John Mair (1469-1550)

John Major (or Mair) (also known in Latin as Joannes Majoris and Haddingtonus Scotus) (1467–1550) was a Scottish philosopher, much admired in his day and an acknowledged influence on all the great thinkers of the time. He was a very renowned teacher and his works much collected and frequently republished across Europe. His "sane conservatism" and his sceptical, logical approach to the study of texts such as Aristotle or the Bible, were less prized in the subsequent age of humanism where a more committed, and linguistic/literary, approach prevailed. His influence in logic (especially the analysis of terms), science (impetus and infinitesimals), politics (placing the people over kings), Church (councils over Popes), and international law (establishing the human rights of "savages" conquered by the Spanish) can be traced across the centuries and appear decidedly modern, and it is only in the modern age that he is not routinely dismissed as a scholastic. His Latin style did not help – he thought that "it is of more moment to understand aright, and clearly to lay down the truth of any matter than to use eloquent language". Nevertheless, it is to his writings, including their dedications, that we owe much of our knowledge of the everyday facts of Major's life – for example his "shortness of stature". He was an extremely curious and very observant man, and used his experiences – of earthquakes in Paisley, thunder in Glasgow, storms at sea, eating oatcakes in northern England – to illustrate the more abstract parts of his logical writings.

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