Ernest William Hobson

Sadleirian Professor of Pure Mathematics, Cambridge

The Domain of Natural Science

In his series of twenty lectures, Hobson defines the domain of Natural Science, assessing the extent of its influence on religion and philosophy. He explores its historical genesis, functions, possibilities, and limitations. Asking traditional questions on determinism, time and space, and corpuscular theories of matter, he interacts with Hume, Descartes, Aristotle, and Kant. Moving on to contemporary theories in science, he concludes that religion and thought are free from destructive interference, conditional upon Natural Science remaining autonomous.


Ernest William Hobson was born on 27 October 1856 in Derby, England. The first mathematician to be appointed Gifford Lecturer, his Theory of Functions of a Real Variable (1907) marks his most important contribution. In 1874, he obtained a scholarship at Christ’s College, Cambridge, where he remained for his entire career. He was elected Fellow in 1878, and in 1883, was chosen as one of the first Lecturer in Mathematics. In 1903, he became Stokes Lecturer, and in 1910, was appointed Sadleirian Professor of Pure Mathematics. 

Elected Fellow of the Royal Society in 1893, he received the Royal Medal in 1907 and was influential in the London Mathematical Society. His leadership in the movement for the reform of the mathematical tripos resulted in the abolition of the Order of Merit. He was regarded as a ‘radical’, served on important syndicates, and was a frequent speaker in Senate House discussions. Notable works include A Treatise on Plane Trigonometry (1891), Squaring the Circle (1913), and Spherical and Ellipsoidal Harmonics (1931).

Published/Archival Resources