Edward Caird, professor of moral philosophy at Glasgow University and then Master of Balliol College, Oxford, was born on 22 March 1835, in Greenock, Scotland, fifth of the seven sons of John and Janet Caird. His father, partner and manager of Caird and Co., an engineering firm in Greenock, died in 1838.
After attending Greenock Academy, Caird matriculated at the University of Glasgow in 1850 to study for a degree in arts and divinity. His intimate circle of classmates during this time of studies included John Nichol and George Rankine Luke.
In 1856, as a result of poor health, Caird left Glasgow and studied for a year at St Andrews University, but, fully recovered, he resumed his studies in Glasgow in the winter session of 1857–1858. In October 1860 Caird entered Balliol College, Oxford, as a Snell exhibitioner, gaining the Pusey and Ellerton scholarship in Hebrew in 1861, and Balliol’s Jenkyns exhibition a year later. He graduated BA in 1863, obtaining a first class honours in classical moderations and literae humaniores. Among his intimate associates at Oxford were John Nichol, David Binning Monro, James Bryce, A. V. Dicey and, above all, Thomas Hill Green, with whom he formed a lifelong friendship. The most powerful educative impact on Caird in Oxford was the Old Mortality Club, an intellectual debating group of graduate students founded by John Nichol in 1857.
Caird remained at Oxford, holding a fellowship at Merton College from 1864 to 1866, during which time he published first an extended review of George Grote’s Plato and Other Companions of Socrates (1865) and then The Roman Element in Civilisation (1866).
On 28 May 1866 Caird was unanimously elected professor of moral philosophy at Glasgow, a post he held for twenty-seven years. On 8 May 1867 he married Caroline Frances, the eldest daughter of John Wylie, minister of the parish of Carluke in Lanarkshire.
Caird’s A Critical Account of the Philosophy of Kant, with an Historical Introduction (1877) and a further volume on this theme in 1889 established him as a leading British Kant scholar. He also published a monograph on Hegel in the series Philosophical Classics for English Readers (1883) and The Social Philosophy and Religion of Comte (1885), one purpose of this last book being to show that, despite the evident multiplicity of mind, it is a centre of unity.
Caird was appointed Gifford Lecturer at the University of St Andrews for the sessions 1890–1891 and 1891–1892. His lectures were published as a book on the philosophy of religion entitled The Evolution of Religion in 1893. This treatise, which was acclaimed as a masterpiece, enhanced his reputation and led to his appointment as Master of Balliol College, Oxford, in the same year, in succession to Benjamin Jowett. During his mastership, as previously in Glasgow, he was deeply interested in the movement for the extension of university education to women.
In 1900–1901 and 1901–1902 Caird returned to Glasgow to give a second set of Gifford Lectures, which were published under the title The Evolution of Theology in the Greek Philosophers (1904).
Edward Caird’s academic honours include an LLD bestowed by St Andrews in 1883, a Glasgow LLD bestowed in 1894 and an Oxford DCL (1891). Both Cambridge in 1898 and the University of Wales in 1902 awarded him a DLitt. In 1902 he was elected one of the original Fellows of the British Academy. He was also a corresponding member to the French Académie des sciences morales et politiques.
The collection Lay Sermons and Addresses Delivered in the Hall of Balliol College, Oxfordappeared in 1907 and was his last major publication. In the same year due to illness he resigned the mastership of Balliol and he died in Oxford on 1 November 1908. He was buried in St. Sepulchre’s cemetery beside Thomas Hill Green and Benjamin Jowett.