Alfred Edward Taylor

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Alfred Edward Taylor
Born(1869-12-22)22 December 1869
Died31 October 1945(1945-10-31) (aged 75)
EraModern philosophy
RegionWestern philosophy
SchoolBritish Idealism
InstitutionsNew College, Oxford
Merton College
University of St. Andrews
University of Edinburgh
Main interests
Philosophy of Religion
Moral Philosophy
Scholarship of Plato

Alfred Edward Taylor (22 December 1869 – 31 October 1945) was a British idealist philosopher most famous for his contributions to the philosophy of idealism in his writings on metaphysics, the philosophy of religion, moral philosophy, and the scholarship of Plato.[1] He was a fellow of the British Academy (1911) and president of the Aristotelian Society from 1928 to 1929. At Oxford he was made an honorary fellow of New College in 1931. In an age of universal upheaval and strife, he was a notable defender of Idealism in the Anglo-Saxon world.[2]


Taylor was both a philosopher in his own right, addressing all the central problems of philosophy, and a philosophical scholar.

Educated at Oxford in the closing days of the great European idealist movement, Taylor was early influenced by the school of British Idealism, especially neo-Hegelianism.[3] He was educated at New College, where he obtained a First in Literae Humaniores or 'Greats' in 1891 and held a prize fellowship at Merton College (1891–96). His first major book, Elements of Metaphysics (1903), dedicated (in heartfelt acknowledgment) to F. H. Bradley, is a systematic treatise of metaphysics covering such topics as ontology, cosmology, and rational psychology, and influenced by such luminaries as Josiah Royce, James Ward, George Frederick Stout, Richard Avenarius, and Hugo Munsterberg, as well as Robert Adamson, Wilhelm Ostwald, Bertrand Russell, and even Louis Couturat.[4][5]

In later years, most notably in The Faith of a Moralist, Taylor began to move away from certain doctrines of his early idealistic youth, towards a more mature and comprehensive idealist philosophy.[3] While students at Oxford and Cambridge were in thrall of anti-idealism, Taylor for many years influenced generations of young people at the University of St. Andrews (1908–1924) and the University of Edinburgh (1924–1941), two of the most ancient and prestigious universities of the United Kingdom, where he was Professor of Moral Philosophy.

As a philosophical scholar he is considered, alongside Francis Macdonald Cornford, one of the greatest English Platonists of his time. In the first half of the 20th century, Taylor remained, in a reactionary age of anti-metaphysics and growing political irrationalism, a lonely but stalwart defender of 19th century European philosophical idealism in the English-speaking world.[6]

But his scholarship was not confined to Greek philosophy. In 1938 Taylor published in Philosophy, 13, 406–24, a landmark article, The Ethical Doctrine of Hobbes. This argues that 'Hobbes's ethical theory is logically independent of the egoistic psychology and is a strict deontology' (Stuart Brown, 'The Taylor Thesis', Hobbes Studies, ed. K. Thomas, Oxford : Blackwell, 1965 : 31). (The text of Taylor's article is reprinted in the same volume.) The deontological angle was developed, though with divergencies from Taylor's argument, by Howard Warrender in The Political Philosophy of Hobbes, Oxford : Oxford University Press, 1957.

Major contributions[edit]

As a scholar of Plato, he is perhaps most famous for presenting evidence in support of the position the vast majority of the statements of Socrates in the Platonic dialogues accurately depict ideas of the historical man himself.[7] His magnum opus, Plato: The Man and His Work (1926) and his commentary on the Timaeus (1927) are particularly important contributions to the higher learning of his time.

In moral philosophy he explored such issues as free will and the relationship between rightness and goodness. Taylor was greatly influenced by the thought of classical antiquity, by such philosophers as Plato and Aristotle, as well as medieval scholasticism.[8]

His contribution to the philosophy of religion is mainly his 1926–1928 Gifford Lectures, The Faith of a Moralist (1930). Taylor made many contributions to the philosophical journal, Mind. He wrote some of the major articles in James Hastings' Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics.

Taylor died in Edinburgh on 31 October 1945.[9]

Selected works[edit]


  1. ^ Andel, Kelly Van. "Biography – Alfred Taylor". Gifford Lecture Series. Archived from the original on 20 April 2008. Retrieved 12 April 2008.
  2. ^ Taylor was of the generation which followed after such influential Idealists as Balfour, Bradley, and Bosanquet. (The first generations which succeeded that of Taylor, those born in the 1870s and 1880s, are notable for strong, reactionary anti-metaphysical tendencies, especially Bertrand Russell, George Edward Moore, Charles Dunbar Broad, and, although not an Englishman, Ludwig Wittgenstein.) See: A Hundred Years of Philosophy, by John Passmore, London, 1957, Gerald Duckworth & Company, 59, 60, 61, 64, 82, 113, 318.
  3. ^ a b "Taylor, Alfred Edward," The Encyclopedia of Philosophy, vols. 7–8, New York, 1967, Macmillan, 82–83.
  4. ^ "Preface," Elements of Metaphysics, London, 1961, Methuen, ix–x.
  5. ^ Taylor made notable use of the following argument: "Change by itself, apart from a background of identity, is impossible for the reason that where there is no underlying identity there is nothing to change. All change must be change of and in some thing. A mere succession of entirely disconnected contents held together by no common permanent nature persisting in spite of the transition, would not be change at all. If I simply have before me first A and then B, A and B being absolutely devoid of any point of community, there is no sense in saying that I have apprehended a process of change." Elements of Metaphysics, London, 1961, Methuen, 161.
  6. ^ According to John Macquarrie, Taylor "remained firmly attached to a theistic and spiritualist interpretation of reality." The Encyclopedia of Philosophy, vols. 7–8, New York, 1967, Macmillan, 82–83.
  7. ^ In 1922 Taylor would maintain, "'Socrates' in Plato is neither, as some of the older and more uncritical expositors used to assume, the historical Socrates, nor, as is too often taken for granted to-day, the historical Plato, but the hero of the Platonic drama. The hero's character is largely modelled on that of the actual Socrates, his opinions are often those of the historical Plato, but he is still distinct from them both." The Mind of Plato, Ann Arbor, 1978, University of Michigan Press, 32.
  8. ^ "Taylor, Alfred Edward," Dictionary of Philosophy, revised and enlarged, edited by Dagobert D. Runes, New York, 1983, The Philosophical Library Inc., 330.
  9. ^ "Obituary. Professor A.E. Taylor. Eminent Platonist". The Glasgow Herald. 2 November 1945. p. 6. Retrieved 15 November 2017.