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Glasgow Cathedral
Glasgow Cathedral

Sir William Hamilton, 9th Baronet, lived from 8 March 1788 to 6 May 1856. He was a philosopher known especially for his work in the field of metaphysics. The wider picture in Scotland at the time is set out in our Historical Timeline.

Sir William Hamilton, 9th Baronet was born into an academic family in Glasgow. His father, Dr William Hamilton, had in 1781 been appointed to the post of Regius Professor of Anatomy, at the University of Glasgow in succession to his own father, also (confusingly) Dr William Hamilton. The youngest William was schooled in Scotland and London, before attending Balliol College, Oxford. He had started out intending to follow his father and grandfather into medicine, but instead pursued law and in 1813 became a member of the Scottish bar. He became the 9th Baronet in 1816, having proved a claim to succession from Sir Robert Hamilton of Preston, who had died in 1701. Meanwhile, he was also studying philosophy.

Visits to Germany in 1817 and 1820 led William to focus on contemporary German philosophy. In 1820 he failed to gain the chair of moral philosophy in the University of Edinburgh. In 1836 was appointed as professor of logic and metaphysics at the University of Edinburgh. In his teaching he placed considerable emphasis on the importance of psychology in metaphysics. He published widely, in journals like the Edinburgh Review as well as in weightier tomes. His works including four volumes of Lectures on Metaphysics and Logic which appeared posthumously; Discussions in Philosophy, Literature and Education (1852); a biography of Martin Luther; and a nine volume edition of the collected works of the philosopher Dugald Stewart.

Sir William had spent a number of years looking after his mother until her death January 1827. In March 1828 he married his cousin, Janet Marshall. In 1844 he suffered a stroke that paralysed his right side, but he continued to teach until he suffered the serious illness in early 1856 that led to his death.

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