Caird, Edward (1835–1908)

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Edward Caird, a leading Scottish Hegelian, was born in Greenock, the fifth of seven boys. His eldest brother, John Caird, became well known as a preacher and theologian, and exercised considerable influence on the young Edward. Educated at Greenock Academy and Glasgow University (with a brief interlude at St. Andrews), Edward Caird went to Balliol College, Oxford, gaining first-class honors in Classical Moderations and in "Greats." From 1864 to 1866 he was a fellow and tutor of Merton, leaving to take the chair of moral philosophy at Glasgow, which he held until 1893. He then returned to Oxford to succeed Benjamin Jowett as master of Balliol. He resigned because of ill health in 1907, and died the year after.

Caird had a profound influence on his students, who regarded themselves as his disciples and included such distinguished philosophers as Henry Jones, J. H. Muirhead, J. S. Mackenzie, and John Watson. "The greatest theme of modern philosophy," Caird held, "is the problem of the relation of the human to the divine" (The Evolution of Theology in the Greek Philosophers, 1904). Many of his Glasgow students were destined for the church, and his liberalizing influence on religion was widely transmitted through them beyond the classroom.

Caird's philosophy was a form of speculative idealism, based on Immanuel Kant but going beyond him. It was essentially a philosophy of reconciliation. The need for philosophy, he held, arises from the apparently irreconcilable opposition between different elements in our spiritual lifebetween subject and object, religion and science, freedom and determination, reason and desire. Unless we reconcile these antagonisms in a higher unity, we cannot achieve the spiritual harmony without which the highest achievements of humanity are impossible.

Kant, he was convinced, had found the key to the problem, but had failed to grasp the implications of his own doctrine. Caird had first to clear away what he thought was a common misinterpretation of Kant and then to go further along the Kantian road, with G. W. F. Hegel as his guide. Kant had been held, according to Caird, to teach that the material of knowledge is given in sense perception and that the mind then goes to work on it, ordering it by concepts supplied by itself. But, in fact, for Kant there are no objects until thought has done its work. Thought enters into the very constitution of experience. And further, the process of knowing is dominated by an "idea of the Reason," which drives the mind to seek a form of experience in which all differences are seen as elements in a single system.

But instead of insisting that the larger the part played in knowledge by the mind's synthetic activity, the more adequate that knowledge is, Kant took the view that this activity confines us to appearances and bars us from things-in-themselves. He should have shown, Caird argued, that our knowledge of objects will be imperfect insofar as we fail to recognize that they are only partial aspects of the ideal whole toward which reason points.

Caird's ethical theory had close affiliations with that of his lifelong friend, T. H. Green. His main problem centered on the opposition of inclination and duty, and his solution lay in establishing the power of human beings to determine their conduct by reference to the self, as a permanent center, as distinct from its relatively isolated and transient desires. A self-conscious being seeks self -satisfaction, not just the satisfaction of this or that desire. And in this power of determining conduct by reference to the self lies human freedom.

The principle of evolution, Caird recognized, was of great value in reconciling differences, and in his Gifford Lectures, The Evolution of Religion (18911892), he traced the development of a single religious principle through its varied manifestations in the main religions of the world.

See also Green, Thomas Hill; Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich; Hegelianism; Kant, Immanuel;.


works by caird

A Critical Account of the Philosophy of Kant. Glasgow: J. Maclehose, 1877.

Hegel. Edinburgh: Blackwood, 1883.

The Social Philosophy and Religion of Comte. New York: Macmillan, 1885.

The Critical Philosophy of Immanuel Kant. Glasgow: J. Maclehose, 1889.

Essays on Literature and Philosophy. Glasgow: J. Maclehose, 1892.

The Evolution of Religion. Glasgow, 1893: J. Moclehose.

The Evolution of Theology in the Greek Philosophers. Glasgow: J. Maclehose, 1904.

works on caird

Jones, Sir Henry, and J. H. Muirhead. The Life and Philosophy of Edward Caird. Glasgow: Maclehose, Jackson, 1921.

Mackenzie, J. S. "Edward Caird as a Philosophical Teacher." Mind 18 (1909): 509537.

Watson, John. "The Idealism of Edward Caird." Philosophical Review 18 (1909): 147163, 259280.

A. K. Stout (1967)