HAMILTON, Sir WILLIAM, of Preston, Bart., the most learned and scientific philosopher of the Scottish school, was b. Mar. 8, 1788, at Glasgow, where his father, Dr. William, Hamilton, and his grandfather, Dr. Thomas Hamilton, held in succession the chairs of anatomy and botany. Though the Hamiltons of Preston (Haddington shire), who were raised to a baronetcy in 1673, had not assumed their title since the death of sir William Hamilton in Nov., 1688, when his brother and heir, sir Robert. the covenanter, refused to take the oath of allegiance, the philosopher made good his claim to represent them, and therefore to lie descended from the leader of the covenanters at Drumclog and Bothwell Bridge. After gaining high distinction. especially in the philosophical classes, at Glasgow, he went in 1809 to Balliol college, Oxford, as a Snell exhibitioner, and there, notwithstanding the unusually high standard of scholar ship at the time, the position which he took never had, nor has been surpassed. It was at this time, moreover, that he laid the basis of his vast erudition in mediaeval and modern, as well as in ancient literature, and he himself felt that his residence in Balliol was the most important period of his life in determining the drift of his subsequent speculations and studies (see Discussions, 2c1 ed., p. 750, note). He left Oxford in 1812, and entered the Scotch bar in 1813, but he seems never to have had any practice in his profession except what became incumbent on him afterwards, on being appointed crown-solicitor of the court of teinds. In 1820, on the death of Dr. Brown, lie was an unsuccessful competitor for the chair of moral philosophy in Edinburgh. In the fol lowing year. however, Hamilton was appointed to the professorship of history by its patrons, the faculty of advocates.
Hamilton had now reached his 30th year, without giving to the world any indication of those speenlations which he had been silently and slowly maturing. But in 1829 there appeared in the Edinburgh Review a critique of Cousin's Caters de Philawpide of the previous year, in which was developed that philosopher's doctrine of the infinite. The critique immediately excited admiration not only among the few in our island who com prehended it, but much more extensively on the continent. Cousin himself being nmong the first to acknowledge that his reviewer at once understood thoroughly the theory which lie opposed. and combated it with a speculative power, with a knowledge of phil osophical systems. and a command of philosophical expression, which lie had not ex pected to find existing in Britain. For some years after this, Hamilton was a regular cont•ibutOr to the Et/in//7.0 Ilfriew. Besides other philosophical articles, two of which, on the " Philosophy of Perception," and on " Recent Publications in Logical Science," are especially celebrated, be Coutributed severahun education and university reform, Many of these contributions, besides being republished in Mr. Crosse's Selections from the Edinburgh Review, were translated into German, French, and Italian, the French col lection, Fragments de Philosophic, being especially valuable for the introduction, appendix, and notes of its editor, M. Peisse. In 1832 they were all edited by Hamilton himself, with large notes and appendices, under the title of Discussions in Philosophy and Literature, Education, and University Reform. In 183[i after a severe Contest, Hamilton was elected to the chair of logic and metaphysics in Edinburgh. During his first session, lie delivered a course of lectures on metaphysics, which followed in the succeeding session by a course on logic; and these two courses he continued to read on each alternate year till the close of his life. His influence soon began to show itself in the university among the young men who were attracted thither from different parts of Scotland, and other countries, in many cases chiefly for the sake of hearing Hamilton; and many of his pupils now rising to distinction in various professions, trace to the impulses which issued front his class the most valuable element of their education. Extensive notes of his lectures were taken by his students, and numerous copies of them, transcribed from shorthand reports, were in circulation during the later years of his life. Since his death they have been published under the editor
ship of professors Mantel and Veitch (Sir William Hamilton's Lectures, 4 vols. 1859-61.) These lectures, which were mostly written during the currency of the sessions iu which; they were first delivered, want the exactness of thought and expression which render the works revised by himself for publication models of philosophical composition ; this may be said to convey higher value to them as introductory works. Still it is to be regretted that the materials embodied in these volumes were never, as was intended, wrought into another work which Hamilton had already planned at the time of his appointment. This was his edition of the works of Reid, with notes and supple mentary dissertations. It is perhaps impossible to adduce any writings which have received the same amount of editorial care. The general aim of Hamilton's whole philosophy is, in fact, but the special aim of this edition of Reid. His conviction was, that the philosophy of common sense represents the highest reaches of 1111111;111 specu lation, and he sought, accordingly, in his annotations of Beitl's writings, as in his independent works, to point out the relation of the Scottish philosophy to the systems of other countries, as well as to translate it into a more scientific expression, that lie might bring into clearer view at once its true character and the real hasis on which it tests. In this, therefore, more than in any of his other works, he betrays his fondness for eliciting his own theories from the hints of previous thinkers; his peculiar doc trines of perception, of the conditioned, of mental reproduction. etc., are traced to the writings of Aristotle. Valuable, however, as this work is, its latest edition contains refer ences to numerous dissertations beyond that, in the middle of which it abruptly stops. This is undoubtedly to be attributed to the decay of Hamilton's health. By the paralysis of his whole right side, though his mind continued unimpaired, his power of work was seriously curtailed during the later years of his life. He wits, however, generally able, with an assistant, to peiform, the duties of his class till the close of session 1835-56, when his health suddenly became worse, and lie died May 6. Sec his life by prof. Veiteh (1869).
The time has scarcely come for estimating the position of Hamilton in the history of philosophy. Though his system professes to be merely an explication of the Scot tish philosophy, he seems to be already creating an independent school, and. indeed, it may be questioned whether all his exegetical skill has vindicated the position claimed for Reid, whether, therefore, it would not have been better for Hamilton had lie struck into a separate path. For while his philosophy is distinguished in general from previous Scottish speculations by its more rigorously systematic character, it ventures, as in his doctrine of the conditioned, into realms of thought, whose existence had been scarcely surmised by any of his countrymen. This doctrine, which limits positive thought to the conditioned sphere between the contradictory poles of the infinite and the absolute, has attracted more attention than any of his other doctrines, especially since the publication of Mr. Mantel's Hampton Lectures in 1858; and though Hamilton's discussion is confined to the metaphysical aspects of the question. and is perhaps incompatible with a consideration of the ethical ideas which most be embraced in our conception of the Infinite Being, it is likely for some time to gather round it the higher efforts of British speculation. Hamilton is also worthy of being distinguished by his important contributions to logic. These may he reduced to the two principles (1) of distinguishing reasoning in the quantity of extension from reasoning in that of compre hension, and (2) of stating explicitly what is thought implicitly; from the former of which issues his twofold determination of major, minor and middle terms, as of major and minor premises; from the latter the quantification of the predicate, the reduction of the modes of conversion to one, and his numerous simplifications in the laws of syllogism.