Alexander Bain - Philosopher
Alexander Bain was a prominent philosopher and logician who excelled in the fields of psychology, linguistics, logic and moral philosophy. Many of his outstanding literary contributions like “The Senses and the Intellect”, “Mental and Moral Science”, “Education as a Science” and “The Emotions and the Will” brought him huge critical acclaim. He was the recipient of prestigious awards like the Blue Ribbon and the Gray Mathematical Bursary. His books titled “The Senses and the Intellect” and “The Emotions and the Will” helped him to gain a position among independent thinkers. To raise the standard of teaching of English language, he published several textbooks like “Higher English Grammar”, “An English Grammar”, “A First English Grammar” and so on. Under the editorship of George Croom Robertson, he contributed a number of articles for “Mind”, a philosophical journal. He even bore the expenses of its publication after Robertson resigned from the editorship. It was Bain who for the first time in the 19th Century’s Britain applied physiology for the clarification of mental states. He introduced the theory of psychophysical parallelism. He established a link between physiological and psychological processes. As part of his work, he endeavored to find the relation between mental and behavioral phenomena.
Childhood & Early Life
Born as the son of a weaver and veteran soldier George Bain and Margaret Paul in Aberdeen, Scotland, Alexander Bain left his school at the age of eleven to work as a weaver.
He attended lectures at the Mechanics’ Institutes of Aberdeen and at the Aberdeen Public Library before attending Marischal College in 1836. There he came under the influence of several professors.
During this time, he met with John Stuart Mill, a British philosopher and political economist. His fist article titled “Electrotype and Daguerreotype” appeared in “Westminster Review” in 1840.
During the publication of his fist article, he was pursuing his undergraduate degree. Later, he studied mental philosophy, mathematics and physics. He completed his graduation with a Master of Arts with Highest Honors.
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He worked as a substitute for D. Glennie, the professor of Moral Philosophy at Marischal for three successive terms. Besides writing for “Westminster Review”, he assisted John Stuart Mill with the revision of the manuscript of “System of Logic”.
His first review of this book appeared in “London and Westminster” in 1843. In 1845, Anderson’s University Glasgow appointed him as the Professor of Mathematics and Natural Philosophy.
After one year, he left his job and remained busy with his writing work. He shifted to London in 1848, to work in the Board of Health under Si Edwin Chadwick. Here he became involved in social reform activities.
It was during this period when he became a member of the intellectual circle whose members were personalities like George Grote, an English historian and John Stuart Mill.
His fist major work “The Senses and the Intellect” was published in 1855. From 1857 to 1862, he was the Examiner in Logic and Moral Philosophy at the University of London.
In 1860, British Crown appointed him to the Regius Chair of Logic and the Regius Chair of English Literature at the University of Aberdeen. During his tenure at the University, he took initiative to raise the standard of education in the North of Scotland.
As part of his effort, he set up a School of Philosophy at the University of Aberdeen. He also took necessary measures to improve the teaching system of English grammar and composition in the United Kingdom.
From 1864 to 1869, he served at the University of London as the Examiner in Logic and Moral Philosophy for the second time. He also played the role of Instructor in Moral Science for the Indian Civil Service examinations.
In 1868, he published “Manual of Mental and Moral Science” through which he stated his doctrines on philosophy. After writing several textbooks, he started publication of philosophical journal “Mind” in 1876.
His theory of psychophysical parallelism is extensively used by modern psychologists. For his remarkable contribution, a subject like psychology has acquired the recognition of a distinct discipline of science.
In his book “Logic”, published in 1870, he discussed about the doctrine of the conservation of energy and application of the principles of logic to the various sciences. Based on John Stuart Mill, he wrote this book for the use of students.
Awards & Achievements
In 1871, the University of Edinburg offered him the honorary degree of Doctor of Law to recognize his outstanding contribution in the fields of education and social reforms in Scotland.
Personal Life & Legacy
He married twice but he had no children.
He spent his last days in privacy at Aberdeen where he passed away. Before death, he requested not to place any stone upon his grave.
His autobiography was published in 1904.
To remember this prominent educationalist’s contribution in the arena of education, Philosophy Department of the University of Aberdeen offers the Bain Medal since 1883 each year to the candidate who gains First Class Honors in Mental Philosophy.