John Watson

Professor of Moral Philosophy, Queen’s University, Canada

The Interpretation of Religious Experience

In his two series of lectures, Watson outlines reflections on religion, beginning with Greek authors, moving on to Hegel’s philosophy, and concluding with an interpretation of the many philosophies of religion. He demonstrates that religion overlays the whole realm of human understanding, arguing that religious experiences are not supernatural or irrational, but a natural part of human consciousness.


John Watson was born on 25 February 1847 in the Gorbals, Glasgow. A philosopher and academic, he is widely acknowledged as greatly infleuncing the development of university education in Canada. Mentored by Edward Caird, he was appointed to the Chair of Logic, Metaphysics, and Ethics at Queen’s University, Canada in 1872. In 1889, Watson became Professor of Moral Philosophy, a position he held until his retirement in 1924. From 1901 to 1924, Watson was Vice-principal.

A charter member of the Royal Society of Canada in 1882, he was the first philosopher in Canada to achieve an international reputation, receiving honorary degrees from the University of Michigan and Knox College, Toronto. An absolute idealist, Watson was influenced by Plato, Kant, and Hegel, and published extensively on German idealism. Notable works include Dante and Medieval Thought (1894), An Outline of Philosophy (1895), Comte, Mill, and Spencer (1895), Hedonistic Theories from Aristippus to Spencer (1895), Christianity and Idealism (1897), The Philosophy of Kant (1897), and The State in Peace and War (1919).