Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Edward Caird - Short Biography

Edward Caird was born on March 23, 1835[1] in Greenock, Scotland, west of the ship-building center of Port Glasgow, on the shores of the River Clyde. He was the fifth of seven sons born to John and Janet Caird.[2] His father worked as manager of an engineering firm during the rapid industrial expansion that saw Glasgow become the second city of the British Empire, and its environs the world’s workshop. His father’s untimely passing in 1838 came much too soon for him to form an impression of the man. His mother was forced to make the best of the family’s difficult situation. She saw to it that the six of her sons who survived into adulthood received the schooling they needed to succeed in life. She would live into her ninetieth year.
Edward was raised by his spinster aunt Jane Caird, who is remembered especially for an intensely, even enthusiastically, somber evangelical faith.[3] The family’s financial stresses necessitated the arrangement, and it seems to have been a deeply formative experience. Jane followed the Evangelical party of Thomas Chalmers out of the Church of Scotland in the Disruption of 1843 to establish the Free Kirk. It is possible that Edward also followed her for a time, though certainly more out of deference than personal choice. His older brothers remained in the ‘Erastian Kirk,’ so it is not likely Edward continued in the Free Kirk for very long, or even at all, on his own.[4] An antipathy towards the perceived narrow-mindedness of the Non-Intrusion controversy, which precipitated the Disruption, is clearly evident in the memoir that he wrote many years later for his eldest brother John.[5]
Edward received his first education at the local Greenock Academy, though he does not seem initially to have taken to books and learning, most likely on account of an innate shyness. The authors of the commemorative Life and Philosophy of Edward Caird describe him as ‘delicate and timid, and as always, even till the end of his days, easily repelled by any stridency of demeanour.’[6] Only when a headmaster suited to his own temperament, David Duff, later professor of church history in Edinburgh, came to Greenock did he begin to show an aptitude for learning. But very quickly thereafter did he begin to take academic prizes, including one in mathematics. He went on to enroll at the University of Glasgow for the winter session of the 1850-1 academic year at the age of 15, where he took classes in the faculties of arts and divinity until the end of the 1855-6 academic year. He also took a number of prizes, including one for the best English translation of Plato’s Meno, along with a commentary, and another for translating substantive portions of Calvin’s Institutes.[7]
Edward came of age and entered college just as the organizational powers of the Victorian state were being brought to bear in wide variety of ways on improving of English and Scottish societies. The possibilities of the good that could be accomplished through state-coordinated restraint on the laissez-faire political economy was a great hope for many. Beneath his slight bearing there quickly developed the convictions of a 19th century social liberal. Among similarly-minded students, he developed sympathies for such causes as state-sponsored education, expansion of suffrage, and the defense of rights, for working men, and especially for women. His fellows thought of themselves as ‘keen Radicals,’ and of Edward as their ‘philosopher in chief.’[8]
Poor health during the winter session of the 1856 found Edward again in the care of his aunt Jane, but this time on scholarship to study at the University of St. Andrews. When it became apparent that the change of circumstances was not enough to restore his physical strength, he repaired to parish of Errol in Perthshire, where his eldest brother John, senior by 15 years, was establishing for himself a reputation as a preacher. The authors of the Life suggest that it was during his stay with his brother that he finally and definitively set aside the assumed goal of entering the ministry. One of the likely reasons was that his brother’s native gift for preaching magnified his estimation of his own inadequacies.[9] He returned to complete his studies the University of Glasgow in the 1858-9 academic year.
Now 25 years of age, a matured Caird was elected to the Snell Exhibition in April 1860.[10] The annual scholarship, established towards the end of the 17th century, allowed students from Glasgow to study at Balliol College, Oxford. Peers recalled after his death in 1908 that the young Scot arrived in Oxford an old soul and a ready-made philosopher. Neither his greater age nor grave manner appears to have disadvantaged him much with the student body. He was soon much in demand as a tutor in logic and moral philosophy. He also formed life-long friendships with persons like fellow idealist Thomas Hill Green, with whom he would collaborate extensively over the coming years.
In Oxford, Caird joined the Old Mortality Club, founded a few years earlier by John Nichol, who was later a colleague at the University of Glasgow. The club got its name from the fact that its initial 1857 membership all found themselves suffering from some form of physical ailment.[11] Its proceedings were similarly marked by an idealistic confidence in rationality to express the truths of religion coupled with a realistic estimate of the frailty of the human body. Caird’s noteworthy contribution was discourse on the idea of a Suffering God, who does not simply reveal himself to humanity, but is intimately involved and participates in the movement of human history. The discourse anticipated themes that would preoccupy the Caird for the remainder of his life. Though, in a longer-term estimation, the redemptive theme was obviously biblical, in the shorter term, the lexicon was Hegelian. It should have placed him well beyond the bounds of Presbyterian orthodoxy in his native Scotland, which expressed its faith in terms of supernatural interventions punctuating an otherwise secular equilibria.[12] However, explicit engagement in theoretical controversies, theological or otherwise, was not among his intellectual tastes. The divided church of his native Scotland at the time stood in need of a new language that would take it beyond the early 19th century debates around empiricism and intuitionalism.[13] Hegel provided such a language.[14]
Caird was elected a Fellow at Merton College, Oxford in May 1864, a position he held for two years. But for a steady accumulation of academic honours, the two years as Fellow, which included giving instruction in the ‘Greats’ of the Western tradition, does not seem to have been remarkable. His election to the chair of Professor of Moral Philosophy at his alma mater in May 1866 brought the stay to an end. The appointment was a fortunate one. The chair had previously been occupied by Scottish luminaries like Frances Hutcheson, Adam Smith, and Thomas Reid. Caird related to a student years later that attained the chair because he declared him neither the Established Kirk nor the Free Kirk parties, which made him the least contentious candidate.[15] The authors of the Life spend some time discussing the depth of the field of candidates who stood for the position, among whom was James Hutchison Stirling, who first introduced The Secret of Hegel (1865) to an English audience. The Life, in a hagiographical mode, relates how Caird at first hesitated to even stand for election, out of fear of that one of the other candidates, Nichol, would be passed over. Nichol was equally generous, however, expressing his approval. He proclaimed that Caird would no doubt surpass the chair’s previous occupants.
With a professorial appointment came the means to establish a home and family. In the month immediately following, Caird was married to Caroline Wylie. The Life recalls her simply as the ideal companion to a husband who, on account of her energy and industry, ‘was able all his life long to give himself entirely to his duties as teacher and writer on Philosophy.’[16] It fits with both how jealousy Caird guarded his privacy, compounded by the unfortunate destruction of letters he exchanged with his wife after his death, that nothing is related about the circumstances of his marriage, nor the quality of their union. She only appears again in the Life as Mrs. Caird, faithfully supporting her husband, as he supported social liberal causes around Glasgow, and again in Oxford. It appears she compensated for her husband’s social inadequacies by, among other things, playing hostess at gatherings, when he more likely wished either to sit quietly and listen, with an occasional interjection, or to retire to his study.
Caird’s Glasgow tenure spanned 27 years, from 1866 until 1893. When he returned, the city stood on the threshold to a golden age in commerce, industry, and scholarship.[17] When he left again in 1893, it was counted among the wealthiest in the world. The face of the city would change completely in the course of his tenure, along with the ancient foundation of its university. Caird participated in the reformation of its Arts and Divinity programs. He witnessed the addition of a Faculty of Science, including a faculty of medicine, and saw the size of the yearly graduating class grow from 1200+ to 2100+ students.[18] Through the material expansion, Caird’s convictions nevertheless remained squarely on the side of greater social integration. A cause especially near and dear was the rights of women to receive a university education.[19] His was one of the few early voices on the Academic Senate in support of ‘Academic Extension.’ When a bill granted women access to the Scottish universities was introduced in Parliament in 1874, Caird formally dissented from the University Senate majority, which petitioned against the bill.[20] It was only in the year before he left Glasgow that women were admitted as matriculated students, and only in the year after that they could enroll in classes in moral philosophy with his student and successor, Henry Jones.
Caird’s concerns extended more generally to include the rights of women and working men in the wider society. He saw access to education as the means to break down class barriers, and was a proponent of granting free access to education. Charitable work aimed at meeting the bodily needs of the less fortunate was not enough. Instead, liberalized programs of education made available to the wider population would aid social integration. In a short speech delivered in 1892, whose contents are related in the Life, Caird still found reason to reflect:
The middle and upper classes enjoyed advantages which the poor could not possess, and they ought to feel a generous shame that the heritage of humanity was, so much, the possession of the few. They should do their best to bridge the gulf that separated the well-to-do from the poor, and foster mutual understanding and goodwill by social intercourse; so that the nation might be one body, and its members bound together in one fellowship.[21]

Critics rightly discerned in Caird’s comments a distrust that the mechanisms of a market economy could ever be expected to solve problems of social inequality. They were furious that the occupant of Adam Smith’s chair in philosophy should treat the law of supply and demand with such obvious disdain. [22] But the so-called laws, to Caird’s mind, were applied in every case to the analysis of the supply of human demands, which made it unthinkable that the humanizing moral element be left out the economic equation. Such was his concern, in fact, that he was just as careful and patient with explaining the intricacies of a labour dispute to a room of working girls, as he was expounding philosophical issues before a (exclusively male) class.[23] His concern led him to help detail the plight especially of working men and women before the Royal Commission on Labour, during its sitting in 1892. Along with those of colleagues, Caird’s efforts are credited with inspiring a new concern for labour and social reforms in the established Kirk, which came to have a profound effect in municipal politics in Glasgow.[24]
Caird’s classes left a lasting impression of many of his students. The classes typically opened with the words of the following prayer culled from biblical texts and devotional literature:
Almighty, and Everlasting, God, in Whom we live and move and have our being, Who hast created us for Thyself, so that we can find rest only in Thee: Grant unto us purity of heart and strength of purpose, so that no selfish passion may hinder us from knowing Thy Will, no weakness from doing it; but in Thy light may we see light more clearly, and in Thy service find perfect freedom.[25]

The prayer’s contents reflect, in its details, the essential meaning Caird saw in the development of Christianity, which he would later expound in an introductory study to Hegel (1883). Bruce Taylor, one of Caird’s students from late in his tenure at Glasgow, recalled the effect of his comportment and instruction:
The lecture room in Glasgow was Caird throne on which he reigned, greatly to the benefit of those who had humility and diligence. He was aloof, not only in his philosophy, but in himself. He was not proud or uninterested in struggling youth, but he was shy, and yet he was a born teacher, never calling for order in that large class with its strained attention.[26]

While the language is suggestive of a eulogy, it does convey the same sense of quiet, un-presupposing conviction, devoid of any self-assertiveness, borne out by other descriptions of Caird-as-teacher.[27]
            Caird’s major publications during this period of his life included The Critical Account of the Philosophy of Kant with an Historical Introduction (1877), The Social Philosophy and Religion of Comte (first published as four separate essays in 1879; then as a compilation in 1885), and The Critical Philosophy of Kant (1889). A list of his minor publications serves to illustrate the scope and generality of his thinking: an article on ‘Cartesianism’ in the Encyclopedia Britannica, 9th ed. (1876), an article on ‘Metaphysics’ in the Encyclopedia Britannica, 9th ed. (1883), which surveyed the treatment of philosophy’s most basic questions from Plato and Aristotle to Kant and Hegel, and a wide ranging collection of Essays on Literature and Philosophy (1892) that treated Dante, Rousseau, Goethe, and Wordsworth in a first volume, and Descartes, Malebranche, and Spinoza in a second. By any account, Caird’s output was prodigious. But, as Colin Tyler relates, Caird’s reviewers disapproved of him writing a second, much longer, critical study of Kant (1889)—even if it was widely regarded as the superior work. They believed he had needlessly expended his energies on yet another work of criticism, when he should have been developing his own positive position. Tyler describes how ‘Caird felt its force. [And] he went some way to rectifying this situation when he was appointed as the Gifford Lecturer for the 1890-91 and 1891-2 sessions, given at the University of St. Andrews.’[28] Published collectively as The Evolution of Religion (1893), the lectures were so highly regarded that they could still be recommended as a good English introduction to the subject of religion to a general reading audience 40 years later.[29]
            Caird wrote very little that dealt explicitly with moral philosophy. An incomplete set of lecture notes survives.[30] These show that he treated the topic with a deep appreciation for the classical canon of moral philosophy going back to Plato and Aristotle, but in the context of a Victorian study of political economy. However, this does not mean we should conclude that he was negligent in fulfilling the conditions of his appointment. Even his most abstruse writings are marked by the same fundamental concern to being theoretical discussion in line with practical conditions of human life—to realize the dignity of persons in community with other persons. John Angus MacVannel characterized his outlook as ‘a deep sympathy with the normal manifestations of the human spirit.’[31] The definitive exposition of this theme may be found in the second session of his Gifford Lectures on The Evolution of Religion (1891-2), which explore the mutually supportive ideas of the ‘fatherhood of God’ and the ‘brotherhood of man.’ Caird traced the historical origin of the ideas to Jesus, who he called ‘the first among many brethren.’ The lectures comprised a philosophical defense of the Golden Rule, an ethico-political mean between two extremes that either reduced persons to their animal nature or divorced them entirely from the same. It was a Victorian enlargement, in the light of a long tradition of Christian reflection on the nature and destiny of human life, of the basic lesson of Aristotle’s Politics: that outside the polis one must be either beast or god.
Writing a year after Caird’s death, Robert Wenley highlighted the extent of the influence that he exercised from his seat in Glasgow:
His intellectual children guard the outposts of the empire. Seven chairs in Canada, five in India, two at least in Australia, one at the Cape, one at least in New Zealand, are in their occupancy; while three, possibly more labor in the United States… Forty-four professorships, at a minimum, represent an incalculable leverage, one exercised on a larger scale and with a bigger audience in the Scottish churches, whose outlook he and his brother may be said to have transformed in considerable part. Nor is this all. The great world of practical effort bears his sign.  To give a brief list, the Archbishop of York, the Secretary of the Scottish Education Department, the Minister of Education in Egypt, the Master of the Canadian Mint, the Superintendent-General of Education at the Cape, the Secretary for the Carnegie Trust for the Scottish Universities, all heard him at Glasgow, while the Minister of War is a distinguished Edinburgh coworker.[32]

Among Caird’s better known students were John Watson (Queens University, Kingston, Ontario), the first Canadian philosopher of international renown and Gifford Lecturer; Sir Henry Jones (Glasgow University), another Gifford Lecturer; as well as the prolific intellectual historian John Henry Muirhead (Royal Holloway College, London); and John Stuart Mackenzie (University College, Cardiff). His influence extended to the United States with Robert Mark Wenley (University of Michigan) and John Angus MacVannel (Columbia University, New York). His influence could be felt in faculties of theology as well, in the work of persons like the self-styled ‘liberal evangelical’ Alfred Garvie (New College London), Robert Mackintosh (University of Manchester), and the Bible translator James Moffatt (Union Theological Seminary, New York).
            Caird returned to Oxford to become Master of Balliol College in 1893, upon the death its old Master, Benjamin Jowett. By all accounts, his reluctance to leave Glasgow to take up the position was great. Not only was the pay less and the work more, but he left behind a host of personal and professional connections. Perhaps the most important of these was the long and mutually beneficial exchange with his brother John, now the Principal and Vice Chancellor of the University of Glasgow from 1873 until his death in 1898, and a fellow Gifford Lecturer (1892-6).[33] Shortly after his death, Caird reflected, ‘it was one of the hardest things in going to Oxford to want the almost daily talk over things with my brother’[34] A testament to just how productive was their engagement, histories of philosophy often mention them together. But, even owing to the great strides made in mail and rail services in the 19th century England, the distance was prohibitive of much direct collaboration.
The authors of the Life point out that Oxford had entirely changed in the period of Caird’s absence. Idealism was no longer an exotic collection of new ideas, but now the establishment position. The death of Jowett moreover left a hole that interested parties widely agreed would not and could not be satisfactorily filled by anyone. Caird was selected over the more obvious choice of James Leigh Strachan-Davidson, who rose from within Balliol’s own ranks (and would attain Mastership upon Caird’s resignation in 1907). He represented ideological continuity, but lacked deep roots in the institutional life of the college. The diligent service of Strachan-Davidson, who took on much of the everyday labour, went a considerable way to easing the transition to his new role.[35] As Caird himself reflected, it was only ‘by the grace of God and the help of Davidson—as I told him the other day—that I got through my 1st term.’[36] The authors of the Life claim that this allowed Caird to play the part of a philosopher king ruling beneficently over his academic kingdom; though they also make plain the appointment’s great responsibilities and meager means to accomplish them.[37] The Life is reticent, in fact, to claim that his Mastership was either a failure or a success. Caird applied himself diligently, by all accounts, with great care and attention to detail to the tasks before him. He was formative in shaping the careers of men like William Temple, later Archbishop of Canterbury, and his friend the social historian Richard Henry Tawney (London School of Economics). However, we may glean that his time was full of great difficulties—some imposed on him, and others of his own making. Though he preached the duties of citizenship, his developing sympathy for the Boers in the Second Boer War (1899-1902) did not earn him any laurels from an English university, which trained young men for service in the empire.[38] The rate of his literary output also slowed considerably. The notable exception is a second series of Gifford Lectures delivered before the University of Glasgow over the academic sessions 1900-1 and 1901-2. These were later published as The Evolution of Theology in the Greek Philosophers (1904).
            Caird retired from most of the responsibilities of Master after he suffered a paralytic stroke in 1905, officially resigning the post in 1907. He travelled to Italy with his wife along with a couple of companions, to see Rome and the countryside, with the hopes of reviving his strength. But the final years of his life were ones of slow decline, until progressive paralysis complicated by Bright’s disease took him on November 1, 1908, at the age of 73. He was buried, alongside Green and Jowett, in St. Sepulchre's Cemetery on Walton Street, in Jericho, in present-day, central Oxford.


[1] There is disagreement over the precise date of Caird’s birth—whether March 20th, 22nd or the 23rd. John Angus MacVannel, ‘Edward Caird,’ The Journal of Philosophy, Psychology, and Scientific Methods 5.25 (Dec. 3, 1908): 673-6, lists the 20th, but this seems the least credible of the options. A long-time student, Robert Mark Wenley, who spent a total of 24 of the 27 years with Caird, while he was professor of Moral Philosophy at the University of Glasgow opts for the 22nd in his comparative ‘Edward Caird,’ Harvard Theological Review 2.2 (April 1909): 115-138. Personal familiarity makes this a much more credible claim. It is also the date listed in Harold Innes’ The Roll of Graduates of the Glasgow University; From 31st December 1727 to 31st December 1897 (Glasgow: James MacLehose & Sons, 1898). In lieu of a trip to parish archives in Greenock, I have chosen to go with the authoritative The Life and Philosophy of Edward Caird, which cites the later date.
[2] MacVannel’s testimony confuses this point as well: he claims that Edward was the sixth of seven sons. The death of one brother in infancy, appears the complicating factor.
[3] Jones and Muirhead, Life, 8-9.
[4] Jones and Muirhead, Life, 9.
[5] Edward Caird, ‘Memior,’ ix – cxli, in John Caird, The Fundamental Ideas of Christianity: Being the Gifford Lectures on Natural Theology delivered to the University of Glasgow in Sessions 1892-1893 and 1895-1896 (Glasgow: James MacLehose and Sons, 1899).
[6] Jones and Muirhead, Life, 10.
[7] See W. Innes Addison, The Snell Exhibitions: From the University of Glasgow to Baliol College, Oxford (Glasgow: James MacLehose & Sons, 1901), 148.
[8] Jones and Muirhead 17.
[9] Jones and Muirhead 21.
[10] See W. Innes Addison, The Snell Exhibitions, 148-9.
[11] Gerald C. Monsman, ‘Old Mortality at Oxford.’ Studies in Philology 67.3 (Jul. 1970): 359-89, at 61.
[12] Caird remained for much of his professional life in Glasgow under a cloud of amicable suspicion cast by Professor The Rev. James Iverach, who represented the orthodox party. In his review of Caird’s Gifford Lectures on The Evolution of Religion, ‘Edward Caird,’ The Expository Times 5 (1894): 205-9, Iverach highlighted out that Caird had not honoured the terms of the Gifford bequest, because seemed to ignore the distinction between revelation and natural theology, annexing the former entirely to the later. Though not exactly an unfair account of Caird’s strategies, it does miss some of the nuance. In the first place, Caird would have though himself annexing the whole of natural theology to revelation. In the second place, the only person Caird was willing to allow what annexed natural theology entirely to revelation was Jesus. For the rest of humanity, it remains a matter of striving to realize their unity.
[13] John Watson, 'The Idealism of Edward Caird I,' The Philosophical Review 18.2 (Mar. 1909): 147-163, at 151.
[14] John Watson, 'The Idealism of Edward Caird I,' 157-8.
[15] See Alan P.F. Sell, ‘Scottish Religious Philosophy, 1850-1900,’ The Oxford Handbook of British Philosophy in the Nineteenth Century, ed. William J. Mander (Oxford: University Press, 2014), 543, fn. 6.
[16] Jones and Muirhead 50.
[17] This is something of which Glaswegians themselves were very much aware. See a contemporary testimony of Robert Gillespie, Glasgow and the Clyde (Glasgow: Robert Forrester, 1876), which cites stats and figures to this effect.
[18] See the entry ‘The University,’ in James Nichol, The Vital, Social, and Economic Statistics of the City of Glasgow, 1885-1891 (Glasgow: James MacLehose & Sons, 1891), 259-263, at 259.
[19] John Caird’s role advancement of women’s education beyond the parish school, significantly, was one of the two topics he choose to discuss about his brother’s parish service in Errol. The other was being his call to preach a sermon before Queen Victoria at Balmoral a sermon on ‘Religion in the Common Life’ on Oct. 14, 1855.
[20] See the report on the discussion of the ‘St. Mungo’s College Bill’ in The British Medical Journal (April 28, 1886): 984-5.
[21] Jones and Muirhead 115-6.
[22] S.G. Checkland, ‘Growth and Progress: The Nineteenth Century View in Britain,’ The Economic History Review 12.1 (1959):49-62, at 59.
[23] Jones and Muirhead 124.
[24] W.W. Knox, ‘Religion and the Scottish Labour Movement,’ Journal of Contemporary History 23 (1988): 609-30, at 614.
[25] Jones and Muirhead 82. The authors of the Life note that Caird’s students would be pleased to see the words of the prayer in print.
[26] R. Bruce Taylor, ‘Student Days in Glasgow University 1887 – 1891,’ Journal of the Presbyterian Historical Society (1943-1961) 37.4 (Dec. 1959): 193-207.
[27] See John Watson, ‘Edward Caird as a Teacher and Thinker,’ Queen’s Quarterly 16.4 (1908): 303-313.
[28] Colin Tyler, ‘Edward Caird,’ 154-5, in Biographical Encyclopedia of British Idealism, gen. ed. William Sweet (London: Continuum International Publishing Group, 2010): 151-7.
[29] Hiral Haldar, Neo-Hegelianism (London: Heath Cranton Ltd., 1927), 106.
[30] See The Unpublished Manuscripts of British Idealism II: Political Philosophy, Theology and Social Thought, ed. Colin Tyler (Bristol: Thoemmes Continuum, 2005).
[31] MacVannel 675.
[32] Wenley 121-2.
[33] See the memoir Caird wrote for his brother, published in the preface of John Caird, The Fundamental Ideas of Christianity. Caird spends a significant amount of time discussing his brother intellectual development during his years working at Errol. It cannot be insignificant that it was also during these years that Edward stayed at Errol, and may have had some influence over, or been influenced by, his brother’s intellectual development. Which is the more likely case, I am not in a position to say. Caird himself relates that his brother ‘had not perhaps the highest kind of originality,’ but the ‘thoughts he assimilated from others were those for which his own intellectual development had prepared him.’
[34] ‘Letter to Mary Talbot (August 4th, 1898)’ in Jones and Muirhead, 224.
[35] Wenley 126-7. See a letter written by Strachan-Davidson to Caird and an account by Thomas Hill Green’s widow in James MacKail, James Leigh Strachan-Davidson: Master of Balliol: A Memoir (Oxford: Claredon Press, 1925), 60-1, 78-9.
[36] ‘Letter to Mary Talbot (June 27th, 1894)’ in Jones and Muirhead, 200-1.
[37] Jones and Muirhead 140-1.
[38] Colin Tyler, Idealist Political Philosophy: Pluralism and Conflict in the Absolute Idealist Tradition (London: Continuum International Publishing Group, 2006), 126-7.