Sue Young Histories

Alexander Bain 1818 - 1903

August 02, 2008

Alexander Bain 1818 – 1903 was a Scottish philosopher and educationalist.

Alexander Bain wrote for the Westminster Review under the editorship of John Stuart Mill and under the editorship of John Chapman. Bain was also a colleague of Edwin Chadwick, and a friend of John Stuart Blackie,

Bain was critical of the apparent inability of medicine to get beyond the empirical. Bain was ‘struck by the sterility of non homeopathic methods… (Anon, The Journal of the British Homeopathic Society, Volume 13, (1905). Page 324)’

Bain was also a friend of James John Garth Wilkinson (Robin Larsen, Emanuel Swedenborg: a continuing vision: a pictorial biography & anthology of essays & poetry, (Swedenborg Foundation, 1988). Page 132). In 1855, he married Frances Wilkinson - was she related to  James John Garth Wilkinson? (Rosemary Ashton, Victorian Bloomsbury, (Yale University Press, 14 Sep 2012). Page 249).** **

Thomas Carlyle’s circle included Henry James seniorJohn Stuart MillAlfred Lord TennysonGeorge Lewes, Frederick Denison Maurice, Alexander Bain, and James John Garth Wilkinson).

John Chapman purchased the Westminster Review in 1851 and he was associated with this publication for the rest of his life. John Chapman assembled a glittering intelligentsia around the Westminster Review, which was the was the leading radical periodical of its day.

Contributors included many homeopaths and homeopathic supporters, including George Grote and Alexander Bain and many others.

John Chapman was a friend of Moncure Daniel Conway, Charles Dickens, Robert Browning, Erasmus Alvey Darwin, and Thomas Carlyle, Charles Babbage, Charles Darwin, Harriet Martineau, George Everest and his brother, homeopath Thomas Roupell Everest, Robert Everest (?brother of George Everest and Thomas Roupell Everest

John Chapman also knew George Henry Lewes and his wife George Eliot, who was a patient of James Manby Gully. John Chapman was George Eliot’s publisher.

Alexander Bain was a member of the Malthusian League and a frequent visitor to Moor Park, the hydropathic establishment run by Edward Wickstead Lane where he would have become acquainted with the homeopathic Drysdale family who were also enthusiastic Malthusians.

From Alexander Bain was a life long friend of John Stuart MillBain’s college career was distinguished, especially in mental philosophy, mathematics and physics. Towards the end of his arts course Bain became a contributor to the Westminster Review (first article ”Electrotype and Daguerreotype,” September 1840)… and Bain substituted for Dr Glennie, the professor of moral philosophy, who, through ill-health, was unable to discharge his academic duties.

Bain continued to do this three successive terms, during which he continued writing for the Westminster Review , and also helped John Stuart Mill with the revision of the manuscript of his System of Logic (1842). In 1843 Bain contributed the first review of the book to the London and Westminster Review, (a magazine to which Bain’s friend Harriet Martineau also contributed).

In 1845 Bain was appointed professor of mathematics and natural philosophy in the Andersonian University of Glasgow. A year later, preferring a wider field, he resigned the position and devoted himself to writing.

In 1848 Bain moved to London to fill a post in the Board of Health, under Edwin Chadwick, and became a prominent member of the brilliant circle which included George Grote and John Stuart Mill. In 1855 he published his first major work,_ The Senses and the Intellect_, followed in 1859 by The Emotions and the Will. These treatises won him a position among independent thinkers. He was examiner in logical and moral philosophy (1857-1862 and 1864-1869) to the University of London, and in moral science in the Indian Civil Service examinations.

In 1860 Bain was appointed by the crown to the new chair of logic and English literature at the University of Aberdeen (created by the amalgamation of the two colleges, King’s College and Marischal College, by the Scottish Universities Commission of 1858).

Up to this date neither logic nor English had received adequate attention in Aberdeen, and Bain devoted himself to supplying these deficiencies. He succeeded not only in raising the standard of education generally in the north of Scotland, but also in forming a school of philosophy and in widely influencing the teaching of English grammar and composition.

His efforts were first directed to the preparation of textbooks: Higher English Grammar and An English Grammar were both published in 1863, followed in 1866 by the Manual of Rhetoric, in 1872 by A First English Grammar, and in 1874 by the Companion to the Higher Grammar. These works were wide-ranging and their original views and methods met with wide acceptance.

Bain’s own philosophical writings already published, especially The Senses and the Intellect (to which was added, in 1861, The Study of Character, including an Estimate of Phrenology), were too large for effective use in the classroom.

Accordingly in 1868, he published his Manual of Mental and Moral Science, mainly a condensed form of his treatises, with the doctrines re-stated, and in many instances freshly illustrated, and with many important additions. The year 1870 saw the publication of Logic. This, too, was a work designed for the use of students; it was based on John Stuart Mill, but differed from him in many particulars, and was distinctive for its treatment of the doctrine of the conservation of energy in connection with causation and the detailed application of the principles of logic to the various sciences.

Bain’s services to education in Scotland were now recognized by the conferment of the honorary degree of doctor of laws by the university of Edinburgh in 1871. Next came two publications in the “International Scientific Series”, namely, Mind and Body (1872), and Education as a Science (1879).

All these works, from the Higher English Grammar downwards, were written by Bain during his twenty years as a professor at Aberdeen. He also started the philosophical journal, Mind; the first number appeared in January 1876, under the editorship of a former pupil, George Croom Robertson, of University College, London. To this journal Bain contributed many important articles and discussions; and in fact he bore the whole expenses of it till George Croom Robertson, owing to ill-health (and the death), resigned the editorship in 1891.

Bain was succeeded by William Minto, one of his most brilliant pupils. Nevertheless his interest in thought, and his desire to complete the scheme of work mapped out in earlier years, remained as keen as ever. Accordingly, in 1882 appeared the Biography of James Mill, and accompanying it John Stuart Mill: a Criticism, with Personal Recollections. Next came (1884) a collection of articles and papers, most of which had appeared in magazines, under the title of Practical Essays.

This was succeeded (1887, 1888) by a new edition of the _Manual of Rhetoric_, and along with it, a book On Teaching English, being an exhaustive application of the principles of rhetoric to the criticism of style, for the use of teachers; and in 1894 he published a revised edition of _ The Senses and the Intellect_, which contain his last word on psychology. In 1894 also appeared his last contribution to Mind. His last years were spent in privacy at Aberdeen, where he died. He married twice but left no children.

Bain took a keen interest and frequently an active part in the political and social movements of the day; after his retirement from the chair of logic, he was twice elected lord rector of the university (1881, ?), each term of office extending over three years. He was a strenuous advocate of reform, especially in the teaching of sciences, and supported the claims of modern languages to a place in the curriculum. A marble bust of him stands in the public library and his portrait hangs in the Marischal College.

Although his influence as a logician, a grammarian and a writer on rhetoric was considerable, his reputation rests on his psychology. At one with Johannes Müller in the conviction psychologus nemo nisi physiologus, he was the first in Great Britain during the 19th century to apply physiology in a thoroughgoing fashion to the elucidation of mental states.

Bain was the originator of the theory of psycho-physical parallelism, which is used so widely as a working basis by modern psychologists. His idea of applying the natural history method of classification to psychical phenomena gave scientific character to his work, the value of which was enhanced by his methodical exposition and his command of illustration.

In line with this, too, is his demand that psychology should be cleared of metaphysics; and to his lead is no doubt due in great measure the position that psychology has now acquired as a distinct positive science.

William James calls his work the “last word” of the earlier stage of psychology, but he was in reality the pioneer of the new. Subsequent psycho-physical investigations “have all been in” the spirit of his work; and although he consistently advocated the introspective method in psychological investigation, he was among the first to appreciate the help that may be given to it by animal and social and infant psychology.

Bain may justly claim the merit of having guided the awakened psychological interest of British thinkers of the second half of the 19th century into fruitful channels. He emphasized the importance of our active experiences of movement and effort, and though his theory of a central innervation sense is no longer held as he propounded it, its value as a suggestion to later psychologists is great. His autobiography, published in 1904, contains a full list of his works, and also the history of the last thirteen years of his life…

Various schools in Mexico City as well as Irapuato, Guanajuato Mexico are named after him, which consist of kindergartens, primary schools, junior high and highschools.


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