Home Online Introductions/Essays New/Forthcoming Titles Encylopedia Portrait Gallery Online Resources Newsletter Order Form/Agents Trade Area Contacts at TP Subscribe to newsletters Search our catalogue

Collected Works of Edward Caird


Spiritual Evolution and the Thought of Edward Caird1

(1) Biographical Sketch, and an Introduction to the Edition

Edward Caird was born in Greenock, Scotland on 23 March 1835.His father, John, died when Edward was just three years old.From this time he came increasingly under the influence of his devout aunt, Jane Caird.Edward received his basic education at Greenock Academy, which his surviving six brothers (one died in childhood) had also attended.He entered the University of Glasgow in 1850 where he studied Arts and Divinity until 1856 at which time ill-health forced him to retire to his Aunt Jane’s home once more. Having taken courses in Hebrew and Divinity at St Mary’s College in the University of St Andrews, he had recovered his health sufficiently to return to Glasgow in 1857.

Caird was elected to the Snell Exhibition in 1860 and began a Bachelor of Arts (Honours)degree at Balliol College, Oxford on 13 October of that year.  He gained a First in both Classical Moderations and Literae Humaniores, and graduated in 1863. After supporting himself for a year as a private philosophy tutor, Caird went on to hold a Fellowship at Merton College, Oxford between May 1864 and May 1866. Immediately on leaving Merton, he took up a chair in Moral Philosophy at the University of Glasgow.

Caird built up his philosophical reputation during his twenty- seven years at Glasgow, on the basis of a number of important and influential books and articles.  Most notable amongst these were: A Critical Account of the Philosophy of Kant (1877); Hegel (1883); an article on ‘Metaphysic’ in the ninth edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica (1883); The Critical Philosophy of Immanuel Kant (1889); and Essays on Literature and Philosophy (1892).

The death of Benjamin Jowett brought Caird the Mastership of Balliol in November 1893. During his time as Master, he delivered two sets of Gifford lectures in 1890–91 and 1891–2, and 1900–1901 and 1901–1902, which were later published as The Evolution of Religion (1893) and The Evolution of Theology in the Greek Philosophers (1904),respectively.His last new book, a collection of Lay Sermons and Addresses was published in 1907. Ill-health forced Caird to resign the Mastership on 18 March 1907, and he died from Bright’s Disease, on 1 November 1908, aged 73 years. He was buried in St Sepulchre’s Cemetery, Oxford

Edward Caird wrote a great many works which were never collected in his own lifetime, and which have become rather difficult to locate.  The great bulk of this material is brought together in this edition of his Collected Works.The topics covered in these pages range over a vast area: from short and incisive philosophical pieces on Kant, to longer but similarly fascinating philosophical and historical discussions of Plato, Descartes and T. H. Green, to his political pamphlets and longer biographies of William Wallace and his own brother John Caird, and finally his eight books.The danger with such a wealth of material is that the reader misses their central unity.In this introduction, I shall indicate that one should resist the temptation to see the shorter pieces as idiosyncratic discussions, disconnected from the remainder of Caird’s corpus. Each piece contributes to a single, although multifaceted, conception of the world.

Obviously, I shall not attempt to consider all aspects of this world.  Instead, I will argue that to understand Caird’s writings we must first understand his more general metaphysical position.Especially important here are his interconnected theories of spiritual evolution, knowledge and the dynamic Absolute.We can still learn a great deal from Caird, once we appreciate the fundamental principles of his philosophical system.

(2) Caird’s Theory of Spiritual Evolution

From the time of his earliest publication in 1865 until his death in 1908, Caird was emphatic that each human life could only be properly understood as forming part of a universal process of spiritual evolution.2 His books on Kant, Hegel and Comte, and even more clearly his Gifford lectures, explore this interconnection, as indeed does virtually everything else he ever wrote, even down to his occasional writings and book reviews.  No matter which subject Caird had in view in any particular piece – whether it was religion, politics, social ontology, ethics or aesthetics – he saw himself as exploring an aspect of the same evolutionary process.  This point comes through clearly in the unpublished lectures on moral philosophy which he delivered in 1893, and from which it is worth quoting at some length here.

Comte and Hegel both tried to find development in history, and writers have been guided more or less into their idea.This is the most powerful idea of modern times; it has ruled not only biology, but before that it began to rule history and does so more and more every day.  There is one point worthy of attention. If we are to trace a law in the history of man it must be one that is consistent with very great changes and most violent revolutions.  Revolution and development seem at first to be opposed to each other: for our first view of development is that it is a change very gradual and without sudden change, that the continuity of existence is not supposed so that at every moment the being is in the main identical.  We oppose that change to Revolution which does away with foundations. If we are to apply our idea of development to history, we must enlarge our conception of it, so as to take in the most violent changes. We do not find Greek civilisation slowly passing into Roman.  We find a violent overthrow and an apparent start from the beginning. The Romans crushed out the life of Greece, and put their own in its place. Christianity seemed to set itself in antagonism to the whole manner of life in the ancient world, and there was an apparent overthrow. If therefore we can trace a law in history at all, it must be a law that is consistent with the very greatest changes and revolutions.  If we can do so, this also throws considerable light on the history of philosophy.  The development of philosophy is very like that of man’s outward life in history.It does not grow by simple addition, one man discovering one thing and another another.  It is a continual overthrow of one system after another.Progress is from the start and by revolution.

We have seen some of the reasons why history in general is a process of overthrow and rebuilding, for we have seen advance in reflection is apt to undermine the institutions which nations have built up, and prepare for the national destruction.  Generally, the decay of the political and social energy of a nation, which comes with the age of reflection, shows discord within the nation, and also in its being an energy to resist pressure from without.  But when reflection has begun to produce doubt within men, the energy that repelled attack from without begins to fail, and we find the aggressive and even the defensive energy of the nation beginning to fail. So the Greeks yielded to the Romans, and the Romans in turn to the attacks of the barbarians.

If this is true of history generally, we need not wonder to find it so in philosophy. It is just the highest form of self-consciousness.  Hence the fate of nations is copied in the fate of philosophy.In fact, there are not two problems but only one.If philosophy brings a continually new stage of culture to mankind then the history of philosophy will be a sort of abstract of the history of the world, because in the different philosophies the ideas are not the particular ideas of individuals, but ideas which are in the air and in which men grew up.  A great man is great because he represents many.At first then the variations that we find in the history of philosophy seem to lead us to scepticism, pointing in all directions and coming to no satisfactory conclusions.  In all the changes shall we not be able to include the idea of revolution as well as of development.  Philosophy is just a part of history, and Law may be expected there as in history generally.3

History is a personal reality: it is a process which only occurs through particular human lives.  Enriched lives are gradually developing manifestations of one self-conscious and rational form of consciousness.  It is by having the potential to manifest this consciousness through their participation in History that persons exist as ethical beings.It is this thought which leads Caird to state in his Hegel that the ‘great men’ of the nineteenth century are those

who, like Mirabeau, have ‘swallowed all formulas,’ yet have not in the process lost their faith in the spiritual powers and destiny of man; ... Their greatness is measured by the completeness with which the whole movement of the time, negative and positive, has mirrored itself in their intellectual history, and by the degree in which they have mastered its striving elements, and brought them to a unity as factors of their own inner life. (Hegel, 1–2)

It is by playing their parts in the stream of History that people become heroes then.The highest form of human life is one which best makes manifest the enriching activity of thought in the world.

This process constitutes Caird’s Absolute, and forms the epicentre of his philosophical system, just as Hegel’s Absolute stands at the heart of his thought.  Consequently, we must be clear about the nature of Caird’s Absolute before we can understand any other aspect of his thought, writings or wider intellectual life, including his theories of ethics, citizenship and politics.It is with this fact in mind that I undertake an examination of the (logically) primary stage of Caird’s conception of the Absolute: his epistemological thought.

(3) Caird’s Epistemology

Caird develops his interconnected theories of knowledge and the Absolute in many of his writings, with one of his clearest and most succinct presentations being found in his last publicly-delivered paper, ‘Idealism and the Theory of Knowledge’.4 For Caird, modern idealism is founded upon the belief that ‘the modifications of our consciousness’ arise out of ‘the objects, or at least … the primary and immediate objects, of knowledge’. It does not deny the existence of an ‘external world’, but treats it ‘only as an inference’ from the nature of the experiences which as humans we recognize ourselves to have (ITK, 95–6).Following Kant, Caird argues that the existence of knowledge logically entails that our mind possesses certain a priori elements, which are the categories of experience.  Next, he argues that knowledge and truth – indeed thought itself – entails the veracity of the principle of non-contradiction and therefore the unity of the categories.5 Although ultimately thought forms a unity, this does not logically involve ‘the denial of the reality of the differences [and distinctions]’ which the mind perceives within its complex ideas. Indeed, such a denial would involve, in itself and of necessity, the denial of the conditions under which the whole is intelligible at all.In short, knowledge can only be constituted by interrelated parts, and the full nature of each part is determined by its place within that whole (ITK, 101). Although there must therefore be differentiation within the system of true knowledge (sc. knowledge must be made up of various particular concepts, categories, relations and judgements),6 simultaneously there must be a unity underlying that differentiation (sc. each particular judgement only exists for a common subject and in relation to all other judgements).   In this way thought transcends the subject/object distinction.  On the one hand, facts can only be fully known when they are self-consciously apprehended by the subject who knows them, and, on the other, a ‘finite individual’ can only possess self-consciousness to the extent and in the manner in which it is conscious of objects which are its ‘not-self’ (ITK,97).Rational thought presupposes that each particular judgement is an ‘organic’ moment of a coherent and necessarily internally-differentiated system or whole (ITK, 106). There must be a ‘unity in difference’ – a harmony between the various parts of one system – for human knowledge to exist as we experience it.

Even though this theory maps necessary presuppositions of thought, it remains an article of ‘faith’.By ‘faith’ in this context, Caird means ‘not believing anything merely upon authority, but proceeding upon a principle the complete vindication or realization of which is for us impossible; for, obviously, nothing short of omniscience could grasp the world as a complete system’.7  Such faith is not ‘an arbitrary assumption: rather it is the essential faith of reason, the presupposition and basis of all that reason has achieved and can achieve’ (ITK, 103).It is a faith which grows with experience.  Initially, the action of the mind’s a priori categories escape reflective thought, and analysis is conceived as being simply an examination of the nature of a mind-independent world.8 Yet, as thought develops, subjects become increasingly aware of the necessary implications of the existence of their knowledge.  More specifically, Caird emphasizes Kant’s recognition of the truth that particular human beings can only come to know the one universal, coherent and complete system of thought through a metaphysical analysis of their own particular concrete experiences. Caird sees this final claim as being one of Kant’s most significant contributions to philosophy, representing as it does the (admittedly only partial) integration of a priori thought and concrete experience.

Caird credits Hegel with making the world-historical move from this Kantian insight by establishing the self-expressive nature of thought: it is thought which creates determinate human knowledge, activities, practices and social institutions.This Hegelian development has momentous implications for the nature and scope of true philosophical investigation: ‘the main result of modern philosophy and especially modern idealism has been to put a concrete, in place of an abstract unity, or in other words, to vindicate the essential correlation of the self and the not-self’ (ITK, 100).In this way, it has become the special task of philosophy to enable humans to know themselves as practical and rational beings.

The philosopher should attempt to understand the fundamental structure of all forms of thought, both theoretical and practical, as it manifests itself in literature and art, as much as in epistemology, mathematics, politics, ethics and religion.He should attempt to reconcile all spheres of knowledge so that thought is articulated as one truly complete and coherent system.9 In so doing, the philosopher is helping to manifest the Absolute more fully, and is thereby a vehicle of History.  It is one of the vocations of the human race therefore to produce philosophers, social critics and social reformers.

The Dynamic Conception of the Absolute

William Mander has argued that ‘[f]or Caird, there could be no true understanding of the Absolute which did not bring to the fore the notion of universal and ceaseless evolution’.10 This ‘belief in a continuous and all-pervasive evolution’ leads Caird to discern ‘[w]herever he looks … progressive development; in the natural world, in culture and civilisation, in nationhood, in human knowledge, in art.  Affirmations of such development can be found throughout his work.’11

Caird’s dynamic conception of the Absolute is heavily influenced by Hegel’s logical writings.12J. H. Muirhead goes so far as to argue that, like Plato and Hegel, Caird believes the ‘Dialectic was the living pulse of reality, the principle and soul of the evolutionary movement’.13In the absence of a clear and succinct exploration of the Absolute in Caird’s writings, I shall turn instead to its inspiration in Hegel’s writings.

Hegel (and, on the present reading, Caird) conceived of thought or the Absolute (i) as a process, which (ii) has three necessarily interrelated – in fact, mutually presupposing – facets, or ‘moments’, which Hegel labels ‘the Understanding’, ‘the Dialectic’ and ‘Speculative Reason’.As was indicated in different terms in section (2) of this introduction, the Understanding employs apparently fixed and clear concepts – abstract universals – to conceptualize the changing concrete world of human experience (LH, 80).The tensions which arise between the present fixed categories of one’s Understanding and one’s dynamic experiences eventually necessitate a reconceptualization of both, in an attempt to bring them into harmony with each other.  Hegel labels the consequent nisus to epistemological crisis, in which these categories of the Understanding are recognized (maybe inchoately) as being inadequate for constructing a complete and coherent world, the Dialectic (LH, 81).In Hegel’s words, the limitations of ‘the predicates of the understanding’ produce uncertainty and vagueness – and to a certain extent scepticism – which eventually issues in a reaction whereby thought generates other categories which in turn stand in opposition to the initial particular – and now rejected – categories of the Understanding. This activity of the Dialectic is the motive-force of all change: ‘it is the universal and irresistible power before which nothing can stay’; ‘its purpose is to study things in their own being and movement and thus to demonstrate the finitude of the partial categories of understanding’ (LH, 81z).

Pure scepticism (sc. the pure affirmation of pure negation) is necessarily a deficient result of the rejection of the initial categories of the Understanding.Such scepticism fails to recognize that every Dialectical reaction is caused by the specific inadequacies and imperfections of specific categories, categories which embody specific predicates.In reality therefore, change is always a particular reaction against a particular judgement, and not against thought as such.When thought recognizes this fact, Hegel’s Dialectic transforms itself into the ‘Speculative stage, or stage of Positive Reason’ (LH, 82).  In this ‘moment’, the Absolute is conscious of the one unity which underlies both the determinate initial categories of the Understanding, and their determinate negations.Moreover, it is conscious that their unity, as well as the reconceptualizations of the Understanding,originate in the very structure of thought itself. Consequently, Speculative Reason ‘evinces its own concrete and all-embracing nature’ in its moment of self-consciousness (LH, 82z). In this way, the Absolute qua thought necessarily generates its own progress towards self-consciousness and rational self-completion.Nevertheless, the necessary limitations (or finitude) of all possible categories of the Understanding ensure that complete knowledge and pure rational thought can never be attained by any one human consciousness. Consequently, thought always strives to overcome the limitations of the particular categories which it is employing at any given time. It is in this manner that the Absolute is necessarily dynamic.14

The Absolute (which both Hegel and Caird equate to God) is a self-manifesting impulse of the rational consciousness.  In consequence,

the world we live in is a spiritual world – a divine order, the source of which is akin to the principle of intelligence in our own souls. … I think it can be shown that our whole nature, and the conditions of our existence, and indeed every rational thought we think and every rational act we do, implies that it is so. (LS,304–305)

Caird applies this theoretical framework at greatest length in his evolutionary analyses of the religious consciousness of mankind (ER; ET).  However, his dynamic conception of the Absolute underlies all of the pieces in his corpus, even where they concern aesthetics and history. Given his concern with the importance of community in all of these spheres, I shall use the introduction to volumes 11 and 12 to explore its influence on his ethical, social and political theories.15

Colin Tyler
University College London, 1999


1   For a literary biography of Caird, see my ‘Edward Caird’, in Peter Fosl & Philip Dematteis (eds.), Dictionary of Literary Biography: British Philosophers 1500–1899 (Columbia, SC: Bruccoli Clark Layman, forthcoming).

2    See,for example, his ‘Plato and Other Companions of Socrates’, North British Review, vol.43 (1865), pp. 351–84+; Hegel (Edinburgh: William Blackwood, 1883) (hereafter, Hegel), pp. 134–86 passim; The Evolution of Religion, 2 vols. (Glasgow: James Maclehose, 1893)(hereafter, ER),passim; The Present State of the Controversy Between Individualism and Socialism (Glasgow: James Maclehose, 1897), passim*; The Evolution of Theology in the Greek Philosophers, 2 vols. (Glasgow: James Maclehose, 1904) (hereafter, ET), passim;  ITK = ‘Idealism and the Theory of Knowledge’, Proceedings of the British Academy, vol. 2 (1903–1904), pp. 95–108 (herafter, ITK), passim+; Lay Sermons and Addresses (Glasgow: James Maclehose, 1907), pp. 145–6, 269–71, 304–305, 306–10 passim*.

* denotes that the piece is included in volume 11 of this edition of The Collected Works of Edward Caird; + denotes that it is included in volume 12.

3    This lecture was given at the University of Glasgow on 31 October 1893 as part of the moral philosophy course which Caird had to interrupt in order to take up the Mastership of Balliol College, Oxford. The notes were taken by James Dick in a notebook which is preserved in Caird’s papers at Glasgow University Library, Special Collections, MS Gen 827.For the most part, these notes are written in Dick’s clear longhand.In this and the following quotations from these lectures, I have silently expanded Dick’s few contractions.This particular passage is taken from pp. 79–83.  Dick acknowledges that he copied this lecture from the notes of T.Cameron.

4    This paper was read before the British Academy, a society of which Caird was an original Fellow, on 14 May 1903. It was Bernard Bosanquet who described it as ‘his last public utterance’, in his ‘Edward Caird 1835–1908’, Proceedings of the British Academy 1907–1908, vol. 5, p. 385.

5    Modern idealism ‘maintains that there are no absolute differences or antagonisms in the intelligible world, no distinctions which do not imply relations, and, therefore also, an ultimate unity between the things distinguished: and, of course, it must refuse to admit that there is an unintelligible world, a world that cannot be brought in relation to the intelligence’ (ITK, 100–101).

6    For brevity, hereafter I use ‘judgements’ to refer to ‘concepts, categories, relations and judgements’.

7    ITK, 102.Caird claims, ‘We cannot play the game of thought, if one might use such an expression, without taking our stand upon the idea that the world is a self-consistent and intelligible whole: though of course, this does not mean that any actual attempt to systematize our knowledge can be more than a step towards the attainment of the ideal of a perfect analysis and re-synthesis of the manifold content of experience’ (ITK, 102).

8    ‘[T]hough the unity of the self may be implied in all consciousness of objects, yet it is to the object in the first instance that our attention is directed, and we observe the outward world and construe its meaning long before we turn the eye of reflection upon the inner life’ (ITK, 96).

9    For example, A. D. Lindsay wrote: ‘Let me say something at once about those other than philosophic writers [i.e., ‘Goethe and Dante with [Edward] Caird, Browning and Wordsworth with [Sir Henry] Jones’].  No one could come into contact with either Caird or Jones without realizing that what they derived from the great poets and the great religious teachers pervaded the whole of their philosophy, that it was a firm and settled conviction with both of them, that you cannot solve the problems with which philosophy is confronted without the illumination to be derived from poetry and religion.And yet it was equally evident that their attitude to these sources was always scientific and critical, never implied any diminution of the spirit of free inquiry – and acceptance of dogmatic authority, i.e. any acceptance of the teaching of poetry or religion for any other reason than the illumination and insight which they derived from such teaching.’ A. D. Lindsay, ‘The Idealism of Caird and Jones’, Journal of Philosophical Studies, vol. 1, no. 2 (April 1926), p. 176.

10   William Mander, ‘Caird’s Developmental Absolutism’, in W. Mander (ed.), Anglo-American Idealism, 1865–1927 (Westport, CT: Greenwood, forthcoming).

11   Cf. ‘Caird was prepared to find the clue both to the principle [of evolution] itself and to the law of its development in his general theory of the nature of human consciousness and the presuppositions on which all knowledge and action rest.’Sir Henry Jones and John H. Muirhead, The Life and Philosophy of Edward Caird (1921; repr. Bristol: Thoemmes Press, 1991), pp. 334–5.

12   See, for example, Caird’s letter to Mary Sarah Talbot, 3 June 1891, as printed in Jones and Muirhead, op. cit., pp. 167–8.  See also Hegel, chapter 8 (‘The Hegelian Logic’), especially pp. 158–66.In 1893, Caird wrote to F. H. Bradley referring to himself as ‘one who is still in the main an unregenerate Hegelian’ (W. J. Mander and C. Keene (eds.), The Collected Works of F. H. Bradley, 12 vols. (Bristol: Thoemmes Press, 1999), vol. 4, p. 77.  I shall refer to the translation of Hegel’s Smaller Logic which was made by Caird’s pupil and later friend, William Wallace.(References in the present text are denoted with LH, and are to paragraphs in this edition.)See Caird’s ‘Review of The Logic of Hegel.Part I.: Of the Encyclopaedia of the Philosophical Sciences.  Translated, with Prolegomena, by William Wallace, MA (Oxford: At the Clarendon Press, 1873)’, The Academy, vol. 5 (10 January 1874), pp. 38–9+.There, Caird describes Wallace’s translation (which was also the first English edition of Hegel’s Smaller Logic) as ‘the most considerable contribution to the knowledge of the later German philosophy that has appeared in this country, with the exception of the works of Dr Hutchison Stirling’.  I place particular importance in this introduction on Chapter IV (‘Logic Further Defined and Divided’, sections 79–83).  Caird’s heavily annotated set of Hegel’s Werke is preserved in Glasgow University Library.

13   Jones and Muirhead, op. cit., p. 353, see ibid., pp. 351–3.

14   It must not be forgotten in this analysis that even though Understanding, Dialectic, and Speculative Reason are three necessary facets of thought, and are described by Hegel in the manner in which they are presented here – that is, as stages in a temporal sequence – nevertheless, they exist simultaneously within thought.Logically, they presuppose one another.They are three necessary and mutually reliant moments of the process or activity which constitutes the Absolute.

15   I wish to thank the following for their generous assistance with the preparation of this introduction: the University of Glasgow, Department of Special Collections for permission to consult and quote from the papers of Edward Caird; the Master and Fellows of Balliol College Oxford for permission to consult Caird’s papers; Peter Nicholson and William Mander for their comments on a draft version. I am solely responsible for the use made of this assistance.

Colin Tyler (ed.), 'Introduction', Collected Works of Edward Caird Volume 1
(Bristol: Thoemmes Press, 1999), pp.vii-xvii

© Colin Tyler, 1999.
All rights reserved. For personal Use only.