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John Playfair

John Playfair by Sir Henry Raeburn.jpg
John Playfair – Portrait by Sir Henry Raeburn
Born (1748-03-10)10 March 1748
Benvie, Forfarshire, Scotland, UK
Died 20 July 1819(1819-07-20) (aged 71)
Burntisland, Fife, Scotland
Resting place Old Calton Burial Ground
Nationality Scottish
Alma mater University of St Andrews
Known for Playfair's axiom
Scientific career
Fields mathematics, natural philosophy, geology
Institutions University of Edinburgh
Influences James Hutton

Rev Prof John Playfair FRSE, FRS (10 March 1748 – 20 July 1819) was a Church of Scotland minister, remembered as a scientist and mathematician, and a professor of natural philosophy at the University of Edinburgh.

He is best known for his book Illustrations of the Huttonian Theory of the Earth (1802). In 1783 he was a co-founder of the Royal Society of Edinburgh. He served as General Secretary to the society from 1798 to 1819.


Playfair's brothers were architect James Playfair, solicitor Robert Playfair and engineer William Playfair. His nephew, William Henry Playfair (1790–1857) was an eminent architect in Scotland.

He died on 20 July 1819, and although an important man he was buried in an unmarked grave in Old Calton Burial Ground, on Waterloo Place in Edinburgh.

His, and his brother, James's graves were marked by a plaque unveiled in 2011 following a local campaign. The monument to his memory by William Henry Playfair, on Calton Hill, is visible from the spot.


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