Home >> Encyclopedia-britannica-volume-9-part-1-extraction-gambrinus >> James David Forbes to Millard Fillmore >> James Frederick Ferrier

James Frederick Ferrier


FERRIER, JAMES FREDERICK Scottish metaphysician, was born in Edinburgh on June 16., 18o8. He studied at Edinburgh and Oxford, and subsequently at Heidelberg. In 1842 he was appointed professor of civil history at Edinburgh and in 1845 professor of moral philosophy and political economy at St. Andrews, where he remained till his death on June 11, 1864.

His first contribution to metaphysics was a series of articles in Blackwood's Magazine (1838-39), entitled An Introduction to the Philosophy of Consciousness. Among Ferrier's succeeding articles the chief were The Crisis of Modern Speculation (1841), Berke ley and Idealism (1842), and an important examination of Hamil ton's edition of Reid (1847), which contains a vigorous attack on the philosophy of common sense.

Ferrier's mature

Institutes of Metaphysics (1854) attempts to employ the method of Spinoza, strict demonstration. All the errors of natural thinking or phenomenalism, which philosophy must correct, fall under one or other of three topics :—Knowing and the Known, Ignorance, and Being. The problems of knowing and the known are treated in the "Epistemology or Theory of Knowing." Along with whatever any intelligence knows it must, as the ground or condition of its knowledge, have some cog nizance of itself. Object+subject, thing+me, is the only possible knowable; hence the only independent universe 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," the section which Ferrier regarded as most original, is that there can be an ignorance of that of which there can be no knowledge. Ignorance is a defect which can only concern that which is knowable i.e. some-object-plus-some-subject.

The "Ontology or Theory of Being," the final division, contains a discussion of the origin of knowledge, in which Ferrier traces all perplexities and errors to the assumption of the absolute existence of matter. He concludes 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, infinite and everlasting mind in synthesis with all things.

A complete edition of Ferrier's philosophical writings including the noticeable Lectures on Greek Philosophy, was published in See also E. S. Haldane, J. F. Ferrier (Edinburgh, 1899) .

philosophy, edinburgh, ignorance and ferriers