Sir Henry Jones was born 30 November 1852 in Llangernyw in Denbighshire, Wales, the son of Elias Jones and Elizabeth Williams. He left school at the age of twelve to be an apprentice to his father, a shoemaker, but managed to complete his education and became a teacher as well as a Presbyterian minister. With a scholarship in 1875 he enrolled at the University of Glasgow, studying philosophy under former Gifford lecturer Edward Caird, and graduated in 1878. Awarded the Clark fellowship, Jones spent the next four years at Oxford and in Germany.
Jones began his teaching career at Aberystwyth, beginning in 1882, then moved at Bangor in 1884 and St Andrews in 1891. In 1894 he succeeded Edward Caird as professor of moral philosophy at the University of Glasgow, where he remained until his death in 1922. He was also Hibbert Lecturer at Manchester College, Oxford. His lectures at the University of Sydney were published as Idealism as a Practical Creed. Jones was the Gifford Lecturer in 1920-1921.
Known as a liberal and an advocate of both educational and social reform, Jones founded the Glasgow Civic Society, supported the idea of women getting university educations, and believed that university professors had responsibilities to the community.
Among his numerous awards, Jones received an honorary LLD from St Andrews in 1891, an FBA in 1904, and an honorary DLitt (Wales) in 1905. He was knighted in 1912 and made a Companion of Honour in 1922. He also received the Cymmrodorion Society medal for service to Wales.
Some of Jones’ works include Browning as a Philosophical and Religious Teacher (1891); A Critical Account of the Philosophy of Lotze: The Doctrine of Thought (1895); Immortality of the Soul in the Poems of Tennyson and Browning (Essex Hall lecture, 1905); The Working Faith of the Social Reformer and Other Essays (1910); Social Powers: Three Popular Lectures on the Environment, the Press, and the Pulpit (1913); The Principles of Citizenship(1919); A Faith That Enquires (1922); and Old Memories (his autobiography, 1922). The Life and Letters of Sir Henry Jones was published posthumously in 1924.
Jones and his wife, Annie, who married in 1882, had six children, two of whom died in childhood. In 1921 they founded the Arthur Jones Memorial Prize in Citizenship in memory of a son killed in action in 1918.
He died 4 February 1922. In his memory the Sir Henry Jones Memorial Prize in Moral and Political Philosophy was founded in 1934. His Welsh birthplace, Y Cwm, opened as a museum in 1934.