William Cairns

(1792—1848) philosopher

Related Overviews

George Jardine (1742—1827) logician and university administrator

James Mylne (1757—1839) philosopher and political reformer

philosophy of mind

Henry Cooke (1788—1868) minister of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland

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William Cairns was born at Calton, Glasgow in 1784 or 1785 and died in Belfast on 21 April 1848. After attending grammar school he matriculated at Glasgow University in 1795, studied philosophy under George Jardine and James Mylne, and graduated MA (1802) and later LL.D. (1838). Cairns trained for the ministry of the General Associate Synod of the Secession Church and preached for a time in Dublin, but declined a settled charge there. He was ordained to a small congregation at Johnshaven, Kincardineshire on 2 March 1808. In September 1815 he let himself be elected Professor of Logic and Belles Lettres at the Belfast Academical Institution, almost certainly through the nomination of the Ulster representatives of his own church; but this acquiescence in temporal advancement so scandalized his local elders that ‘after a good deal of reasoning and conversation’ they gravely recorded their ‘disapprobation of his conduct’ (Small, 1904, vol. 1, p. 77). The congregation as a whole was more forgiving and voted him his arrears of stipend. In the new post Cairns derived his reputation from his instruction on rhetoric and taste, but this was not his major interest. He had a close intellectual rapport with John Young, the Professor of Moral Philosophy, who lodged in his house, and he regarded the two of them as pioneers in the philosophy of mind in Ireland. After Young died, Cairns edited his Lectures on Intellectual Philosophy, with a ‘Memoir of the Author’ that is as much a reflection of the obituarist's academic and spiritual values as it is of Young's.


From The Continuum Encyclopedia of British Philosophy in Oxford Reference.

Subjects: Philosophy.

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