Samuel Bailey (1791-1870), British philosopher and author, was born at Sheffield in 1791. He was among the first of those Sheffield merchants who went to the United States to establish trade connexions. After a few years in his father's business, he retired with an ample fortune from all business concerns, with the exception of the Sheffield Banking Company, of which he was chairman for many years. Although an ardent liberal, he took little part in political affairs. On two occasions he stood for Sheffield as a "philosophic radical," but without success. His life is for the most part a history of his numerous and varied publications. His books, if not of first-rate importance, are marked by lucidity, elegance of style and originality of treatment. He died suddenly on the 18th of January 1870, leaving over £80,000 to the town of Sheffield. His first work, Essays on the Formation and Publication of Opinions, published anonymously in 1821 (2nd ed., 1826; 3rd ed., 1837), attracted more attention than any of his other writings.
A sequel to it appeared in 1829, Essays on the Pursuit of Truth (2nd ed., 1844). Between these two were Questions in Political Economy, Politics, Morals, etc. (1823), and a Critical Dissertation on the Nature, Measure, and Causes of Value (1825), directed against the opinions of Ricardo and his school. His next publications also were on economic or political subjects, Rationale of Political Representation (1835), and Money and its Vicissitudes (1837), now practically forgotten; about the same time also appeared some of his pamphlets, Discussion of Parliamentary Reform, Right of Primogeniture Examined, Defence of Joint-Stock Banks. In 1842 appeared his Review of Berkeley's Theory of Vision, an able work, which called forth rejoinders from J. S. Mill in the Westminster Review (reprinted in Dissertations), and from Ferrier in Blackwood (reprinted in Lectures and Remains, ii). Bailey replied to his critics in a Letter to a Philosopher (1843), etc. In 1851 he published Theory of Reasoning (2nd ed., 1852), a discussion of the nature of inference, and an able criticism of the functions and value of the syllogism.
In 1852 he published Discourses on Various Subjects; and finally summed up his philosophic views in the Letters on the Philosophy of the Human Mind (three series, 1855, 1858, 1863). In 1845 he published Maro, a poem in four cantoes (85 pp., Longmans), containing a description of a young poet who printed 1000 copies of his first poem, of which only 10 were sold. He was a diligent student of Shakespeare, and his last literary work was On the Received Text of Shakespeare's Dramatic Writings and its Improvement (1862). Many of the emendations suggested are more fantastic than felicitous.
The Letters contain a discussion of many of the principal problems in psychology and ethics. Bailey can hardly be classed as belonging either to the strictly empirical or to the idealist school, but his general tendency is towards the former. (1) In regard to method, he founds psychology entirely on introspection. He thus, to a certain extent, agrees with the Scottish school, but he differs from them in rejecting altogether the doctrine of mental faculties. What have been designated faculties are, upon his view, merely classified facts or phenomena of consciousness. He criticizes very severely the habitual use of metaphorical language in describing mental operations. (2) His doctrine of perception, which is, in brief, that "the perception of external things through the organs of sense is a direct mental act or phenomenon of consciousness not susceptible of being resolved into anything else," and the reality of which can be neither proved nor disproved, is not worked out in detail, but is supported by elaborate and sometimes subtle criticisms of all other theories. (3) With regard to general and abstract ideas and general propositions, his opinions are those of the empirical school, but his analysis frequently puts the matter in a new light. (4) In the theory of morals, Bailey is an advocate of utilitarianism (though he objects to the term "utility" as being narrow and, to the unthinking, of sordid content), and works out with great skill the steps in the formation of the "complex" mental facts involved in the recognition of duty, obligation, right.
He bases all moral phenomena on five facts: - (1) Man is susceptible to pleasure (and pain); (2) he likes (or dislikes) their causes; (3) he desires to reciprocate pleasure and pain received; (4) he expects such reciprocation from others; (5) he feels more or less sympathy with the same feelings in his fellows (Letters, 3rd series).
See A. Bain's Moral Science; Th. Ribot, La Psychologie anglaise contemp.; J. F. Ferrier, Philos. Remains (Edinb. and Lond., 1875), pp. 351-381.