William Ritchie Sorley

Knightbridge Professor of Moral Philosophy, Cambridge

Moral Values and the Idea of God

In his series of twenty lectures, Sorley takes on the philosophical task of making sense of the radical division between the existent and the valuable. He investigates the world of existence – what is – to make conclusions about the nature of value – what is good. Establishing the nature of ultimate reality based on an investigation of value, this strategy follows the work of Hermann Lotze, who held that ‘the true beginning of metaphysics lies in ethics’. 


William Ritchie Sorley was born on 4 November 1855 in Selkirk, Scotland. A Scottish philosopher, he remained on the periphery of his peers during his career. In 1888, he became Professor of Logic and Philosophy at University College, Cardiff. Six years later, he became Regius Professor of Moral Philosophy at the University of Aberdeen. At the turn of the century, he took up the Knightbridge Chair of Moral Philosophy at Cambridge and was elected Fellow of Kings College one year later, retiring in 1933. 

Awarded honorary degrees from Cambridge and the University of Edinburgh, he became Fellow of the British Academy in 1905. A conservative with a strong belief in the nation-state, Sorley was also interested in the ethical significance of evolutionary theory. His major works include The Ethics of Naturalism (1885), Recent Tendencies in Ethics (1904), The Moral Life and Moral Worth (1911), and The History of English Philosophy (1920). He published a selection of his late son’s literary and revelatory letters from the front, The Letters of Charles Sorley: With a Chapter of Biography (1919).

Published/Archival Resources