Dictionary of National Biography, 1912 supplement/Ritchie, David George

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RITCHIE, DAVID GEORGE (1853–1903), philosopher, born at Jedburgh on 26 Oct. 1853, was only son of three children of George Ritchie, D.D,, minister of the parish and a man of scholarship and culture, who was elected to the office of moderator of the general assembly of the Church of Scotland in 1870. His mother was Elizabeth Bradfute Dudgeon. The family was connected with the Carlyles, and in 1889 Ritchie edited a volume of 'Early Letters of Jane Welsh Carlyle.'

Ritchie received his early schooling at Jedburgh Academy. Not allowed to make friends with other boys of his own age, he never learned to play games, and lived a solitary life, concentrating his mind rather too early on purely intellectual subjects. He matriculated in 1869 at Edinburgh University, where he made a special study of classics under Professors W. Y. Sellar [q. v.] and J. S. Blackie [q. v. Suppl. I], while he began to study philosophy under Prof. Campbell Fraser, in whose class and in that of Prof. Henry Calderwood [q. v. Suppl. I] (on moral philosophy) he gained the highest prizes. After graduating M.A. at Edinburgh in 1875 with first-class honours in classics, Ritchie gained a classical exhibition at Balliol College, Oxford, and won a first-class both in classical moderations (Michaelmas 1875) and in the final classical school (Trinity term, 1878). In 1878 he became a fellow of Jesus College and in 1881 a tutor. From 1882 to 1886 he was also a tutor at Balliol College. At Oxford Ritchie came under the influence of Thomas Hill Green [q. v.] and Arnold Toynbee [q. v.], and it was during his early life there that the foundations were laid both of his interest in idealistic philosophy associated with the name of Hegel, and also of his strong bent towards practical politics; his political philosophy was dominated by the belief that practical action must be derived from principles.

In 1894 Ritchie left Oxford on being appointed professor of logic and meta-physics at St. Andrews University. At the time the university was in the midst of a turmoil of conflicting interests which involved litigation and much party feeling. In this conflict Ritchie supported the side of progress, which ultimately prevailed. He remained at St. Andrews until his death on 3 Feb. 1903, and was buried there.

Ritchie was made hon. LL.D. of Edinburgh in 1898, and was president of the Aristotelian Society in 1898-9.

Ritchie married twice: (1) in 1881 Flora Lindsay, daughter of Col. A. A. Macdonell of Lochgarry, and sister of Professor A. A. Macdonell of Oxford (she died in 1888); (2) in 1889 Ellen, sister of Professor J. B. Haycraft. He left a daughter by the first marriage and a son by the second.

Both at Oxford and at St. Andrews Ritchie wrote much on ethics and political philosophy. One of his earliest writings was an essay on 'The Rationality of History,' contributed to 'Essays in Philosophical Criticism,' written in 1883 by a number of young men influenced largely by Hegel and his interpreters, and edited by Professor Andrew Seth (afterwards Pringle-Pattison) and Mr. R. B. (afterwards Viscount) Haldane, In 1885 he translated with Professor Richard Lodge and Mr. P. E. Matheson, 'Bluntschli's Theory of the State,' and he pubMshed 'Darwinism and Politics' in 1889. In 1891 was published his ' Principles of State Interference,' and in 1893 his ’Darwin and Hegel.' After leaving Oxford Ritchie published 'Natural Rights' (1895); 'Studies in Political and Social Ethics,' and 'Plato' (both in 1902). He was also a contributor to 'Mind,' the 'Philosophical Review,' the 'International Journal of Ethics,' and kindred periodicals. After his death a collection of 'Philosophical Studies' was issued in 1905, edited with a memoir by Prof. Robert Latta of Glasgow.

Of an absolutely simple and unaffected nature, Ritchie pursued the truth he set himself to seek with an entire devotion. Despite his retiring manner, he had many friends. He held strongly that questions of ethics and politics must be regarded from the metaphysical point of view. For him the foundation of ethics necessarily rested on the ideal end of social well-being, and keeping this end in view, he proceeded to trace its history at different times, the manner in which it shapes itself in the mind of each individual, and the way in which it can be developed and realised. Ritchie was an advanced liberal with socialistic leanings. He considered that the ultimate value of religion depended on the ideal it set before mankind when represented in its highest form.

[Philosophical Studies, by D. G. Ritchie, with Memoir by Prof. Robert Latta, 1905; Prof. E. B. Poulton's Memoir of John Viriamu Jones, 1911.]

E. S. H.