Sir William Hamilton

1788 - 1856

Philosopher and educationalist. Born in Glasgow, Hamilton was the son of a Professor at the University of Glasgow and that is where he started his own university career. However, he left without graduating and spent some time at the University of Edinburgh before entering Balliol College (Oxford) from which he finally gained a degree in classics and philosophy (1811). He returned to Edinburgh and worked as an advocate. Hamilton failed to gain the Chair of Moral Philosophy at the University of Edinburgh in 1820, which went to John Wilson (1785 - 1854), although he did gain the Chair of Civil History the following year.

A popular lecturer, Hamilton made his reputation through a series of articles published in the Edinburgh Review from 1829. These reviewed the state of education particularly in England and has a great influence on the demand for educational reform. He fought for the independence of the University of Edinburgh from the Town Council and was also deeply involved in the debates leading up to the Disruption of 1843.

Hamilton was an exponent of the Scottish common-sense philosophy, who supported the views of Thomas Reid (1710-96), but was also influenced by the German philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724 - 1804). He did a great deal to restore interest in philosophy in Britain. Hamilton transferred to the Chair of Logic and Metaphysics in 1836 and was to remain in this role until his death. His works include Discussions on Philosophy and Literature, Education and University Reform (1852).

He claimed the Baronetcy of Preston in 1820 and was able to style himself Sir William Hamilton. A stroke in 1844 rendered him an invalid for the remainder of his life. He died in Edinburgh.

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