James Balfour (philosopher)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search

James Balfour (1705–1795) was a Scottish philosopher.


He was born at Pilrig, near Edinburgh. After studying at Edinburgh and at Leyden, he was called to the Scottish bar. He held the offices of treasurer to the faculty of Advocates and sheriff-substitute of the county of Edinburgh. In 1754 he was appointed to the chair of moral philosophy in the University of Edinburgh, and in 1754 transferred to that of the law of nature and nations.


He was the author of three philosophical books:[1]

  • A Delineation of the Nature and Obligation of Morality, with Reflexions upon Mr. Hume's book entitled An Inquiry concerning the Principles of Morals. This book was published anonymously, the first edition in 1753, the second in 1763.
  • Philosophical Essays, published anonymously in 1768.
  • Philosophical Dissertations, published in 1782 under the author's name.

James McCosh, in his work on the Scottish Philosophy, says of him:

He sets out (in his "Delineation") with the principle that private happiness must be the chief end and object of every man's pursuit; shows how the good of others affords the greatest happiness; and then, to sanction natural conscience, he calls in the authority of God, who must approve of what promotes the greatest happiness. This theory does not give morality 'a sufficiently deep foundation in the constitution of man on the character of God, and could not have stood against the assaults of Hume. ... In his "Philosophical Essays" he wrote against Hume and Lord Kaimes, and in defence of active power and liberty. Like all active opponents of the new scepticism he felt it necessary to oppose the favourite theory of Locke, that all our ideas are derived from sensation and reflexion.[1]


Balfour's mother was a Miss Hamilton, of Airdrie, great-grandaunt of the late Sir William Hamilton, 9th Baronet, professor of logic and metaphysics in the University of Edinburgh 1836-1856. His eldest sister married Gavin Hamilton, bookseller and publisher in Edinburgh (also, it is believed, a member of the Airdrie family), whose eldest son was Robert Hamilton, professor of mathematics in Marischal College and University, Aberdeen, author of a treatise on the national debt.[1] The brothers George William Balfour and James Balfour were great-grandsons, the former a heart specialist in Scotland, and the latter a marine engineer in New Zealand.[2][3]


  1. ^ a b c  "Balfour, James (1705-1795)". Dictionary of National Biography. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1900. 
  2. ^  Lee, Sidney, ed. (1912). "Balfour, George William". Dictionary of National Biography, 1912 supplement​. 1. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 
  3. ^ Aspden, R J. "Balfour, James Melville". Institution of Professional Engineers New Zealand. Retrieved 6 January 2015. 

Further reading[edit]