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Thomas Malcolm Knox

Principal of the University of St. Andrews
1900 to 1980

Thomas Malcolm Knox was born on 28 November 1900 in Birkenhead, Cheshire, to Isabella Marshal and John Knox, a congregational minister. He was educated at Bury Grammar School and the Liverpool Institute, and received a scholarship to Pembroke College, Oxford, where he achieved a first in literae humaniores.

Knox did not proceed directly into academic life but instead took up a succession of secretarial and administrational positions under Lord Leverhulme and the Lever brothers, from which he gained a great deal of business and managerial experience. He returned to scholarship in 1930 when he became a lecturer in philosophy at Jesus College, Oxford. In 1936 he moved to the University of St. Andrews to take the chair of Moral Philosophy. At this institution he integrated himself with both academic and administrative sides of its activity, and became Vice Chancellor and Principal of the university by 1953. He resigned from this position in 1966 when the constituent college of Dundee was disconnected from St. Andrews to become a university in its own right. He later became the Vice-President of the Royal Society Edinburgh.

As an academic administrator, Knox was a traditionalist who sought to defend the academic virtues central to the idea of a university against what he saw as unnecessary and damaging modernisation. He took a remark made about him that he was an “academic dinosaur” as high praise. Nevertheless his administrative skills were outstanding; his efficient management secured the university’s financial position and removed the tiers of bureaucracy that inhibited the teaching and research which should be at the heart of any university.

As an academic Knox is best known for his Hegel scholarship. His interest in Hegelianism began when he was an undergraduate, stemming from the influence of Edward Caird and Robin Collingwood. The Hegelian conception of the relation between morality, religion and politics was particularly significant in his thinking, and in his 1940 article ‘Hegel and Prussianism’, he defended Hegel’s political philosophy against a widespread view that it could be aligned with Nazism. He produced translations with insightful commentaries of many of Hegel’s works, including the Philosophy of Right.

Knox also served in some governmental capacities, including the Catering Wages Commission and the Scottish Tourist Board.

He died on 6 April 1980 in Perthshire. His second wife, Dorothy Ellen Jolly, had died six years earlier. He left no children.

Knox’s works include ‘Hegel and Prussianism’ in Philosophy (1940), a translation of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right (1942), a translation, with collaboration from Richard Kroner, of Hegel’s Early Theological Writings (1948), and with Zbigniew Pelczynski a translation of Hegel’s minor Political Writings (1964).


  • Sam Addison, University of Aberdeen