No. 25, May 6, 1999

1. Soshichi Uchii, Biographies of Michael Faraday

2. Our Activities in 1998 (Japanese)

Editor: Soshichi Uchii

Biographies of Michael Faraday

(Review essay for Uchii's lecture Scientists and Society)

by Soshichi Uchii

1. Victorian Biographies

There are a number of biographies of Faraday, beginning with those written by persons directly acquainted with Faraday himself, such as Henry Bence Jones (Secretary of the Royal Institution) and John Tyndall (one of Faraday's closest academic associates at the Royal Institution). These works are not easily accessible to us. Although they should be certainly valuable in many respects, we have to suspect that they may tend to be hagiographical in that their descriptions and evaluations sometimes intentionally suppress "undesirable" facts about Faraday, as was actually the case with Francis Darwin's edition of his father's (Charles Darwin's) autobiography.

2. Pearce William's Study

It is generally acknowledged that the first modern scholarly biography is L. Pearce Williams's Michael Faraday (Chapman and Hall, 1965). William's book contains a close study on the development of Faraday's research on electricity and magnetism, which is quite valuable. It also contains a chapter entitled "Faraday in the world"; this chapter touches on several important problems on the relationship between a scientist and society, including scientific institutions, scientific education, the relations with technology and industry, politics and religion.


3. Cantor's Recent Book

More recently, Geoffrey Cantor explored the relationship between Faraday's religious belief and scientific and social activities, in his book Michael Faraday: Sandemanian and Scientist (Macmillan, 1991). Since Cantor puts forward a new, provocative interpretation of Faraday's science and behavior, I should like to review it briefly and add my own comments.

Several writers have been emphasizing the importance of Faraday's religion in understanding Faraday's activities, but almost no one has pursued this idea in any depth, and that's why Cantor wrote this book, he says. Thus Cantor examines the writings of the founders of the small sect called "Sandemanians" (or "Glasites") to which Faraday belonged, and he tries to identify the doctrinal features which may help our understanding of Faraday's ideas and activities.

More specifically, after a brief Introduction, Cantor devotes next three chapters (2, 3, and 4) for clarifying the origin of the Sandemanian sect, the London Sandemanian group to which Faraday belonged, and Faraday's activities among the Sandamanians. With this background Cantor then examines Faraday's peculiar attitudes to politics, patronage and rewards, wealth, and his social behavior in general (ch. 5). Next, Faraday's conception of science and his conception of the role of the scientist are explored in chapter 6; and Cantor's exposition proceeds to what he calls "Theology of Nature" in Faraday (ch. 7), Faraday's scientific method (ch. 8), and to two examples of Faraday's investigation, electromagnetism and gravitation (ch. 9). Finally, Cantor presents his psychological analysis of Faraday's personality (ch. 10), and a general consideration on the relationship between science and religion (ch. 11) concludes the book.

4. The Sandemanians

The founder of this sect is John Glas (1695-1773), and Robert Sandeman (1717-1773) contributed to widen the sphere of the sect. The Sandamanian church was formed as a reaction to the "corruption" of the Church of Scotland (Protestant, Presbyterian), and its core doctrine consists in a rigid and literal interpretation of the Bible, and on the basis of this interpretation, it demands to discipline the members's life according to the moral codes exemplified in the Bible.

According to Cantor, "even though they interpret and make sense of the social and political realms in biblical terms, the Sandamanians differ from many other Christian sects in their relative apoliticality and their attitude towards outsiders. Unlike, say, Jehovah's Witnesses . . ., Sandemanians neither seek to extend their influence through missionary work nor do they view outsiders with pity and contempt. Instead, while accepting that outsiders cannot be given communion, they believe in following Christ's example and doing good to all men. Moreover, unlike many evangelical and fundamentalist sects, ..., the Sandemanians are avowedly apolitical" (Cantor 1991, 6).

This apoliticality stems from the sect's doctrine that "the eternal and spiritual kingdom" of Christ is the sole concern for true believers, and this mundane world is merely a temporary and transient dwelling; and this doctrine is supported by a number of passages in the Bible, e.g. "Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's; and unto God the things that are God's" (Matthew 22:21). Thus "the Sandemanians consider that they must stand aloof from events in the social and political realm and place their faith entirely in God" (op. cit., 91).

As regards their own church, the Sandemanians aim at an egalitarian image depicted in the Bible, but they think that the Bible specifies two kinds of officers: Elder and Deacon. An elder needs a high moral character, and an elder is supposed to teach and lead the congregation; whereas a deacon is supposed to provide for the poor and the infirm. Faraday was appointed to a deacon in 1832, and to an elder twice, in 1840 and 1860. Further, it must be noted that Sandemanians formed their own community, helping each other and often also forming blood and marital relations. Michael Faraday was married to Sarah Barnard, and both "Faraday" and "Barnard" are familiar names among the London Sandemanians; Cantor supplies two appendices (A and B) to prove this.

5. Faraday's Two Spheres

Now, Cantor defines the orientation of his study as being "to set Faraday firmly within the context of the Sandemanian church and then to investigate how the doctrines and norms of Sandemanianism relate to him, his views on a number of different issues and, most importantly, his science" (op.cit., 7). I will pick up only two major aspects of this study, (1) Faraday's social behavior and (2) Faraday's scientific research; as far as I can see, Cantor is more successful with respect to (1) than to (2).

First of all, Cantor seems to be quite successful in showing that Faraday's religious life was not a mere episode but almost the whole of his private life, and that the Sandemanian norms for social behavior greatly help to understand Faraday's attitude and behavior with respect to various things. As regards Faraday's attitude to politics Cantor claims:

his reasons for dissenting from party politics shed considerable light on a number of related issues, especially Faraday's attitude towards organised science and thus his involvement in such corporate, and politicised, bodies as the Royal Institution, the Royal Society, the Society of Arts and the British Association for the Advancement of Science. . . . I shall argue that he was consistent in his responses to institutions, both scientific and non-scientific, and that the social philosophy of the Sandamanians offers a putative explanation of his views not only on politics but on a number of related topics. Most importantly, it enables us to comprehend Faraday's attitudes to science and the scientific community. (op. cit., 87)

To substantiate this claim, Cantor cites a number of evidence: Faraday consistently refused to accept politics (including politics in the scientific community) as part of his life; Faraday tried to be a loyal subject (since the Sandemanian doctrine approves of this), by accepting, e.g., duties of teaching at the Royal Military Academy, or working for the Admiralty, but he refused to accept the Presidency of the Royal Institution (1864); although he became a leading scientist, he never sought power, influence or status, in sharp contrast to his mentor Humphry Davy; Faraday disapproved of "conflating scientific with existing civil honours, since the award of knighthoods and baronetcies to scientists degrades their work by setting them on the same level as men possessing hereditary power or gross worldly ambition" (op. cit., 101).

Although there are several cases which seem to be inconsistent with this tendency, notably the fact that Faraday sought the Fellowship of the Royal Society (FRS), it seems Cantor has succeeded in showing that Faraday's views and actions were strongly affected by the norms of the Sandemanians. Just as the Sandamanians make a sharp dichotomy between the spiritual and the mundane, Faraday seems to have made a similar distinction between science itself and institutional or "political" circumstances surrounding science, and he tried to classify the admissible and the inadmissible among the latter, according to the Sandamanian norms.

6. Faraday as a Civil Scientist

However, anyone familiar with Faraday's biography may feel this question: Faraday participated in a number of practical projects, such as the chemical analysis of substances brought to the Royal Institution, the improvements of alloys of steel, research on optical glass (requested by the Royal Society), or work on lighthouse illuminants; then how should we treat this aspect of Faraday's scientific activity? Certainly he served as a "Scientific Advisor" for the government and the industry, and no one can disregard this fact. Some writer even suggests that there are "two Faradays", one worldly, the other unworldly!

Although Cantor picks up this problem under the head of "Faraday on Wealth" (5.4 of his book), the problem has at least two aspects: (1) civil duty and (2) the contribution to the industry (and then to the capitalism!). As was already suggested, the Sandamanians do not disregard civil duty or worldly authorities, as long as these do not collide with their supreme goal, the spiritual kingdom; and as long as Faraday judged that his activities as an Advisor contributed to the welfare of British people or men in general (in this world), it is quite natural that he took this role as a part of his duty (as a British citizen or as a FRS); thus there is no inconsistency, as regards (1).

As regards (2), it must be pointed out that he did not receive money for his chemical analysis or research on alloys of steel or on optical glass; he performed these works as part of his duty at the Royal Institution, and money went to the Institution (see op. cit., 120 and Williams 1965, 320-322). It is true that Faraday later received reward as an Advisor, and Cantor shows his tentative calculation (Cantor 1991, 108); the sum is not insubstantial, but Faraday spent a considerable amount for his science (including assistant Anderson) and for the Sandemanian community. And above all, Faraday, like other Sandemanians, did not regard the acquisition of wealth as a primary goal, and did not strive for that. Thus there is no need for postulating "two Faradays".

As an additional evidence, Cantor often refers to Faraday's distinction between "trade" and "science" (or rather "natural philosophy", because he preferred this appellation), or more detailed classification "trade", "business", "profession", and "natural philosophy". Faraday despised "trade"; referred to his experimental labours (under Davy) in the laboratory as "business"; and regarded "profession" (as in "a professional chemist") as involving earning money from its laboratory work, and somehow involving flawed relationship with other people. Thus, although he was willing to discharge the duty of a "Scientific Advisor", he did not approve of, or even despised, earning money by consultancy work for personal gain. Here, we can see how Faraday tried to demarcate his own activities "as a scientist (natural philosopher)" from other activities in a society or in a scientific community.

Since this is related to Faraday's crucial distinction between science (natural philosophy) and other related activities, we will get into more detail in the next section.

7. Faraday's Conception of "Scientist"

Cantor describes Faraday's notion of science in very strong terms: the pursuit of science is an expression of man's divine nature (Cantor 1991, 121). And Cantor explains as follows. Faraday sought to impose order on all aspects of his life, but this order is not merely an aspect of his personality but also an expression of his belief in the ultimate order of the God-made universe and in God's general providence. Science aims at discovering this order, which is exemplified by the physical laws. And for Faraday, the dual significance of law is very apparent, since he lived by God's moral law and discovered God's physical laws. "Thus science could satisfy the soul and be a profound religious experience" (121).

Cantor cites many passages from Faraday's correspondence, and the crucial evidence is that Faraday likened science to republic united by the bond of love of truth, needing, of course, the self-discipline of the members: true science puts us in touch with the kingdom of heaven, whereas factional science is the result of our fallen state. Thus Cantor argues that Faraday was attracted to a career in science, as opposed to "trade", and Faraday found a social network that bore close similarity to that of the Sandemanian community. The two are not the same, but Cantor claims that "there is a strong sense in which Faraday's career as a scientist and his conception of science reflected the Sandemanian social philosophy" (125).

8. How Science and Religion are related in Faraday: Craving for Order

However, this claim is not as convincing as Cantor's previous claims on Faraday's attitude and behavior to science, scientific community, and social duties (sections 5 and 6 above). There are some obscurities in his verb "reflected" and the content of "the Sandemanian social philosophy".

Picking up the latter, to begin with, "the Sandemanian social philosophy" presumably means a set of norms accepted by most Sandemanians, based on their interpretation of the Bible; but obviously, the Bible does not say anything on "science" or "how science should be conducted". Thus there is a huge gap between "the Sandemanian social philosophy" and Faraday's conception of science, even if we admitted Cantor's assertion that Faraday's choice of career as scientist was somehow influenced by "the Sandemanian social philosophy". Faraday's phrase "science is a republic" seems to be still a vague and remote analogy, even if we admit that it may be related to Faraday's conception of science.

Secondly, as regards "reflect". No one will deny that Faraday was a Sandemanian, and no one will deny that he was a scientist (natural philosopher); but these two facts may be a mere coincidence, the latter, in particular, not necessarily "reflecting" the former or any features related to the former. For a historian of science to claim that something is "reflected" in one's conception of science, he has to specify the meaning of "reflect" in the first place. Is it a causal relation (as recent sociologists of science intend), or what else?

Cantor touches on this question only in the final chapter "Epilogue" (too late, I regret to say!):

In the preceding chapters I have described and analysed Faraday's highly personal synthesis between science and religion. However, I want to avoid portraying this relationship in strict causal terms, since his understanding of both science and religion was an interrelated part of his social, intellectual and spiritual development. Moreover, as argued in the preceding chapter, both his science and his religion were chosen responses to his psychological needs. Since they fulfilled very similar roles, no strong causal arrow can be drawn from his Sandemanianism to his science (or vice versa). Instead, his religion and the kind of science he pursued were very much of a piece. (293)

In order to evaluate this statement, I have to add (to be fair to Cantor) a brief note on Cantor's chapter 10 "Faraday's personality revisited" where he discusses Faraday's "psychological needs"; in this chapter Cantor's questions Faraday's traditional image (supplied by Faraday's contemporary people, such as Tyndall, Helmholtz, or John Gladstone and other biographers) as an almost flawless attractive personality. In opposition to such a Victorian image that the good and the true are connected in Faraday's personality, Cantor gets into the analysis of family relations, fears and crises, and psychological needs of Faraday. Faraday was a man of excitable and fiery nature (no wonder in view of his energetic research!), hiding these underneath his gentleness, etc. And Cantor concluded that "both science and Sandamanianism were strikingly similar responses to his environment, since they both offered ways of ordering his experience and rendering the world safe" (283), thus making Faraday's craving for "order" a keyword.

There is some plausibility in this view, but craving for order may be assumed for almost any scientists who look for regularities in natural phenomena; so that it seems to me that Cantor's this speculation (after all, Cantor speculated on meager evidence drawing on Faraday's correspondence and contemporary people's witness) is weak, if he wants to explain (in some sense) both Faraday's Sandemanianism and Science, in terms of this conjecture.

Now, since Cantor's psychological speculation is thus weak, to say the least, we need far stronger evidence for Cantor's thesis that Faraday's conception of science reflected the Sandemanian social philosophy. From this perspective, Cantor's chapter 7 "A Theology of Nature" seems to be the most promising location to look for such evidence.

9. Faraday's Theology of Nature?

Cantor argues that early biographers's interpretation of Faraday as an empiricist has been recently challenged, and some contemporary scholars have been emphasizing Faraday's theoretical commitments. Cantor wishes to extend this line, and to locate Faraday's metaphysics in his religion, in particular, in "his views about the structure of the divinely created physical world" (161). That's why he uses the word "theology of nature"; as Cantor sees, Faraday was concerned with the question of the interrelation between God and the world (the created). Cantor claims that Faraday's research was led by the "theology of nature", via a number of what Cantor calls "metascientific principles" (162); by this term, Cantor wishes to distinguish these principles from metaphysical beliefs (such as that God created the world) themselves, and wishes to emphasize that these principles can be expressed in empirically meaningful terms (162). However, it seems to me, that Cantor's arguments become again inconclusive because of this ambivalent character of the "metascientific principles"; they are related to metaphysical beliefs but allow empirical interpretation as well.

Cantor first points out that Faraday accepted that God created this world and that Genesis contains the true account of how the physical world was brought into being (166); so Faraday and other scientists are supposed to be examining the results of God's creation, and thus coming close to God himself. However, even if this claim may be true, it would be quite hard to find definitive evidence for this in Faraday's scientific writings. Thus Cantor steps back to a weaker claim that we can find many places in Faraday's writings where "resonances with appropriate biblical passages can be detected" (167).

Then Cantor proceeds to his examination of Faraday's "metascientific principles". Since these principles are numerous, I shall concentrate only on one group of such principle: the economy of nature. According to Cantor, Faraday believed that the natural world is economical in the sense that all events are tightly ordered by divine providence. And Cantor argues that the following terms, which Faraday often utilized in his writings, indicate Faraday's "metascientific principles" based on his theology of nature: equality of cause and effect, direct proportionality (between two kinds of quantity, etc.), lawlikeness, invariability, consistency, conservation (of forces), correlation, incoercibility, integrity, unity in diversity, stability, simplicity, no waste, plenitude, lines of force, etc.

Thus, although Cantor's analysis and argument are more detailed, it should be clear by now what he means by "metascientific principles" based on the "theology of nature"; all allow empirical interpretation as well as theological interpretation. Then, it must be pointed out that any of Cantor's evidence for Faraday's theology does not exclude the possibility of non-theological interpretation endorsed by early biographers or contemporary writers. As I see it, Cantor presented one possible interpretation of Faraday's science in terms of theology (or Sandamanianism), but he did not give us any reason why we should not take more secular, or empirical interpretation; it may be recalled that such philosophers as Mach also emphasized the importance of "economy" on non-theological grounds. The source of Faraday's ideas is one thing, the content and the fruitfulness of these ideas are another thing; we may well call him "empiricist" because of the latter, and the contribution of "theology" with respect to the latter is after all quite obscure.

In view of the preceding appraisal, I do not think that Faraday's Sandamanianism (or Sandamanian social philosophy) sheds much light on Faraday's scientific research; although I agree with Cantor that the Sandemanianism provides good explanation for Faraday's social attitudes and behaviors.

10. Faraday on Science and Utility

Despite my conclusion in the last section, there remains one aspect of Faraday's view on science which may be clarified in terms of his "theology of nature". That is Faraday's attitude to "pure science" and "utility derived from science", so to speak. Cantor touches on this point in the last section of chapter 7, and this topic is closely related to Faraday's distinction between "science" and "trade" (and others). Even a cursory review of Faraday's life reveals one conspicuous feature: Faraday's lack of contact with industry. This is more striking if we see that his fields of study are most closely related with the contemporary technology and industry (for instance, it is well known that Thomas Edison was inspired by Faraday's book on electricity); Faraday found many principles underlying electric technology, but he left to others industrial application of his work.

Now, Cantor argues that for Faraday the primary role of science was that it displayed the structure of the Creation and thereby glorified the God. Although Faraday not only knew that science can improve the physical condition of mankind via technology, but also was not against doing that, for him the primary role of science was improving the intellect of men. This view may come from Faraday's "theology", although, again, we can provide secular grounds for such a view on science. Anyway, Cantor's view seems to be worth examining at least on this point.


Cantor, G. (1991) Michael Faraday: Sandemanian and Scientist, Macmillan, 1991.

Jones, Henry Bence (1870) The Life and Letters of Faraday, 2 vols., London, 1870.

Tyndall, John (1868) Faraday as a Discoverer, London, 1868.

Williams, L. Pearce (1965) Michael Faraday, Chapman and Hall, 1965.


1998.4.5 内井 講演「ホームズの方法のルーツ」日本シャーロック・ホームズ・クラブ関西支部例会

1998.4.8 PHS Newsletter 20

1998.4-5月 内井 Philosophy of Science in Japan, KUINEP lectures


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1998.7.29 内井 講演「科学者の社会的責任」天文学と社会・分科会、天文学 若手 研究者夏の学校、国立磐梯青年の家

1998.8.15 PHS Newsletter 21

1998.9 内井「ダーウィニズムと倫理」『生物科学』50-2

1998.10 内井「道徳起源論から進化倫理学へ、第一部」『哲学研究』566号

1998.10.25 内井 「功利と選好」日本経済学史学会共通論題「J. S.ミルと現代」、 札幌学院大学

1998.11 内井「科学者の責任を考えるために」『大学の物理教育』1998-3号

1998.12.3 PHS Newsletter 22

1999.2.1 PHS Newsletter 23

1999.2.19 予餞会

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1999.3 S. Uchii "Three Essays on Ethics", Memoir of the Graduate School of Letters 38

編集後記 このニューズレターは、内井の特殊講義「科学者と社会」の教材もかねる。今年度の学部新専攻生は、国代尚章、神田周、山下幸宏、および高田崇司(理学部より転学部)の四名を迎えた。大学院は、修士課程に二名が進学、後期博士課程に一名が進学。八杉満利子先生にお願いした論理学演習は、これまでになく多数の受講者が来て盛況の様子。(内井惣七)

Last modified Nov. 30, 2008. (c) S. Uchii