John Alexander Smith

Waynflete Professor of Moral and Metaphysical Philosophy, Oxford

(1) The Heritage of Idealism: Philosophy as the Way of Supposing (2) The Controversies of Idealism with Science, History and Theology: Concerning Nature, Man and God

In British Idealism: A History (2011), W.J. Mander writes that Smith’s series of unpublished lectures ‘characterises his idealism in three theses; that reality is something essentially in process or historical (unlike the stationary or immobile Absolute of Bradley or Bosanquet), that history is something essentially spiritual, and that spirit is something which most freely and fully manifests itself in self-consciousness’.


John Alexander Smith was born on 21 April 1863 in Dingwall, Scotland. A philosopher and classical scholar, Smith’s most substantial work was his twelve-volume commentary and translation of the works of Aristotle, composed with his colleague William D. Ross. The Ferguson Classical Scholar at the University of Edinburgh in 1884, he was admitted to Balliol College, Oxford in 1885. Elected Fellow in 1891, he was appointed Jowett Lecturer in Philosophy in 1896. In 1910, Smith was elected Waynflete Professor of Moral and Metaphysical Philosophy at Oxford, becoming a fellow of Magdalen College. 

President of the Oxford Aristotelian Society in 1908, he presided over the seventh International Congress of Philosophy in 1930. He left behind many unpublished papers available in Balliol Library and Magdalen Library. His diverse interests and self-critical temperament prevented him from working out a consistent system of thought and from publishing in large quantities. Important works include Knowing and Acting (1910), The Nature of Art (1924), and Translation of Aristotle, de Amina in The Works of Aristotle, vol. 3 (1931).