Philosopher, educator and free church minister, the Rev Professor Alexander Campbell Fraser delivered the Gifford Lectures at the University of Edinburgh during 1894–5. Well known for his work of Berkley, as well as Locke and Coleridge, these two volumes of his lectures represent a major insight into a towering figure in Scottish philosophy as well as a record of philosophical interest as shortly after these lectures interest would turn away from the old ‘common-sense’ school of philosophy towards a more Hegelian idealism.
Beginning with the first lecture that, in a typical Fraser argument, emphasizes the mysterious nature of existence, he aims to ‘inquire about the philosophical foundations of the different final interpretations of existence.' (37) From there, Fraser moves on to examine the question from the perspective of materialism (which he finds insufficient) before moving to a Spinoza-inflected pantheism. The final lectures in the first volume cover Fraser’s view on natural theology – he argues for the ‘obligation to presuppose order and purpose in nature as the condition of interpreting it.’ (248) The final lecture of the first volume, entitled ‘What Is God?’ argues that, ‘we have been led with Plato and Aristotle to see in God the apex and culmination of true philosophy.’ (296) In the second series Fraser goes on to discuss causation and theism and the ontological argument before moving onto a lecture on philosophical faith. Here Fraser argues that the moral dispositions of man ‘as well as the logical understanding and sense experiences’ are recognised when we try and read the deepest thoughts of the world. (121) After a lecture on evil, which acknowledges the ways in which theories of evil seem to lead towards ‘a pessimistic scepticism’ Fraser then moves to consider optimism – what it might mean to hold to a philosophical theism even in light of the evil of the universe. After considering optimism, Fraser fails ‘to find in reason the necessity for the suicidal alternative.’ (191) The final lecture, entitled 'The Mystery of Death' closing with a stirring argument that the highest duty of all in the uncertain time between conscious birth and death is ‘the deepening of theistic faith. (282) Whilst mostly remembered for his gifts as a teacher, these two volumes are a lively introduction to a key moment in British philosophical history.