1902 Encyclopedia > Thomas Brown

Thomas Brown
Scottish psychologist
(1778-1820)




DR. THOMAS BROWN, one of the most original and subtle of Scottish psychologists, was born on the 9th January 1778, at Kirkmabreck, Kirkcudbright, of which parish his father was the clergyman. In 1780 the family removed to Edinburgh, but he was not placed at any of the schools in that city. At the age of seven he was sent to London, and began his regular education at a school in Camberwell, from which he was soon afterwards removed to Chiswick. At Chiswick he was thoroughly grounded in classics, and began to give promise of great ability, par-ticularly in the department of verse composition, one of his school poems being deemed worthy of insertion in a magazine. He was a boy of a refined, gentle nature, intensely studious, a devourer of literature of all kinds, and much loved by his companions. After attending two other schools at Bromley and Kensington, he returned to Edin-burgh, and in 1792 began his course at the university by joining the logic class, then conducted by Professor Finlayson. During the summer of 1793 he made acquaint-ance with Dugald Stewart's Philosophy of the Human Mind, and found himself irresistibly attracted towards metaphysical speculation. He joined Stewart's class, that of moral philosophy, in the following session, and quickly introduced himself to the professor's notice by reading to him a paper of objections to one of his theories, marked by great acuteness and ability. His attendance on the classes at the university seems to have been somewhat desultory; it does not appear that he ever passed through the regular curriculum of arts studies. But he carried on his reading with great vigour, and while still a student made his first appearance in the arena of philosophical disputation. His attention had been drawn towards Darwin's Zoonomia, which was then exciting a lively sensation in the literary world. His remarks on this book were published in 1798, and were received with great approval as one of the best and most mature examinations of the theory. His next contribution to literature was an article in the second number of the Edinburgh Review on the philosophy of Kant. It is acute, like all that Brown ever wrote, but it shows neither sufficient knowledge nor adequate apprecia-tion of the philosopher it handled. Meantime he had been devoting himself to the study of medicine, having relin-quished that of law, to which for a while he had applied. His graduation thesis, Be Somno, which was thought worthy of being published, is a fine piece of psychologiec*. medical analysis. A few months later appeared twcv volumes of his poems, which were not received with much favour. Nor did his later poetical efforts attain much popularity, with the partial exception of the Paradise of Coquettes. They all show refined feeling and sweetness of diction, but they are wanting in the elements of true poetry. They are faint echoes of Akenside and Beattie, neither of whom can stand much dilution. Brown's real strength lay altogether in metaphysical analysis, and a favourable opportunity for calling it forth soon presented itself. Some captious objections had been raised against the appointment of the celebrated Leslie to the professorship of mathematics, on the ground that he had approved of Hume's doctrine of causality. The Humian theory was believed to lead inevit-ably to scepticism and infidelity, and these consequences were, of course, charged upon Leslie. Brown undertook the defence not of Leslie but of Hume, and in his examination of Hume's doctrine showed that in reality the theory was in no way inimical to the interests of true religion OT theology. This examination, at first but a pamphlet, swelled out in its third edition (1818) into a bulky treatise, Inquiry into the Relation of Cause and, Effect, containing not merely a criticism of Hume, but an elaborate theory of the causal relation. This relation Brown regards as nothing but constancy of antecedence and sequence, while at the same time he admits an intuitive belief in the permanency or universality of the causal connection. The work is a fine specimen of Brown's faculty of analysis, which it exhibits in its very best aspect.
As early as 1806 Dr Brown had engaged in practice as a physician, having been received into partnership with Dr Gregory; but though very successful in his profession, Le was by nature more strongly attracted towards a literary life. He had twice failed in his application for a profes-sorship in the university of Edinburgh, when in the session 1808-9 he was called upon to deliver a few lectures to the class of moral philosophy, in consequence of the temporary illness of Dugald Stewart. In the following year, Stewart's health still incapacitating him from active exertion, Dr Brown delivered the lectures for the greater part of the session. His success in conducting the class was unequivocal; the enthusiasm of the students was such as one reflects on with a little wonder. They were fascinated not more by the splendid rhetoric of the lecturer than by the novelty and ingenuity of the views presented. In the summer of 1810 it was resolved to appoint Brown as colleague to Dugald Stewart, and in the ensuing session he began his course as professor of moral philosophy. During the few remaining years of his life he published only his poems, but he was busily engaged in preparing an abstract of his lectures to serve as a handbook for the class. His health, never strong, gave way completely under tha pressure of his work. A voyage to London, which had been recom-mended, proved of no avail, and he died on the 2d April 1820, at the early age of forty-two. After his death were published the first part of his proposed text-book, Physiology of the Human Mind, and the lectures on the Philosophy









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