This paper is an original rethinking of the relationship between Patrick Geddes’ cultural and ecological thinking and the intellectual culture of which he was part. It draws together, for an interdisciplinary readership, the key points of my research over the last 10 years. Patrick Geddes’ influence as a pioneer of town planning has received considerable attention. However his intellectual and cultural background in Scotland has, for the most part, been overlooked or misunderstood. That lack of analysis distorts both the view of his support for international cultural revivals (in particular in India) and the significance of his global ecological vision. This paper redresses that balance by attending to the historical and cultural starting points of Geddes’ thinking in the Scottish generalist tradition (the ‘Democratic Intellect’), placed with reference to Geddes’ international cultural influences and activities.