to the fact that the historical method of gradual progress was impossible where institutions had become so utterly bad as they were in France, and that consequently the system of starting afresh, to which he reasonably objected, was to the French a matter not of choice but of necessity.
He entirely reformed the teaching of theology there, substituting the historical method of the German theologians for the antiquated Orthodox scholastic system.
The failure to apprehend historical method has often led to the fallacious argument that the trustworthiness of individual features justifies our accepting the whole, or that the elimination of unhistorical elements will leave an historical residuum.
Nevertheless the application of the historical method to inquiries concerning the facts of morality and the moral life - itself part of the great movement of thought to which Darwin gave the chief impetus - has caused moral problems to be presented in a novel aspect; while the influence of Darwinism upon studies which have considerable bearing upon ethics, e.g.