1902 Encyclopedia > Samuel Bailey

Samuel Bailey
Scottish philosophical and literary writer
(1791-1870)




SAMUEL BAILEY, an able writer on philosophical and literary subjects, was born at Sheffield in 1791. His father carried on a large general business in that town, and for some years the son devoted himself to mercantile pursuits. It was not long, however, before he gave up this occupation, and, having a competent fortune, withdrew from all business concerns, with the exception of the Sheffield Banking Company, of which he was chairman for many years. Although an ardent Liberal of most advanced views, he took little or no active part in political affairs. On two occasions, at the earnest solicitation of his numerous friends and admirers, he stood for Sheffield, but without success. The " Bentham of Hallamshire," as he has been called, was of too retiring a disposition, and had too much of the philosophical politician about him to win the admiration or suffrages of an ordinary body of electors. His life is for the most part a history of his numerous and varied publications, and his name is known to a very limited circle. The intimation of his sudden death on the 18th January 1870, with the subse-quent notice of his munificent gift of £90,000 to his native town, excited some curiosity and interest, which, however, quickly died away. This is not quite as it should be. Bailey has certainly given to the world no work of first-rate importance, but there are few authors of modern times who have written more elegantly and clearly, or with more originality of treatment, on the various problems of psycho-logy and political science. His first work, Essays on the Formation and Publication of Opinions, published anony-mously in 1821 (2d ed. 1826, 3d ed. 1837), a thoughtful, practical, and clearly written treatise, has attracted a greater share of public attention and favour than any of his other writings. A sequel to it appeared in 1829, Essays on the Pursuit of Truth, on the Progress of Knowledge, and on the Fundamental Principle of all Evidence and Expectation (2d ed. 1844). Intermediate between these two were Ques-tions on Political Economy, Politics, Morals,&c, 1823, and a Critical Dissertation on the Nature, Measure, and Causes of Value, directed against the opinions of Ricardo and his school. His next publications were also on economic or political subjects, Rationale of Political Representation, 1835, and Money and its Vicissitudes, 1837; about the same time also appeared some of his pamphlets, Discussion of Parliamentary Reform, Right of Primogeniture Examined, Defence of Joint-Stock Banks. Bailey seems then to have turned his attention almost entirely to speculative philosophy. In 1842 appeared his Review of Berkeley's Theory of Vision, an acute and able work, which called forth rejoinders from J. S. Mill in the Westminster Review (reprinted in Dissertations), and from Ferrier in Blackwood (reprinted in Lectures and Remains, ii.) Bailey replied to his critics in A Letter to a Philosopher, dec, 1843. In 1851 he published one of his best works, Theory of Rea-soning (2d ed. 1852), a thoughtful discussion of the nature of inference, and an able criticism of the functions and value of the syllogism. In 1852 he published Discourses on Various Subjects ; and finally summed up his philosophic views in the Letters on the Philosophy of the Human Mind (three series, 1855, 1858, 1863), which is at once the most considerable and the most valuable of his contributions to mental science. Bailey had not entirely given himself up to abstract studies; in 1845 he had ventured on poetical composition. Maro, a poem in four cantos (85 pp., Long-mans), contains a somewhat lively description of the mental state of a young poet who printed 1000 copies of his first poem, of which only 10 were sold. He had also been a dili-gent student of Shakespeare, and his last literary work was the treatise, in two volumes, On the Received Text of Shake-speare's Dramatic Writings and its Improvement. It must be confessed that many of the emendations suggested by him are more fantastic than felicitous.

The Letters contain, in clear and lively language, a very fresh discussion of many of the principal problems in philosophy, or rather in psychology. Bailey can hardly be classed as belonging either to the strictly empirical or to the idealist school, but his general tendency is towards the former. The following are the most interesting points in his work:—(1.) In regard to method, he founds psychology entirely on introspection; critical study of one's own con-sciousness is, according to him, the only means of obtaining materials for philosophy. He thus, to a certain extent, agrees with the Scotch school, but he differs from them in rejecting altogether the doctrine of mental faculties. What have been designated faculties are, upon his view, merely classified facts or phenomena of consciousness. He criti-cises very severely the habitual use of figurative or meta-phorical language in describing mental operations. (2.) His doctrine of perception, which is, in brief, that " the perception of external things through the organs of sense is a direct mental act or phenomenon of consciousness not susceptible of being resolved into anything else," and the reality of which can be neither proved nor disproved, is not worked out in detail, but is supported by elaborate and sometimes subtle criticisms of all other theories. Upon this point Bailey's remarks are deserving of attention. (3.) With regard to general and abstract ideas and general propositions, his opinions are those of the empirical school, but his analysis frequently puts the matter in a new light, and brings forward points of novelty. (4.) In the theory of morals Bailey is an advocate of Utilitarianism, and works out with great skill the steps in the formation of the " com-plex " mental facts involved in the recognition of duty, obligation, right. His handling of the moral sentiments (Letters, iii. 193-258) is one of the best specimens of his general style of psychological analysis.








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