George Elder Davie

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
George Elder Davie
George Davie 1.jpg
George Davie with Dr. Vincent Hope in 1996
Born (1912-03-18)18 March 1912
Dundee, Scotland, UK
Died 20 March 2007(2007-03-20) (aged 95)
Sutton Veny, Wiltshire, UK
Pen name G.E. Davie
Occupation Writer, philosopher, academic
Nationality Scottish
Genre non-fiction, philosophy, James Frederick Ferrier
Spouse Elspeth Mary Dryer
Children one daughter

George Elder Davie (1912–2007) was a prominent Scottish philosopher whose well-received book, The Democratic Intellect (1961), concerns the treatment of philosophy in 19th century Scottish universities.


He was born at no. 4 Baxter Park Terrace, Dundee on 18 March 1912. His father, George Myles Davie was a pharmacist and chemistry teacher, and his mother was Isabella Calder Elder. He married Elspeth Mary Dryer, an art teacher, on 5 October 1944 at Bonnyrigg Church in Midlothian. Elspeth Davie later became a respected writer and was awarded the Katherine Mansfield Prize in 1978.[1] They had one daughter with whom he resided at Sutton Veny, Wiltshire at the time of his death on 20 March 2007.[2]


  • George Davie was educated at the High School of Dundee after which he was offered a place at Oxford University but turned it down in favour of Edinburgh University where graduated MA in 1935 with a first class honours degree in Classics.[3]
  • In 1939 he was appointed assistant lecturer in the Department of Philosophy at Edinburgh University. He was assistant to Norman Kemp Smith and he later co-edited the latter's collected papers.[4]
  • His war service between 1941 and 1945 was in the Royal Corps of Signals.
  • After the war, he was appointed lecturer in philosophy at Queens University, Belfast where he remained till 1959 when he returned to Edinburgh University as Lecturer. He retired in 1982 and was appointed Reader Emeritus at Edinburgh in 1987.
  • In 1953 he was awarded the degree of DLitt by Edinburgh University for his thesis, "A Scotch Metaphysics – the Theory of Knowledge in the Scottish Universities 1730–1860". This thesis was published in 2000 under the title, The Scotch Metaphysics : a Century of Enlightenment in Scotland.
  • A Conference was held in his honour at Edinburgh University on 13 to 15 September 1996. It was entitled: 'The Legacy of Empiricism, A Conference in Honour of George Davie', and held in the David Hume Tower. On Sunday 15 September 1996, he delivered a conference paper entitled “Five Philosophical Theses from Ferrier". In spite of suffering blindness by that time he held the rapt attention of his audience for an hour and a half.


The Democratic Intellect[edit]

In this book, Davie deals with the struggle during the 19th century in Scotland to maintain a generalist form of education which is not only philosophical but also scientific, humanistic and democratic. The book has been described as "a thesis about liberal education – pursued by a micro-historical investigation of the culture and academic politics of Scotland's universities in the 19th century. More than 40 years on, the book's discussions of the restriction of academic independence by centralisation, inter-university competition for prestige, research versus teaching and even versus scholarship, notions of abandoning moral discourse for ill-examined claims regarding scientific advance, are still relevant."[7]
Davie's somewhat prolix style of writing is exemplified here:
“It is possible to confirm still further the importance which this ideal of a philosophical education had for the Scots if we turn from the achieved pattern of national pedagogy to the plans which were being mooted for its development. What these plans reveal – until well on in the nineteenth century – is the remarkable hold on the country of the belief in the possibility of general education through philosophy. Not that the Scots had any dislike of professional accomplishment; on the contrary, they admired it even to excess, and were eager for the introduction into their educational system of training centres for higher education and specialisation in the new subjects. But the distinctive mark of their thinking about these matters and of the organised projects it inspired was that they wanted to retain philosophy as a compulsory part of what we would now call secondary education (fifteen to nineteen), and that admission to the specialist schools – though it was to be granted early – nevertheless would require, as a preliminary, philosophical education in the old style.”[8]


  • The Democratic Intellect: Scotland and her Universities in the Nineteenth Century. Edinburgh: University Press, 1961, 1964 and 1999.
  • The Scottish Enlightenment. London Historical Association, 1981.
  • The Crisis of the Democratic Intellect: The Problem of Generalism and Specialisation in Twentieth-Century Scotland. Edinburgh: Polygon, 1986.
  • 'Scottish Philosophy and Specialisation: a Long View'. Occasional papers of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, nos. 2–6. Edinburgh: 1985, p. 41–56.
  • The Scottish Enlightenment and Other Essays. Edinburgh: Polygon, 1991.
  • A Passion for Ideas: Essays on the Scottish Enlightenment 2. Edinburgh: Polygon, 1994.
  • The Scotch Metaphysics : a Century of Enlightenment in Scotland. London & New York: Routledge, 2000.



  1. ^ According to The Herald Obituary, 23 March 2007, but this does not appear to be the New Zealand Katherine Mansfield Prize.
  2. ^ Births, marriages and deaths information available at the General Register Office for Scotland, Scotlands People Centre in Edinburgh, and also at
  3. ^ Obituary in The Independent, Thursday, 29 March 2007.
  4. ^ The Credibility of Divine Existence: The collected papers of Norman Kemp Smith, edited by A. J. D. Porteus, R. D. Maclennan and G.E. Davie. London: Macmillan, 1967.
  5. ^ "Doctor Honoris Causa". The Herald. 13 July 1995. Retrieved 18 December 2016. 
  6. ^ Philosophers of the Scottish Enlightenment. Edited by Vincent Hope. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1984.
  7. ^ Obituary in The Independent, Thursday, 29 March 2007.
  8. ^ The Democratic Intellect, second edition, 1964, paperback edition, 1981, p.20.