John Ray

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John Ray (29 November 1627 – 17 January 1705) was an English naturalist, sometimes referred to as the father of English natural history. Until 1670, he wrote his name as John Wray. From then on, he used 'Ray', after "having ascertained that such had been the practice of his family before him".[1]

He published important works on botany, zoology, and natural theology. His classification of plants in his Historia Plantarum, was an important step towards modern taxonomy. Ray rejected the system of dichotomous division by which species were classified according to a pre-conceived, either/or type system, and instead classified plants according to similarities and differences that emerged from observation. Thus he advanced scientific empiricism against the deductive rationalism of the scholastics. He was the first to give a biological definition of the term species.[2]


Early life

John Ray was born in the village of Black Notley. He is said to have been born in the smithy, his father having been the village blacksmith. He was sent at the age of sixteen to Cambridge University: studying at Trinity College and Catharine Hall.[3] His tutor at Trinity was James Duport, and his intimate friend and fellow-pupil the celebrated Isaac Barrow. Ray was chosen minor fellow[clarification needed] of Trinity in 1649, and later major fellow.[clarification needed] He held many college offices, becoming successively lecturer in Greek (1651), mathematics (1653),and humanity (1655), praelector (1657), junior dean (1657), and college steward (1659 and 1660); and according to the habit of the time, he was accustomed to preach in his college chapel and also at Great St Mary's, long before he took holy orders on 23 December 1660. Among these sermons were his discourses on The wisdom of God manifested in the works of the creation,[4] and Deluge and Dissolution of the World. Ray's reputation was high also as a tutor; and he communicated his own passion for natural history to several pupils, of whom Francis Willughby is by far the most famous.

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