He studied philosophy and theology at Union Theological Seminary (New York) and then in Germany for several years, after which, in 1870, the University of Michigan appointed him professor of modern languages and literature. He arranged for John Dewey's first college level teaching position at the University of Michigan. He was also offered the chair of philosophy at Bowdoin College, which he declined in view of Bowdoin's wish for some assurance of his soundness in Christian doctrine. In January 1878 he gave twenty lectures at Johns Hopkins University (Hopkins Hall Lectures, which were open to the public) in the History of Philosophy. In 1880 he resigned his chair at Michigan, and accepted a position at Johns Hopkins, where he remained until 1884, lecturing on such topics as British Philosophy, German Aesthetics, and ethics. At Johns Hopkins Morris was one of John Dewey's main teachers. He also gave a course of twelve public lectures on British Thought and Thinkers (which he would later publish in book form), and served as president of the Metaphysical Club.