John Cairns was born at Ayton Hill, Berwickshire on 23 August 1818 and died in Edinburgh on 12 March 1892. The son of a shepherd, he was educated locally, supporting himself as required by herding and school-teaching. Entering Edinburgh University in 1834, he became one of the outstanding students of his generation. A voracious reader and formidable in debate, he helped to organize the celebrated Metaphysical Society and was a favourite pupil of Sir William Hamilton, the Professor of Logic and Metaphysics (to whom, though they differed fundamentally in religious matters, he always professed a deep indebtedness). Graduating with high distinction in classics, philosophy and mathematics, he felt the attraction of academic life but eventually yielded to the call of the Christian ministry, and entered upon the study of theology in the Divinity Hall of the United Secession Church. There he was greatly influenced by Professor John Brown (father of the essayist of the same name), whose biography he later wrote; but he also spent the greater part of a year (1943–4) on the Continent – studying in Berlin and Halle under such teachers as Neander, Schelling and von Ranke, travelling on foot through much of Germany and Italy, conversing with all sorts and conditions of people, declining invitations to minister in Hamburg and to lecture in Halle, and assessing everything from the standpoint of Scottish common sense philosophy and orthodox Calvinism. (‘The Hegelian direction,’ he commented, ‘is still the prevailing one in the University [of Berlin]. Nothing worse in point of philosophical solidity or theological purity could possibly be conceived’, McEwen, 1898, p. 197).
From The Continuum Encyclopedia of British Philosophy in Oxford Reference.