Graham, William (1839–1911), academic, writer, philosopher, and economist, was born at Saintfield, Co. Down, son of Alexander Graham, farmer and horse-dealer, and Maria Graham (née Crawford). Educated at the Educational Institute, Dundalk, on a scholarship, he later worked as a teacher at Banagher. He entered TCD (2 July 1860), initially working as a teacher in Dublin to support himself, and was awarded a scholarship in 1865. His career there was distinguished, and he was awarded the Wray prize in logic, ethics, and metaphysics, and the vice-chancellor's prize in English prose. Graduating BA (1867), he worked as a private tutor in Trinity.
In 1872 he published the first of many works, Idealism: an essay metaphysical and critical, essentially a defence of the writings of George Berkeley (qv). He worked for a short time (1873–4) as private secretary to Mitchell Henry (qv), MP, before travelling to London. Appointed lecturer in mathematics at St Bartholomew's Hospital in 1875, he also engaged in further literary endeavours, publishing his most important work, The creed of science, in 1881. This controversial work explored the implications for philosophy and theology of current scientific ideas, including evolution and natural selection. While many, including W. E. Gladstone and Archbishop Richard Trench (qv), praised its basic premises, some greeted it with hostility. In 1882 Graham was elected to the chair of jurisprudence and political economy at QCB, succeeding Thomas Edward Leslie (qv). A surprising aspect of his appointment was that Graham held no legal qualifications and was not called to the bar (Inner Temple) until 1892.
In 1886 he applied for the position of commissioner of intermediate education and Sir Michael Hicks Beach (qv), chief secretary for Ireland, apparently informed him that he was the most suitable candidate for the job. However, another candidate for the position sent extracts from The creed of science to Hicks Beach who, viewing it as highly unorthodox, withdrew his support. Graham did, however, later serve as an examiner for the Indian civil service and also for the Royal University of Ireland (1893–4, 1900–09). Eventually he was asked to serve as an examiner in English for the Irish intermediate education department. He received an honorary doctorate from TCD (1905) and retired, in poor health, in 1909. He died 19 November 1911 in a Dublin nursing home, and was buried in Mount Jerome cemetery. He never married.
Apart from The creed of science, Graham published numerous works on social, economic, and political subjects, including Social problems (1886), Socialism new and old (1890), and Free trade and the empire (1904). He also contributed to various journals including the Economic Journal and Contemporary Review. Well known in London literary circles, he was an associate of J. A. Froude (qv) and W. E. H. Lecky (qv) and was particularly friendly with Thomas Carlyle.