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Hamilton, William (1788–1856)

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-DC034-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved July 13, 2024, from

Article Summary

Sir William Hamilton was a leading exponent of the Scottish philosophy of ‘common sense’. This philosophy had its origin in the works of Thomas Reid, but it was through Hamilton that it achieved its most subtle form and exerted its greatest influence.

‘Common-sense’ philosophy, on a superficial view, may seem to hold that philosophical problems should be settled by appealing to the commonly accepted opinions of ordinary people. But that is not what it holds. The ‘common sense’ to which it refers are certain powers and beliefs natural to the mind and therefore common alike to the learned and vulgar. Hamilton holds that these powers and beliefs can neither be doubted nor justified. They carry their own authority. This view derives its significance from a point which has often been overlooked. When we doubt or justify a belief, we stand outside that belief and compare it with the world. But the power to compare a belief with the world itself presupposes beliefs about the world. We cannot step outside all our beliefs. That is why, according to Hamilton, certain powers and beliefs must carry authority.

Citing this article:
Mounce, H.O.. Hamilton, William (1788–1856), 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-DC034-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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