ALEXANDER Samuel—a neorealist philosophy, b. January 6, 1859 in Sydney, d. September 13, 1938 in Manchester.
In 1877 he went to Oxford and became acquainted there with the conceptions of T. H. Green and F. H. Bradley. In 1882 he became a fellow of Lincoln College in Oxford. In 1893 he was named professor of philosophy at the University of Manchester and worked there until 1924.
Samuel Alexander’s chief works are: Moral Order and Progress: An Analysis of Ethical Conceptions (Lo 1889, 18992); Space, Time, and Deity, (Lo 1920, 19272, with a significant new introduction, 19663); Beauty and the Other Forms of Value (Lo 1933). Philosophical and Literary Pieces (Lo 1939) is a posthumous collection of his works with a complete bibliography.
Alexander’s views were marked by an epistemological realism that he treated as the foundation of metaphysics. The distinction between the object and the process of cognition confirmed Alexander’s conviction that it is right to apply the empirical method to study the world as a whole. According to Alexander, the empirical sciences study fragmentary and changing properties of the world, while the task of metaphysics is to study unchanging properties of the world as a whole. Alexander called these properties categorical or a priori. The latter include relations, a special case of which is the ‘compresence’ that occurs, for one, between the knowing mind and the object of knowledge. In the question of knowledge of things, Alexander was thus a supporter of direct realism.
Samuel Alexander recognized “time-space” as the ultimately reality in metaphysics. This corresponded to Hegel’s Absolute Spirit, and at the same time it would be the material or model for things and their development. This “time-space” is divided into “motions” whose ultimate instance is the point or moment. In Alexander’s system, the term motion is a primary term (it does not describe a series of sequential positions), e.g., substance is understood as a stable configuration of “motions”. From this space-time divided into “motions” at a certain level of organization a series of qualities emerge: matter, life, and mind. Thus in the question of mind Alexander is a naturalist, although not a materialist since mental properties cannot be reduced to physical properties. The emergent qualities form an hierarchy. The mind is highest quality known to us, but the internal impulse of time-space aims at drawing forth one more quality, which Alexander calls deity. The term “deity” does not refer to the transcendent God, but to still unrealized qualities toward which the world aspires and to which religious experience inclines us. Religion is the feeling that is always present in man of being raised toward a higher level existence.
Samuel Alexander’s ethics is dominated by the theory of evolution applied to explain moral behaviors. The struggle for survival here takes the form of a struggle to achieve a moral ideal, and natural selection selects the individuals who best aim at creating a state of internal and external equilibrium. The ultimate ideal of harmony is unattainable.
C. D. Broad, The Mind and Its Place in Nature, Lo 1929; D. Emmet, EPh 1 69-73; idem; Whitehead and Alexander, in: The Gifford Lectures and Ihre Deutung, F 1991, 100–120.