He was born near Dumfries on 14 March 1838. He was the son of Robert Flint, at that time a farm overseer, and his wife (born Johnston). His first school was at Moffat. In 1852, he entered Glasgow University, where he distinguished himself (without graduating) in arts and divinity.
Having been employed as a lay missionary by the 'Elders' Association' of Glasgow, he was licensed to preach in 1858, and for a short time acted as assistant to Norman Macleod (1812–1872), at the Barony Church, Glasgow. He was minister of the East Church, Aberdeen (1859-62) and of Kilconquhar, Fife (1862-4), a country parish, which gave him leisure for study, improved by visits to Germany.
On the death of James Frederick Ferrier in 1864, Flint was elected to succeed him in the moral philosophy chair at St. Andrews University, among the competing candidates being Thomas Hill Green. This chair he held till 1876, when he succeeded Thomas Jackson Crawford in the divinity chair of Edinburgh University. On this appointment he was made LL.D. of Glasgow and D.D. of Edinburgh. Thomas Chalmers had similarly migrated from the one chair to the other.
Flint was appointed to a number of foundation lectureships. He was Baird lecturer (1876-7); in 1880 he crossed to America, and delivered a course as Stone lecturer at Princeton; in 1887-8 he was Croall lecturer. He was elected on 21 May 1883 corresponding member of the Institute of France (Académie des sciences morales et politiques), and was a fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh. He resigned his chair to devote himself to literary work, a purpose hampered by failing health. For some time he lived at Musselburgh. He delivered the Gifford lectures in 1908-9. He died, unmarried, at his residence, 3 Royal Terrace, Edinburgh, on 25 November 1910.
- Christ's Kingdom upon Earth (1865) sermons
- Philosophy of History in France and Germany (1874)
- Theism (1877) Baird Lectures 1876/7
- Anti-Theistic Theories (1879) Baird Lectures 1876/7
- Vico (1884)
- Historical Philosophy in France (1894)
- Socialism (1894)
- Sermons and Addresses (1899)
- Agnosticism (1903)
- Philosophy as scientia scientarum (1904)
This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Gordon, Alexander (1912). "Flint, Robert". In Lee, Sidney. Dictionary of National Biography, 1912 supplement. London: Smith, Elder & Co.
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