Augustus De Morgan

There is a word in our language with which I shall not confuse this subject, both on account of the dishonourable use which is frequently made of it, as an imputation thrown by one sect upon another, and of the variety of significations attached to it. I shall use the word Anti-Deism to signify the opinion that there does not exist a Creator who made and sustains the Universe.

The London University was a new institution, and the relations of the Council of management, the Senate of professors and the body of students were not well defined. A dispute arose between the professor of anatomy and his students, and in consequence of the action taken by the council, several professors resigned, headed by De Morgan. Another professor of mathematics was appointed, who then drowned a few years later. De Morgan had shown himself a prince of teachers: he was invited to return to his chair, which thereafter became the continuous centre of his labours for thirty years.

The London University of which De Morgan was a professor was a different institution from the University of London. The University of London was founded about ten years later by the Government for the purpose of granting degrees after examination, without any qualification as to residence. The London University was affiliated as a teaching college with the University of London, and its name was changed to University College. The University of London was not a success as an examining body; a teaching University was demanded. De Morgan was a highly successful teacher of mathematics. It was his plan to lecture for an hour, and at the close of each lecture to give out a number of problems and examples illustrative of the subject lectured on; his students were required to sit down to them and bring him the results, which he looked over and returned revised before the next lecture. In De Morgan's opinion, a thorough comprehension and mental assimilation of great principles far outweighed in importance any merely analytical dexterity in the application of half-understood principles to particular cases.

On examining this work I saw in it, not merely merit worthy of encouragement, but merit of a peculiar kind, the encouragement of which, as it appeared to me, was likely to promote native effort towards the restoration of the native mind in India.

In the same preface, he acknowledged his awareness of the Indian tradition of logic, and later wrote again, in 1860, of its significance:

Augustus was one of seven children, four of whom survived to adulthood.

Be it known unto you that I have discovered that you and the other Sir W. H. are reciprocal polars with respect to me (intellectually and morally, for the Scottish baronet is a polar bear, and you, I was going to say, are a polar gentleman). When I send a bit of investigation to Edinburgh, the W. H. of that ilk says I took it from him. When I send you one, you take it from me, generalize it at a glance, bestow it thus generalized upon society at large, and make me the second discoverer of a known theorem.

The correspondence of De Morgan with Hamilton the mathematician extended over twenty-four years; it contains discussions not only of mathematical matters, but also of subjects of general interest. It is marked by geniality on the part of Hamilton and by wit on the part of De Morgan. The following is a specimen: Hamilton wrote:

My copy of Berkeley's work is not mine; like Berkeley, you know, I am an Irishman.

Your phrase 'my copy is not mine' is not a bull. It is perfectly good English to use the same word in two different senses in one sentence, particularly when there is usage. Incongruity of language is no bull, for it expresses meaning. But incongruity of ideas (as in the case of the Irishman who was pulling up the rope, and finding it did not finish, cried out that somebody had cut off the other end of it) is the genuine bull.

H – O – M – O – P – A – U – C – A – R – U – M – L – I – T – E – R – A – R – U – M

In the introduction to the Budget of Paradoxes De Morgan explains what he means by the word:

How can the sound paradoxer be distinguished from the false paradoxer? De Morgan supplies the following test:

The manner in which a paradoxer will show himself, as to sense or nonsense, will not depend upon what he maintains, but upon whether he has or has not made a sufficient knowledge of what has been done by others, especially as to the mode of doing it, a preliminary to inventing knowledge for himself... New knowledge, when to any purpose, must come by contemplation of old knowledge, in every matter which concerns thought; mechanical contrivance sometimes, not very often, escapes this rule. All the men who are now called discoverers, in every matter ruled by thought, have been men versed in the minds of their predecessors and learned in what had been before them. There is not one exception.

The Budget consists of a review of a large collection of paradoxical books which De Morgan had accumulated in his own library, partly by purchase at bookstands, partly from books sent to him for review, partly from books sent to him by the authors. He gives the following classification: squarers of the circle, trisectors of the angle, duplicators of the cube, constructors of perpetual motion, subverters of gravitation, stagnators of the earth, builders of the universe. You will still find specimens of all these classes in the New World and in the new century. De Morgan gives his personal knowledge of paradoxers.

I suspect that I know more of the English class than any man in Britain. I never kept any reckoning: but I know that one year with another?  and less of late years than in earlier time? – I have talked to more than five in each year, giving more than a hundred and fifty specimens. Of this I am sure, that it is my own fault if they have not been a thousand. Nobody knows how they swarm, except those to whom they naturally resort. They are in all ranks and occupations, of all ages and characters. They are very earnest people, and their purpose is bona fide, the dissemination of their paradoxes. A great many – the mass, indeed – are illiterate, and a great many waste their means, and are in or approaching penury. These discoverers despise one another.

From Matter to Spirit: The Result of Ten Years Experience in Spirit Manifestations

Thinking it very likely that the universe may contain a few agencies – say half a million – about which no man knows anything, I can not but suspect that a small proportion of these agencies – say five thousand – may be severally competent to the production of all the [spiritualist] phenomena, or may be quite up to the task among them. The physical explanations which I have seen are easy, but miserably insufficient: the spiritualist hypothesis is sufficient, but ponderously difficult. Time and thought will decide, the second asking the first for more results of trial.

Beyond his great mathematical legacy, the headquarters of the London Mathematical Society is called De Morgan House and the student society of the Mathematics Department of University College London is called the Augustus De Morgan Society.