Alfred Barratt

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Alfred Barratt (1844–1881) was an English barrister and philosophical writer.


Barratt was the eldest son of James Barratt, solicitor, was born at Heald Grove, Manchester, on 12 July 1844. When eight years old he was sent to a small day-school, where he learnt modern as well as the classical languages. Four years later he went to a school at Sandbach, where he picked up in play-hours the rudiments of Hebrew and Arabic and a little Persian from an under-master. At fourteen he went to Rugby, where he continued to distinguish himself, gaining twenty-nine prizes. In 1862 he entered Balliol College, Oxford, and became a scholar in his first term. He took a double first in moderations and a first-class in the classical, mathematical, and law and modern history schools in 1866, thus achieving an unequalled distinction of five first classes. He obtained a fellowship at Brasenose College a year later. In 1870 he obtained the Eldon law scholarship. He studied law under Vice-chancellor Wickens and Horace Davey, and was called to the bar in 1872.

In the autumn of 1880 he became secretary to the Oxford University Commission. His health suddenly collapsed. After finishing the report of the commission, by working till late hours, in April 1881, he was attacked by paralysis on 1 May and died on 18 May 1881, leaving a widow and infant daughter.


In January 1869 he published Physical Ethics,’ with which he had written at Oxford.

The book on Physical Ethics is based on the unity of all knowledge and the necessity of bringing ethics into harmony with the physical sciences. The theory resembles that of Herbert Spencer.

Barratt described himself as an egoist, and in an article called The Suppression of Egoism defended his theory against Henry Sidgwick. His editor Carveth Read held that his divergence from the "universalist utilitarians" upon this point is partly a question of classification.

His unfinished and fragmentary book on Physical Metempiric was arranged by Carveth Read for publication. The book also contains some articles from Mind, and a memoir by his widow. It includes letters from Thomas William Jex-Blake, Benjamin Jowett, Sir William Anson, and an old friend, George Farwell. The book was left in a very imperfect state. It starts from the principle that every physical state is the symbol of a state of consciousness, and argues that feeling is not the effect but the efficient cause of motion. It leads to a system of monadism comparable with Leibniz's doctrine and with theories such as William Kingdom Clifford's "mindstuff".


In May 1876 Barratt married Dorothea, sister of an old school friend, the Rev. R. Hart Davis.


 This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain"Barratt, Alfred". Dictionary of National Biography. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1900.