Ordained as a Presbyterian minister on graduating from Glasgow University (1845), Caird made a nation-wide reputation with his learned and eloquent sermons and was appointed professor of theology at Glasgow in 1862 and principal of the university in 1873.
In An Introduction to the Philosophy of Religion (1880) and in The Fundamental Ideas of Christianity, 2 vol. (1899; the Gifford lectures for 1892–93 and 1894–96), both of which follow Hegelian teaching closely, Caird argues that universal thought is the reality of all things and that the existence of this Infinite Thought, namely God, is demonstrated by the limitations of finite thought. His Spinoza (1888) is also Hegelian in its approach. His sermon “Religion in Common Life” (1855) was widely reprinted and translated. There are collected editions of his Sermons (1858), University Sermons, 1873–1898 (1898), and University Addresses (1898).