James Frederick Ferrier
James Frederick Ferrier was a Scottish
Scotland is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. Occupying the northern third of the island of Great Britain, it shares a border with England to the south and is bounded by the North Sea to the east, the Atlantic Ocean to the north and west, and the North Channel and Irish Sea to the...

Metaphysics is a branch of philosophy concerned with explaining the fundamental nature of being and the world, although the term is not easily defined. Traditionally, metaphysics attempts to answer two basic questions in the broadest possible terms:...

 writer. He introduced the term epistemology.

Education and early writings

Ferrier was born in Edinburgh, the son of John Ferrier, writer to the signet. He was educated at the Royal High School
Royal High School (Edinburgh)
The Royal High School of Edinburgh is a co-educational state school administered by the City of Edinburgh Council. The school was founded in 1128 and is one of the oldest schools in Scotland, and has, throughout its history, been high achieving, consistently attaining well above average exam results...

, the University of Edinburgh
University of Edinburgh
The University of Edinburgh, founded in 1583, is a public research university located in Edinburgh, the capital of Scotland, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The university is deeply embedded in the fabric of the city, with many of the buildings in the historic Old Town belonging to the university...

 and Magdalen College, Oxford
Magdalen College, Oxford
Magdalen College is one of the constituent colleges of the University of Oxford in England. As of 2006 the college had an estimated financial endowment of £153 million. Magdalen is currently top of the Norrington Table after over half of its 2010 finalists received first-class degrees, a record...

, and subsequently, his metaphysical tastes having been fostered by his intimate friend, Sir William Hamilton
Sir William Hamilton, 9th Baronet
Sir William Hamilton, 9th Baronet was a Scottish metaphysician.-Early life:He was born in Glasgow. He was from an academic family, including Robert Hamilton, the economist...

, spent some time at Heidelberg studying German philosophy
German philosophy
German philosophy, here taken to mean either philosophy in the German language or philosophy by Germans, has been extremely diverse, and central to both the analytic and continental traditions in philosophy for centuries, from Leibniz through Kant, Hegel, Schopenhauer, Marx, Nietzsche, Heidegger...


In 1842 he was appointed professor of civil history at Edinburgh University, and in 1845 professor of moral philosophy and political economy
Political economy
Political economy originally was the term for studying production, buying, and selling, and their relations with law, custom, and government, as well as with the distribution of national income and wealth, including through the budget process. Political economy originated in moral philosophy...

 at the University of St Andrews
University of St Andrews
The University of St Andrews, informally referred to as "St Andrews", is the oldest university in Scotland and the third oldest in the English-speaking world after Oxford and Cambridge. The university is situated in the town of St Andrews, Fife, on the east coast of Scotland. It was founded between...

. He was twice an unsuccessful candidate for chairs in Edinburgh, for that of moral philosophy on Wilson's resignation in 1852, and for that of logic
In philosophy, Logic is the formal systematic study of the principles of valid inference and correct reasoning. Logic is used in most intellectual activities, but is studied primarily in the disciplines of philosophy, mathematics, semantics, and computer science...

 and metaphysics in 1856, after Hamilton's death. He remained at St Andrew's till his death. He married his cousin, Margaret Anne, daughter of John Wilson. He had five children, one of whom became the wife of Sir Alexander Grant
Alexander Grant
Alexander Grant was a Royal Navy officer, businessman, and politician in Upper Canada. During his service with the Royal Navy Grant saw action in the Seven Years' War before becoming a naval superintendent. He then embarked on a career in the ship building industry before losing much of his wealth...


Early career

Ferrier's first contribution to metaphysics was a series of articles in Blackwood's Magazine
Blackwood's Magazine
Blackwood's Magazine was a British magazine and miscellany printed between 1817 and 1980. It was founded by the publisher William Blackwood and was originally called the Edinburgh Monthly Magazine. The first number appeared in April 1817 under the editorship of Thomas Pringle and James Cleghorn...

(1838–1839), entitled An Introduction to the Philosophy of Consciousness. In these he condemns previous philosophers for ignoring in their psychological investigations the fact of consciousness
Consciousness is a term that refers to the relationship between the mind and the world with which it interacts. It has been defined as: subjectivity, awareness, the ability to experience or to feel, wakefulness, having a sense of selfhood, and the executive control system of the mind...

, which is the distinctive feature of man, and confining their observation to the so-called states of the mind
Mental state
* In psychology, mental state is an indication of a person's mental health**Mental status examination, a structured way of observing and describing a patient's current state of mind...

. Consciousness comes into manifestation only when the man has used the word with full knowledge of what it means. This notion he must originate within himself. Consciousness cannot spring from the states which are its object, for it is in antagonism
Antagonism is hostility that results in active resistance, opposition, or contentiousness.Additionally, it may refer to:*Antagonism , where the involvement of multiple agents reduces their overall effect...

 to them. It originates in the will, which in the act of consciousness puts the "I" in the place of our sensations. Morality
Morality is the differentiation among intentions, decisions, and actions between those that are good and bad . A moral code is a system of morality and a moral is any one practice or teaching within a moral code...

, conscience
Conscience is an aptitude, faculty, intuition or judgment of the intellect that distinguishes right from wrong. Moral judgement may derive from values or norms...

, and responsibility
Moral responsibility
Moral responsibility usually refers to the idea that a person has moral obligations in certain situations. Disobeying moral obligations, then, becomes grounds for justified punishment. Deciding what justifies punishment, if anything, is a principle concern of ethics.People who have moral...

 are necessary results of consciousness.

These articles were succeeded by a number of others, of which the most important were The Crisis of Modern Speculation (1841), Berkeley and Idealism (1842), and an important examination of Hamilton's edition of Reid
Thomas Reid
The Reverend Thomas Reid FRSE , was a religiously trained Scottish philosopher, and a contemporary of David Hume, was the founder of the Scottish School of Common Sense, and played an integral role in the Scottish Enlightenment...

 (1847), which contains a vigorous attack on the philosophy of common sense
Common sense
Common sense is defined by Merriam-Webster as, "sound and prudent judgment based on a simple perception of the situation or facts." Thus, "common sense" equates to the knowledge and experience which most people already have, or which the person using the term believes that they do or should have...

. The perception of matter is pronounced to be the ne plus ultra of thought, and Reid, for presuming to analyse it, is declared to be a representationist in fact, although he professed to be an intuitionist. A distinction is made between the perception of matter and our apprehension of the perception of matter. Psychology
Psychology is the study of the mind and behavior. Its immediate goal is to understand individuals and groups by both establishing general principles and researching specific cases. For many, the ultimate goal of psychology is to benefit society...

 vainly tries to analyse the former. Metaphysics
Metaphysics is a branch of philosophy concerned with explaining the fundamental nature of being and the world, although the term is not easily defined. Traditionally, metaphysics attempts to answer two basic questions in the broadest possible terms:...

 shows the latter alone to be analysable, and separates the subjective element, our apprehension, from the objective element, the perception of matter; not matter per se, but the perception of matter is the existence independent of the individuals thought. It cannot, however, be independent of thought. It must belong to some mind, and is therefore the property of the Divine Mind. There, he thinks, is an indestructible foundation for the a priori argument for the existence of God
Existence of God
Arguments for and against the existence of God have been proposed by philosophers, theologians, scientists, and others. In philosophical terms, arguments for and against the existence of God involve primarily the sub-disciplines of epistemology and ontology , but also of the theory of value, since...


Later writings

Ferrier's matured philosophical doctrines find expression in the Institutes of Metaphysic the Theory of Knowing and Being (1854), in which he claims to have met the twofold obligation resting on every system of philosophy, that it should be reasoned and true. His method is that of Spinoza
Baruch Spinoza
Baruch de Spinoza and later Benedict de Spinoza was a Dutch Jewish philosopher. Revealing considerable scientific aptitude, the breadth and importance of Spinoza's work was not fully realized until years after his death...

, strict demonstration, or at least an attempt at it. All the errors of natural thinking and psychology must fall under one or other of three topics: Knowing and the Known
Knowledge is a familiarity with someone or something unknown, which can include information, facts, descriptions, or skills acquired through experience or education. It can refer to the theoretical or practical understanding of a subject...

, Ignorance
Ignorance is a state of being uninformed . The word ignorant is an adjective describing a person in the state of being unaware and is often used as an insult...

, and Being
Being , is an English word used for conceptualizing subjective and objective aspects of reality, including those fundamental to the self —related to and somewhat interchangeable with terms like "existence" and "living".In its objective usage —as in "a being," or "[a] human being" —it...

. These are all-comprehensive, and are therefore the departments into which philosophy is divided, for the sole end of philosophy is to correct the inadvertencies of ordinary thinking.

Self-evident truths concerning knowing and the known are discussed in the Institutes of Metaphysic (Ferrier is thought to have coined the term epistemology in this work, p. 46). It explains that the fact that any intelligence, in addition to knowing whatever it knows, must as the ground or condition of its knowledge have some cognizance of itself
Self-awareness is the capacity for introspection and the ability to reconcile oneself as an individual separate from the environment and other individuals...

 is the basis of the whole philosophical system. In addition, the only possible kind of knowable is one which is both known of an object and known by a subject (Object + Subject, or Thing + Intelligence). This leads to the conclusion that the only independent universe
The Universe is commonly defined as the totality of everything that exists, including all matter and energy, the planets, stars, galaxies, and the contents of intergalactic space. Definitions and usage vary and similar terms include the cosmos, the world and nature...

 which any mind can think of is the universe in synthesis with some other mind or ego.

The leading contradiction which is corrected in the Agnoiology or Theory of Ignorance claims that there can be an ignorance of that of which there can be no knowledge. It is corrected by appealing to the fact that Ignorance is a defect, and argues that there is no defect in not knowing what cannot be known by any intelligence (for example, that two and two make five), and therefore there can be an ignorance only of that of which there can be a knowledge, that is, of some-object-plus-some-subject. Therefore the knowable alone is the ignorable. Ferrier lays special claim to originality for this division of the Institutes.

The Ontology or Theory of Being forms a discussion of the origin of knowledge, in which Ferrier traces all the perplexities and errors of philosophers to the assumption of the absolute existence of matter. The conclusion arrived at is that the only true real and independent existences are minds-together-with-that-which-they-apprehend, and that the one strictly necessary absolute existence is a supreme and infinite and everlasting mind in synthesis with all things.

1911 Encyclopædia Britannica adjudges Ferrier's works as remarkable for their unusual charm and simplicity of style, qualities which are especially noticeable in the Lectures on Greek Philosophy, one of the best introductions on the subject in the English language.

A complete edition of his philosophical writings was published in 1875, with a memoir by Edmund Law Lushington
Edmund Law Lushington
Edmund Law Lushington was a classical scholar, a Professor of Greek, and Rector of the University of Glasgow.Edmund Law Lushington was born on 10 January 1811 in Park House, Kent, England...

. See also the monograph by Elizabeth Sanderson Haldane in the Famous Scots Series (link below).


His mother was a sister of John Wilson
John Wilson (Scottish writer)
John Wilson of Ellerey FRSE was a Scottish advocate, literary critic and author, the writer most frequently identified with the pseudonym Christopher North of Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine....

 (pseudonym Christopher North).

External links

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