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Prof. Alexander Bain


1818 - 1903

Thinker, psychologist and educationalist. Born into a poor family in Aberdeen, Bain was a weaver in his youth, but was able to enter Marischal College in 1836. There, he excelled in mental philosophy, mathematics and physics. In 1845, he obtained the post of Professor of Mathematics and Natural Philosophy in the Andersonian University in Glasgow, but within a year he moved to London. There he became part of a notable group of 'Philosophical Radicals' which including the utilitarian philosopher John Stuart Mill (1806-73), who became a life-long friend.

In 1860, Bain returned to Scotland to take up the Regius Chair of Logic and English at the University of Aberdeen, which he was to hold until his retirement in 1880. He extended the associationist approach, which suggests that association is the basic principle of all mental activity, to all areas of psychological functioning, including habit and learning. He involved himself in debates between the relative merits of psychology and metaphysics and was also said to have coined the term trial and error.

Bain worked hard for reform of the University curriculum in Scotland, wishing to see greater prominence for science and modern languages.

A prolific author, Bain wrote the first textbook on psychology in English (1855) and founded the first psychological journal, Mind, in 1876. His other works included The Senses and the Intellect (1855), The Emotions and the Will (1859), Mental and Moral Science (1868), Education as a Science (1879), together with biographies of John Stuart Mill and his father James Mill, both published in 1882. He also wrote various English language textbooks, including his Manual of Rhetoric (1866) and A First English Grammar (1872).

In 1871, Bain was awarded an honorary degree by the University of Edinburgh. In his retirement, he was twice elected Rector of Aberdeen University, such was his popularity with the students. He died in Aberdeen.


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