Meredith, James Creed (1875–1942), judge of the supreme court and writer, was born in Dublin, son of Sir James Creed Meredith, secretary of the Royal University of Ireland from 1880 to 1909, and his third wife, Nellie (née Graves). He had three brothers and two sisters. He began his academic career as a divinity student at TCD, but he graduated as first senior moderator in ethics and logics (1897) and was also a gold medallist. He later received the MA, and in 1912 he was conferred with the Litt.D.degree. He also graduated from the Royal University, receiving the BA degree in 1895 and the MA in 1898. According to an early history of UCD, Meredith's father, out of respect for Fr Thomas Finlay (qv), SJ, ‘expressed a wish that he should follow the Jesuit's course, and thus qualify for competing for the studentship and gold medal which were offered by the senate in mental philosophy’, and he was confident that no attempt would be made to detach him from his protestant faith (Page of Irish history, 145). He was successful in winning these honours, though he never adopted the ‘peripatetic system taught in all catholic schools, but remained. . . a staunch Kantian’ (ibid., 146). He was called to the bar at the King's Inns in 1901 and became a KC in 1918. In 1924 he was elected a bencher of the King's Inns. He was a member of the senate of the NUI, being appointed by the executive council in 1923; on the expiry of his term of office, he was subsequently reappointed in 1924, 1929, 1934, and 1939. He was also a member of Convocation.
During the home rule struggle he was, according to the notice of his death in the Irish Times (15 August 1942), ‘one of that brilliant band of young Irishmen who formed the Young Ireland Branch of the United Irish League’. He became interested in the nationalist cause and his advice and assistance were sought by prominent republicans. He joined the Irish Volunteer movement at its foundation in 1913 and was a member of its national committee, as one of the nominees of John Redmond (qv), being, in the words of Bulmer Hobson (qv), ‘one of the very few who cooperated with us and did not behave like a mere partisan’ (Martin, 41). He was also involved in the Howth and Kilcooole gun-running episodes in July–August 1914, when guns from Germany were procured for the Irish Volunteers. He was a member of the crew of the yacht of Sir Thomas Myles (qv), which landed arms at Kilcoole, Co. Wicklow, on 1 August 1914. Around 1915 he appears to have drafted a ‘Proposed constitution of the Irish Volunteers’ (NLI, MS 15013), which indicates that he took that side, rather than that of the majority National Volunteers, after the split that was occasioned by Redmond's Woodenbridge announcement (20 September 1914), soon after the outbreak of war, that the Volunteers should be prepared to fight as members of the British forces.
Meredith was appointed president of the supreme court of the alternative legal system set up by the first Dáil Éireann in 1919. He once applied a principle derived from brehon law in a republican court in Co. Cork. The case concerned the liability of a man to contribute to the support of his ‘illegitimate’ child, Meredith holding that the father, under the brehon code, and in contrast with English common law, was liable. ‘That case’, he later wrote, ‘was subsequently followed uniformly in the republican courts’ (Meredith, 69). Following the sudden closure of the dáil courts in July 1922, Meredith was asked by the provisional government for proposals about concluding their business. He drafted two schemes and a bill within days, but the executive did not proceed with his recommendations and a committee was appointed to advise on the problem. Its report, written almost exclusively by Meredith, recommended that a judicial commission be set up. This was done on 31 July 1923 under the Dáil Éireann Courts (Winding-Up) Act, 1923, which was amended in 1924. Meredith was appointed chief judicial commissioner. Predictably, he was also one of the most active members of the judiciary committee of 1923 which drafted the structures of the new legal system for independent Ireland. The Dáil Éireann Courts (Winding-Up) Act, 1925, transferred to the high court the powers and jurisdictions of the commissioners and assistant commissioners. The court (of which Meredith had become a judge in 1924) also took over the unfinished business of the commission. He was ‘at the centre of the dáil courts venture and at their winding up’ (Kotsonouris (1994), 142).
He acted as chairman of many important commissions, including the town tenants' commission, the commission of inquiry into the registration of shops, and the widows' pensions commission, as well as the army inquiry committee of 1924. He was chosen by the council of the League of Nations as vice-president of the Saar supreme plebiscite tribunal in 1934. This body took the place of the judicial administration in the Saar, pending the vote of its inhabitants on the future of the territory. In 1936 he was appointed to the supreme court of the Irish Free State.
He was a member of the Proportional Representation Society of Ireland (PRSI) and was the chairman of its technical sub-committee. Part of the objective of his book Proportional representation in Ireland (1913) was to discover what electoral system best suited Irish conditions. He concluded in favour of a modified Belgian system and argued against the single transferable vote, the system favoured by the ‘great majority’ of his fellow members of the PRSI. He was also a member of the Statistical and Social Inquiry Society of Ireland; he lectured to the society and published papers in its Journal on topics ranging from ‘The licensing of shops’ to ‘Practical characterology’. He was a frequent visitor to continental Europe, especially Germany and Austria, and he had a keen interest in German philosophy, literature, and history. He was well known as a patron of art and he had an important part in establishing the collection of Irish art at the Dublin Municipal Gallery of Modern Art, to which he donated ‘Low tide’ by Jack B. Yeats (qv),‘Girl in white’ by Grace Henry (qv), and ‘Ann’ by Margaret Clarke (qv). He had been an outstanding athlete as a young man, being Irish champion in the 100, 220, and 440 yards events in 1895, and winning the English 440 yards championship the following year. He was the Irish 440 yards champion for four years and he broke the Irish record for this event in 1896 (Bailey, 126). According to the Irish Press (15 August 1942) and the Irish Independent (17 August 1942), he was ‘one of the greatest quarter-milers Ireland. . . ever produced’. He was a member of the University Club and of the Royal Irish Yacht Club.
Meredith's most important contribution to philosophy and philosophical scholarship was undoubtedly his translations, with elaborate introductions and valuable analytical indexes (the equivalent of glossaries), of Kant's Critique of aesthetic judgement (1911) and Critique of teleological judgement (1928). Both texts were reissued, without Meredith's introductions and notes, as The critique of judgement (1952), and constituted a complete translation of that text. All three volumes were published by Oxford University Press. His seven introductory essays to the Critique of aesthetic judgement are a sustained, book-length (153 pp) commentary on Kant's aesthetics. His translation of the Critique of teleological judgement follows the same plan. He contributed an elaborate, book-length (154 pp) examination of Haeckel's materialism, in a series of eleven articles, to the Jesuit periodical New Ireland Review, between July 1904 and December 1906. The Review was conducted by Fr Finlay, his former teacher, to whose memory he dedicated his play Nell Nelligan (1940) ‘as a tribute to over forty years’ unbroken friendship’ (Nell Nelligan, 7). In these articles he was anxious to deny that the rationalist faith in reason was the only true faith. He challenged Haeckel's idea that evolution was the key to all mythologies, and went on to discuss questions of truth, knowledge, aesthetics, ethics (including topics such as the freedom of the will), progress, miracles, and Christian dogma. He published several other articles in the New Ireland Review, the Westminster Review, and the Irish Review.
His philosophical novel The rainbow in the valley (1939), published at the very beginning of the second world war, is a strange utopian text, sporting occasional footnotes and a remarkably eccentric and miscellaneous index. The novel is an account of a journey into western China and of a meeting with a party of scientists who are supposed to have established communications with the denizens of Mars, and discusses – among other matters – Martian language, monism and dualism, personality types, evolution, Freud, God, humour, nationalism, and religion. He also wrote The heckled unionist, Zimmeradski: a play in three acts, and The merciless benefactor: a comedy in three acts.
He died on 14 August 1942 at his residence, Hopeton, 33 Terenure Road East, Rathgar, Dublin, and was buried, in accordance with the rite of the Society of Friends, in Temple Hill cemetery, Blackrock, Co. Dublin.
He married Lorraine Percy of Weredale Park, Montreal, Canada, who had studied art under Cézanne in Paris; they had two daughters, Moira and Brenda. There are photographs in the Irish Times (15 August 1942), Irish Press (15 August 1942), and Irish Independent (17 August 1942), and a bronze plaque is reproduced in Kotsonouris (2004).