World Library  
Flag as Inappropriate
Email this Article

James McCosh

James McCosh
President of Princeton University
In office
Preceded by John Maclean, Jr.
Succeeded by Francis Landey Patton
Personal details
Born (1811-04-01)April 1, 1811
Ayrshire, Scotland
Died November 16, 1894(1894-11-16) (aged 83)
Princeton, New Jersey

James McCosh (April 1, 1811 – November 16, 1894) was a prominent philosopher of the Scottish School of Common Sense. He was president of Princeton University 1868-1888.


  • Biography 1
  • Philosophical work 2
  • Evolution 3
  • Main works 4
  • References 5
  • Sources 6


A lecture room in McCosh Hall at Princeton University

McCosh was born of a Covenanting family in Ayrshire, and studied at the Universities of Glasgow and Edinburgh, obtaining his M.A. at the latter, at the suggestion of Sir William Hamilton, for an essay on stoicism. He became a minister of the Established Church of Scotland in 1834, serving as pastor first at Arbroath and then at Brechin. He sided with the Free Church of Scotland in the Disruption of 1843, becoming minister at Brechin's new East Free Church. In 1850 or 1851 he was appointed Professor of Logic and Metaphysics at Queen's College, Belfast (now Queen's University Belfast).[1]

In 1868 he travelled to the United States to become president of the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University). He resigned the presidency in 1888, but continued to teach philosophy until his death. McCosh Hall (home of the English department) and a cross-campus walkway are named in his honor. The campus infirmary is named after his wife, Isabella McCosh. A school on the South Side of Chicago was named after him, but has since been renamed the Emmett Louis Till Math & Science Academy.[2]

Philosophical work

McCosh's position was mainly in the tradition of Thomas Reid and other Scottish common-sense philosophers. He denied that our beliefs about the nature of the external world rest on causal or other inferences from perceptual ideas, but held that they are the direct accompaniments of sensation, and thus not open to question. He also argued for the a priori nature of fundamental principles such as those of causality and morality. Our judgements and other cognitions are regulated by such principles, though that is not to say that everyone is aware of them; they can be reached through reflection on our experience, when they are recognised as self-evidently necessary. In his moral theory, especially, McCosh differed from many of his contemporaries in being relatively uninfluenced by Kant.[3]


McCosh's most original work concerned the attempt to reconcile divine design, glorifies the divine designer (see for example his Christianity and Positivism). This aspect of his work found popularity among most Presbyterians clergy, who found his arguments useful in their attempts to cope with scientific philosophy.[4] The Presbyterians in America thus could choose between two schools of thought on evolution, both based in Princeton. The Seminary held to Hodge's position until his supporters were ousted in 1929, and the college (Princeton University) became a world class center of the new science of evolutionary biology.[5]

The debate between McCosh as president of the college and Charles Hodge, head of Princeton Seminary, during the late 1860s and 1870s exemplified the classic conflict between science and religion over the question of Darwin's evolution theory. McCosh offered the first public endorsement of evolution by an American religious leader. However, the two men showed greater similarities regarding matters of science and religion than popularly appreciated. Both supported the increasing role of scientific inquiry in natural history and resisted its intrusion into philosophy and religion. The debate vitalized the college.[6]

Main works

  • Method of Divine Government, Physical and Moral (Edinburgh, 1850, 5th ed., 1856, and frequently republished in New York)
  • The Typical Forms and Special Ends in Creation (Edinburgh, 1855; New York, 1856)
  • Intuitions of the Mind inductively investigated (London and New York, 1860; 3rd rev. ed., 1872)
  • An Examination of Mr J. S. Mill's Philosophy (London and New York, 1866; enlarged 1871, several editions)
  • Dr. McCosh's Logic: Laws of Discursive Thought, being a Text-Book of Formal Logic (Robert Carter & Brothers, 1885)
  • Philosophical Papers containing (1)"Examination of Sir W. Hamilton's Logic", (2)"Reply to Mr Mill's third edition", and (3) "Present State of Moral Philosophy in Britain".
  • Religious Aspects of Evolution (New York, 1888, 2nd ed., 1890). For a complete list of his writings see Joseph Heatly Dulles, McCosh Bibliography (Princeton, 1895).


  1. ^ See Hoeveler, James McCosh and the Scottish Intellectual Tradition: From Glasgow to Princeton. (1981)
  2. ^
  3. ^ See Hoeveler, James McCosh and the Scottish Intellectual Tradition: From Glasgow to Princeton. (1981)
  4. ^ Hoeveler, James McCosh and the Scottish Intellectual Tradition: From Glasgow to Princeton. (1981)
  5. ^ Joseph E. Illick, "The Reception of Darwinism at the Theological Seminary and the College at Princeton, New Jersey. Part I: The Theological Seminary," Journal of the Presbyterian Historical Society, (1960), Vol. 38 Issue 3, pp 152-165; Part 2, (1960), Vol. 38 Issue 4, pp 234-243
  6. ^ Bradley J.Gundlach, "McCosh and Hodge on Evolution: A Combined Legacy," Journal of Presbyterian History 1997 75(2): 85-102,


  • Douglas Arner, "James McCosh", in The Encyclopedia of Philosophy", ed. Paul Edwards (Collier Macmillan, 1967)
  • Hoeveler, J. David, Jr. James McCosh and the Scottish Intellectual Tradition: From Glasgow to Princeton. (1981). 374 pp.
  • Paul Helm, "M'Cosh, James", in Dictionary of Scottish Church History and Theology, ed. Nigel M de S Cameron (Edinburgh, T & T Clark, 1993)
Academic offices
Preceded by
John Maclean, Jr.
President of the College of New Jersey
Succeeded by
Francis Landey Patton
This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.

Copyright © World Library Foundation. All rights reserved. eBooks from Project Gutenberg are sponsored by the World Library Foundation,
a 501c(4) Member's Support Non-Profit Organization, and is NOT affiliated with any governmental agency or department.