Whately, Richard

views updated May 17 2018


(b. London, England, 1 February 1787; d. Dublin, Ireland, 1 October 1863),logic.

Whately’s father, Joseph Whately, was a minister and a lecturer at Gresham College. Shortly before his death in 1797, he placed his son in a private school at Bristol. Whately then went to Oriel College, Oxford, where he studied under Edward Copleston. He received the B.A. in 1808 and was elected fellow of Oriel in 1811. In his first well-known work, the pamphlet Historic Doubts Relative to Napoleon Buonaparte (1819), Whately offered a reductio ad absurdum disproof of Hume’s challenge to the belief in miracles, arguing that if Hume was right in claiming that one should never believe in a miracle, then, for the same reasons, one also should not believe that Napoleon ever existed.

After marrying in 1821, Whately left Oxford to serve as a minister in suffolk but returned to Oxford in 1825 to serve as principal of St. Alban Hall. He contributed two famous articles to the Encyclopedia Metropolitana, one on logic and the other on rhetoric. Both were reprinted as books: The Elements of Logic (1826) and The Elements of Rhetoric(1828). He was appointed Drummond professor of political economy in 1829 but resigned in 1831 in order to accept an appointment as archbishop of Dublin, after which he was primarily involved in local politics. His major academic efforts, until the time of his death, consisted in editing the writings of Francis Bacon, Copleston, and Paley.

Whately made no significant technical contributions to logic. His importance is due, instead, to his having been the first English logician to correct a mistaken conception of the nature and function of logic that had dominated English thought since the time of Locke and had led to the sterility of that discipline in England for over 150 years. Whately’s work laid the philosophical foundations for the revolutionary developments in logic (notably Boole’s algebra of logic) that took place in England during the nineteenth century.

The sterility of eighteenth-century English logic is reflected in two of the most popular texts of that period, Isaac Watts’s Logick, or the Right Use of Reason(1725) and William Duncan’s Elements of Logick(1748), neither of which emphasized the formal analysis of the conditions for the validity of reasoning. Duncan’s book barely presented any of the traditional formal analysis; and Watts, while including some of it, always prefaced it with the apology that it had little significance. In place of the traditional formal analysis Duncan substituted a description of Locke’s views on psychology and epistemology; Watts, who had little interest in theoretical issues, discussed the ways in which men abuse their intellectual faculties and offered practical advice.

Watts and Duncan, following Locke, rejected the traditional formal analysis of reasoning apparently because they felt that it was not helpful in guiding man in the proper use of his intellectual faculties. Since they believed that this sort of practical guidance was the proper role of logic, they concluded that logic must be radically reformed by deemphasizing the traditional formal analysis and by replacing it with the material found in their books.

Maintaining that this mistaken conception of logic had been responsible for its decline, Whately devoted most of The Elements of Logic to refuting objections to the traditional formal analysis. According to Whately, logic is concerned with an analysis of the forms of all valid reasoning, that is, with providing forms to which all valid arguments can be reduced. If a formal analysis provides these forms, then it has succeeded in fulfilling the proper role of logic. It would then be totally irrelevant to object to it on the grounds that it does not provide practical rules for the process of reasoning.

This Lockean tradition of logic as a guide for reason was not the only obstacle to traditional formal analysis in eighteenth-century Britain; Thomas Reid and other Scottish philosophers of common sense had also raised a set of objections. Taking their point of departure from Francis Bacon, they argued that deductive reasoning, of the type formally analyzed by the traditional logicians, was of little importance in the acquisition of knowledge, which increases only by observations and experimentation. This point was reinforced by Dugald Stewart’s acute observation, long before John Stuart Mill, that deductive arguments are in some sense circular and cannot yield new knowledge because the premises of a valid deductive argument presuppose the truth of its conclusion. If the deductive mode of reasoning that had been formally analyzed by the traditional analysis was of such little value, these philosophers argued, then it would seem to follow that its formal analysis also had little worth.

Whately realized that any defense of logic as the formal analysis of the conditions for the validity of deductive reasoning would have to contain a reply to this set of criticisms, and he began his reply by granting Stewart’s point that there is a perfectly good sense in which we learn nothing new in a deductive argument. He claimed, however, that it is nevertheless true that deductive reasoning plays an important role in our cognitive activities. Its purpose is no enable us to discover previously unnoticed consequences of propositions the truth of which we have already established. Since deductive reasoning does play this important role, a formal analysis of the conditions for its validity obviously is of great significance.

For Whately, the much more serious objection to the traditional formal analysis was that it did not present a formal analysis of the conditions for the legitimacy of inductive reasoning. His response to this was twofold. He began by claiming that any inductive inference is really a deductive one: its first premise is a summary of the evidence that certain objects of a given type have a given property, and the second premise is a claim of the from “The property had by the examined individuals is had by all members of that type,” Therefore, the conditions for the legitimacy of inductive inferences are given by any adequate account of the conditions for the validity of deductive inferences. Whately admitted, however, that there is a special mode of inference by which we establish the second premise, a mode of which the conditions for legitimate use are not analyzed by an analysis of deductive reasoning. He felt, however, that there could be no formal analysis of these conditions and that the question of the legitimacy of such an inference would have to be decided on independent grounds in each case.

Not all of Whately’s responses to the eighteenth-century critiques of logic as a formal analysis of deductive reasoning are valid, and his final remarks about induction are particularly dubious. Most of his writings, however, are quite sound and—more important from the historical point of view— seemed quite valid to his contemporaries. The reevaluation of formal deductive logic stimulated by Whately’s works resulted in tremendous progress in deductive logic in England during the nineteenth century, culminating in the formulation of the algebra of logic.


I. Original Works. The only writings by Whately that are still of interest are Historic Doubts Relative to Napoleon Buonaparte (London. 1819): The Elements of Logic(London, 1826): and The elements of Rhetoric (London. 1828).

II. Secondary Literature. The main works are B. A. Brody, The Rise of the Algebra of Logic(Ann Arbor, Mich., 1967); M. Prior. “Richard Whately,” in P. Edwards, ed., Encyclopedia of Philosophy, VIII (New York, 1967), 287–288: and E. J. Whately, Life and Correspondence of Richard Whately, D.D., 2 vols. (London, 1866).

B. A. Brody

Whately, Richard

views updated Jun 08 2018


Anglican archbishop of Dublin; b. London, Feb. 1, 1787; d. Dublin. Oct. 1, 1863. He was the son of Joseph Whately, prebendary of Bristol. Educated at Oriel College, Oxford, and elected fellow of Oriel in 1811, he belonged to the brilliant Oxford circle, including Edward Hawkins and Edward Copleston, who criticized the traditional tenets of anglicanism. His Historic Doubts Relative to Napoleon Bonaparte (1819) attacked exaggerated historical criticism, while his Elements of Logic (1826) enjoyed many editions. John Henry newman, his vice principal at St. Alban Hall, was influenced by Whately's anti-erastianism, but Whately opposed the oxford movement and urged the condemnation of Newman's Tract 90. Appointed archbishop of Dublin in 1831, Whately collaborated with the Catholic archbishop to produce a religion course for the national schools that would satisfy both Catholics and Anglicans. He took an active interest in social reform.

See Also: ireland, church of.

Bibliography: w. j. fitzpatrick, Memoirs of Richard Whately, 2 v. (London 1864). e. j. whately, Life and Correspondence of Richard Whately, 2 v. (London 1866). j. m. rigg, The Dictionary of National Biography from the Earliest Times to 1900 20:133440.

[t. s. bokenkotter]