The son of a banker, Grote was younger brother to the historian, philosopher and reformer George Grote. He went up to Trinity College, Cambridge in 1831, graduated BA with a first-class degree in the Classics Tripos in 1835, and became a fellow of Trinity in 1837. From 1847 until his death he was vicar of Trumpington, where he was a neighbour of his close friend Robert Leslie Ellis, the paralysed mathematician and Bacon scholar. In 1855 Grote succeeded William Whewell as Knightbridge professor of moral philosophy at Cambridge University.
Grote published relatively little during his life: volume I of Exploratio Philosophica: Rough Notes on Modern Intellectual Science appeared in 1865, but An Examination of the Utilitarian Philosophy was only published posthumously (1870). Grote's literary executor and editor, Joseph Bickersteth Mayor, also put together a Treatise on Moral Ideals (1876) and volume II of Exploratio Philosophica (1900).
A philosophical idealist and opponent of utilitarianism (as befitted his Cambridge and Anglican clerical identity), Grote was nevertheless happy to admit the new experimental psychology of someone like John Stuart Mill's disciple Alexander Bain - as long as such 'phenomenal' and more properly 'philosophical' investigations were not conflated with each other. Grote had the (perhaps unenviable) distinction of coining the word 'relativism', though he did not use it in quite the same sense as it is used today.
- "Grote, John (GRT831J)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge.
- "Grote, John", in British Authors of the Nineteenth Century H.C Wilson Company, New York, 1936.
- John R. Gibbins, John Grote, Cambridge University and the Development of Victorian Thought, Imprint Academic, Exeter, 2007