Stirling, James Hutchison, 1820-1909

Alternative names
Birth 1820-06-22
Death 1909-03-19

Biographical notes:

Scottish philosopher.

From the description of Autograph letters (15) and 1 postal, signed : Edinburgh, to Prof. Knight, 1887 Mar. 16-1900 Feb. 8. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 270579222

James Hutchison Stirling was born on 22 June 1820 , the fifth son of William Stirling, craftsman, of Glasgow. He first matriculated at the University of Glasgow in 1833 at the age of 13, and followed a full Arts curriculum (1833 Latin, 1834 Greek, 1835 Greek, 1836 Logic, 1837 Ethics) before continuing on to medical studies under Harry Rainy ( 1792-1874 ), who became a professor of Medical Jurisprudence in the Faculty of Medicine in 1841, and Dr Buchanan.

The following excerpt comes from Stirling‰??s obituary in The Lancet: Early in life he showed a leaning toward philosophical studies, and in 1838 the professor of moral philosophy gave him as a subject for a thesis, St Anselm‰??s argument in the Proslogion for the existence of God. With the fine carelessness of youth Stirling is said to have pronounced this argument a sophism, although in later life he came to regard it as the first word of modern philosophy. He did not obtain a degree in either Arts or Medicine from the University of Glasgow. He became a Licentiate of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh in 1842 and a Fellow in 1860. In 1843 he settled in practice at Hirwain, Glamorganshire, and later he moved to Glyn Neath. For a while he was a surgeon to the Hirwain and other iron and coal works in South Wales.

Upon the death of his father in 1851 Stirling retired from practice and went abroad. He studied firstly in Paris under Dumas, Orfilia and Milne Edwards. In 1854 he moved to Germany, where he resumed his philosophical research of Kant and Hegel. In 1857 he returned home and turned to writing books on philosophy. His publications include: The Secret of Hegel: being the Hegelian system in origin, principle, form, and matter , 1865; Materialism in relation to the study of medicine: an address to medical students , 1868; Lectures on the philosophy of law , 1873; Text-book to Kant: the critique of pure reason : aesthetic, categories, schematism: translation, reproduction, commentary, index, with biographical sketch , 1881; Darwinianism: workmen and work , 1894; and What is thought?: or, The problem of philosophy by way of a general conclusion so far , 1900.

He was a Foreign Member of the Philosophical Society of Berlin and delivered the first Gifford Lecture Series at the University of Edinburgh on Philosophy and Theology in 1888-1890 . He was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Law from the University of Edinburgh in 1867 , and one from the University of Glasgow in 1901 . James Hutchison Stirling died at the age of 89 on the 19th March 1909 . He left an estate of c å£10,000 to his four daughters, Jessie Jane Armstrong, wife of the Rev Robert Armstrong of Glasgow, and Amelia, Florence and Lucy, who were all three living at the parental home in Edinburgh. Edinburgh University still awards an annual James Hutchison Stirling Prize to the best student studying for the degree of MA with Honours in Philosophy who has attended a second course in Philosophy, but who is not yet in his or her final year.

Sources: Glasgow University Archives student records, Medical Directory 1898 , The Lancet , March 27 1909, p.248, Calendars of Confirmation.

From the guide to the Papers of James Hutchison Stirling, 1820-1909, philosopher, Glasgow and Edinburgh, Scotland, Early 1840s, (Glasgow University Archives Service)


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  • Glasgow, Scotland (as recorded)
  • Edinburgh, Scotland (as recorded)