Richard Whately

Richard Whately books and biography

Richard Whately

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Richard Whately (February 1, 1787 – October 8, 1863), English logician and theological writer, archbishop of Dublin, was born in London.


Life and times

He was son of the Rev. Dr. Joseph Whately, and was born in London. He was educated at a private school near Bristol, and at Oriel College, Oxford. He obtained double second-class honours and the prize for the English essay; in 1811 he was elected Fellow of Oriel, and in 1814 took holy orders. During his residence at Oxford he wrote his tract, Historic Doubts relative to Napoleon Bonaparte, a clever jeu d'sprit directed against excessive scepticism as applied to the Gospel history. After his marriage in 1821 he settled in Oxford, and in 1822 was appointed Bampton lecturer. The lectures, On the Use and Abuse of Party Spirit in Matters of Religion, were published in the same year.

In August 1823 he moved to Halesworth in Suffolk, but in 1825, having been appointed principal of St. Alban Hall, he returned to Oxford. He found much to reform there, and left it a different place.

In 1825 he published a series of Essays on Some of the Peculiarities of the Christian Religion, followed in 1828 by a second series On some of the Difficulties in the Writings of St Paul, and in 1830 by a third On the Errors of Romanism traced to their Origin in Human Nature. While he was at St Alban Hall (1826) the work appeared which is perhaps most closely associated with his name--his treatise on Logic, originally contributed to the Encyclopaedia Metropolitana, in which he raised the study of the subject to a new level. It gave a great impetus to the study of logic throughout Britain. A similar treatise on Rhetoric, also contributed to the Encyclopaedia, appeared in 1828.

In 1829 Whately was elected to the professorship of political economy at Oxford in succession to Nassau William Senior. His tenure of office was cut short by his appointment to the archbishopric of Dublin in 1831. He published only one course of Introductory Lectures (1831), but one of his first acts on going to Dublin was to endow a chair of political economy in Trinity College.

Whately's appointment by Lord Grey to the see of Dublin came as a great surprise to everybody, for though a decided Liberal Whately had stood aloof from political parties, and ecclesiastically his position was that of an Ishmaelite fighting for his own hand. The Evangelicals regarded him as a dangerous latitudinarian on the ground of his views on Catholic emancipation, the Sabbath question, the doctrine of election, and certain quasi-Sabathian opinions he was supposed to hold about the character and attributes of Christ, while his view of the church was diametrically opposed to that of the High Church party, and from the beginning he was the determined opponent of what was afterwards called the Tractarian movement. The appointment was challenged in the House of Lords, but without success.

In Ireland it was unpopular among the Protestants, for the reasons mentioned and as being the appointment of an Englishman and a Whig. Whately's bluntness and his lack of a conciliatory manner prevented him from eradicating these prejudices. At the same time he met with determined opposition from his clergy. He attempted to establish a national and non-sectarian system of education. He enforced strict discipline in his diocese; and he published a statement of his views on the Sabbath (Thoughts on the Sabbath, 1832). He took a small place at Redesdale, just outside Dublin, where he could garden. Questions of tithes, reform of the Irish church and of the Irish Poor Laws, and, in particular, the organization of national education occupied much of his time. He discussed other public questions, for example, the subject of transportation and the general question of secondary punishments.

In 1837 he wrote his well-known handbook of Christian Evidences, which was translated during his lifetime into more than a dozen languages. At a later period he also wrote, in a similar form, Easy Lessons on Reasoning, on Morals, on Mind and on the British Constitution. Among his other works may be mentioned Charges and Tracts (1836), Essays on Some of the Dangers to Christian Faith (1839), The Kingdom of Christ (1841). He also edited Bacon's Essays, Paley's Evidences and Paley's Moral Philosophy. His scheme of religious instruction for Protestants and Catholics alike was carried out for a number of years , but in 1852 it broke down owing to the opposition of the new Catholic archbishop of Dublin, and Whately felt himself constrained to withdraw from the Education Board.

From the beginning Whately was a keen-sighted observer of the condition of Ireland question, and gave offence by supporting state endowment of the Catholic clergy. During the terrible years of 1846 and 1847 the archbishop and his family tried to alleviate the miseries of the people.

From 1856 onwards symptoms of decline began to manifest themselves in a paralytic affection of the left side. Still he continued the active discharge of his public duties till the summer of 1863, when he was prostrated by an ulcer in the leg, and after several months of acute suffering he died on the 8th of October 1863.


Whately was a great talker, much addicted in early life to argument, in which he used others as instruments on which to hammer out his own views, and as he advanced in life much given to didactic monologue. He had a keen wit, whose sharp edge often inflicted wounds never deliberately intended by the speaker, and a wholly uncontrollable love of punning. Whately often offended people by the extreme, unconventionality of his manners. When at Oxford his white hat, rough white coat, and huge white dog earned for him the sobriquet of the White Bear, and he outraged the conventions of the place by exhibiting the exploits of his climbing dog in Christchurch Meadow. With a fair and lucid mind, his sympathies were narrow, and by his outspokenness on points of difference he alienated many. With no mystical fibre in his own constitution, the Tractarian movement was incomprehensible to him, and was an object of dislike and contempt. The doctrines of the Low Church party also seemed to him tinged with superstition.

He took a practical, almost business-like view of Christianity, which seemed to High Churchmen and Evangelicals alike little better than Rationalism. In this they did Whately less than justice, for his religion was very real and genuine. But he may be said to have continued the typical Christianity of the 18th century--that of the theologians who went out to fight the Rationalists with their own weapons. It was to Whately essentially a belief in certain matters of fact, to be accepted or rejected after an examination of "evidences." Hence his endeavour always is to convince the logical faculty, and his Christianity inevitably appears as a thing of the intellect rather than of the heart. Whately's qualities are exhibited at their best in his Logic. He wrote nothing better than the luminous Appendix to this work on Ambiguous Terms.

In 1864 his daughter published Miscellaneous Remains from his commonplace book and in 1866 his Life and Correspondence in two volumes. The Anecdotal Memoirs of Archbishop Whately, by WJ Fitzpatrick (1864), enliven the picture.


  • A modern biography is Richard Whately: A Man for All Seasons by Craig Parton ISBN 1-896363-07-5

This article incorporates text from the Encyclopdia Britannica Eleventh Edition, a publication now in the public domain.

This article might use material from a Wikipedia article, which is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.

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