Nineteenth Century Philosophy

William Whewell

Who was William Whewell?

Empiricism became systematized as an overall philosophical methodology with applications for science, ethics, and political science. This was largely the work of two men who did not agree with each other, William Whewell (1794–1866) and John Stuart Mill (1806–1873), and a third, Auguste Comte (1798–1857), who founded the new school of thought called positivism.

Comte was also important in founding sociology, but can be considered here as an empiricist for his methodology. Whewell was primarily focused on science and its popularization. Mill was able to bring a coherent explanation of empirical science into philosophy because his empiricism was more easily accepted by empiricist philosophers than was Whewell’s. Mill also extended empiricism to ethics, political philosophy, and rights for women. Comte was the most extreme empiricist to date, and in the twentieth century positivism was revisited as a method for doing philosophy in general.

William Whewell (1794–1866) was a polymath who contributed work to mechanics, mineralogy, geology, astronomy, political economy, theology, education, law, architecture, ethics, the philosophy of science, and what he named “tideology.” He was a founder and president of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, and a fellow of the Royal Society. Whewell invented the term “scientist” analogously with “artist.” He was the most influential figure in British education in the nineteenth century.


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