Classics in the History of Psychology

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Christopher D. Green
York University, Toronto, Ontario
ISSN 1492-3173

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The Ethics of Freedom
Notes Selected, Translated, and Arranged by His Pupil James Gibson Hume

George Paxton Young (1911)
First published in Toronto: University Press

Posted October 2001


The following from the pen of Rev. John Burton, B.A. appeared in "The Scot in British North America, " Editor, W. J. Rattray, B.A., 1882.

"George Paxton Young, M.A., Professor of Logic, Metaphysics and Ethics in University College, Toronto, was born at Berwick-on-Tweed, on the 8th of November, 1818. After a preliminary training there, he was sent to the High School, Edinburgh, and thence to the University.  Mr. Young was distinguished for his steady application, especially to his· favourite subjects of mathematics and philosophy.  After taking his degree, he was for some time engaged as a teacher of mathematics at Dollar Academy. When the disruption took place, Mr. Young, as might have been expected from his liberal views, espoused the cause of which the great Dr. Chalmers was the leading champion.  Entering the Free Church Theological Hall, where he duly completed his course, he was ordained and placed in charge of the Martyrs' Church, Paisley.  In the course of a few months, however, Mr. Young resolved to remove to Canada. He came hither in 1848, and at once accepted a call from Knox Church, Hamilton, Ont.  After a pastorate of three years, he received the appointment [p. 2] of Professor of Mental and Moral Philosophy at Knox College, Toronto. He was now in his element, and, not content with the ordinary work of lecturing, contributed a number of papers to the Canadian Journal on metaphysical subjects.  It is said that one of these, which contained a partial elucidation of Sir William Hamilton's philosophical system, was warmly acknowledged by the great Scottish metaphysician.

After ten years' service in the Professorship, Mr. Young resigned both his position in the College and his ministerial office.  The reason assigned by Mr. Young was, that deeper study had changed his doctrinal views to such an extent, that he could no longer conscientiously inculcate the theology of his church.  His position was stated with the utmost candour, and he evidently possessed the courage of his opinions. To all appearance, Mr. Young, by taking this step, had deprived himself of a livelihood.  Yet after an interval, he was employed by the Government as Inspector of Grammar Schools, a position he filled for four years with the greatest credit to himself, and singular advantage to the Province.  During that time he fairly revolutionized the Grammar Schools, and succeeded in raising them to the degree of excellence they can now boast of under other names. His suggestions were embodied in several School Acts, with beneficial results.  He was also a [p. 3] member of the Central Committee on Education -- a sort of advisory board attached to the department. When he resigned the Inspectorship, Professor Young was prevailed upon to return to Knox College.  His abilities were too highly prized to be lost to the institution.  Theology, in future, was to form no part of his teaching, and thus any impediment in his way was removed.  In 1871, the Professor was appointed to the vacant chair of Metaphysics and Ethics in University College, a post he still occupies.  As a teacher, Mr. Young stands deservedly high. His intellect is of a high order, his expositions even of abstruse problems, are unmistakeably plain and lucid; and he is a personal friend of all the students who attend his lectures.  Two works have appeared from his pen, both on theological subjects.  The first, published in 1854, contained "Miscellaneous Discourses and Expositions of Scripture," the second, which appeared in 1862, was an elaborate essay on "The Philosophical Principles of Natural Religion." Besides these, and the other contributions mentioned above, Professor Young has reprinted in phamphlet[sic] form at least one of his addresses. Mr. Young is singularly shy and retiring in disposition, and to that cause may, no doubt, be attributed the fact that he has never formally stated the doubts which have perplexed him[.]  He is too sensitive not to shrink from unsettling the faith of others." [p. 4]

We might add that Professor Young continued to hold his position in the University of Toronto up to the time of his death. He died in harness. Suffering a paralytic stroke during one of his lectures he died a few days afterwards on February 26, 1889.

Dr. Young was greatly admired and respected by a wide circle of friends and acquaintances, by those who had the privilege of knowing him more intimately he was deeply beloved. [p. 5]




With regard to the philosophical views of Professor Young, it would seem that at first he was drawn somewhat to the teaching of Sir William Hamilton.

To the last he was opposed to the views of David Hume though he did not endeavor to refute them later by the Philosophy of Common Sense, which he repudiated "root and branch" as he says in his lecture on Natural Religion.  If one might hazard a conjecture regarding the change in his theological views about which he was so reticent, it would seem probable that with the explicit rejection of the philosophy of "Common Sense" he saw that many of the doctrines of the Presbyterian Church were moulded in the thought and phraseology of this philosophy and so he found that he could not teach what he regarded as erroneous. Apart from this philosophical setting, it would appear from his subsequent career and from the testimony of his pastors the late Rev. D. J. Macdonnell, D.D. and Rev. G. M. Milligan, D.D. that he retained the fundamental Christian beliefs though giving them a different philosophical interpretation.

Sir Daniel Wilson summarized the convictions of those who knew Dr. Young most intimately as follows :-- [p. 6]

"That Dr. Young was a Christian in the best and highest sense of that term I have not the slightest doubt.''

He gathered his new philosophical view-point from more extended and sympathetic study of Kant and was assisted by the writings of Dr. Edward Caird and by Professor John Watson's first book on "Kant and his English Critics."

As T. H. Green also based his views on the Kantian system of thought it is not so strange that Young and Green came to very similar results in Ethics. It was the conviction that Green had presented his own point of view so adequately that led Professor Young to give up the plan of writing out his own views on Ethics for publication. Two points of correspondence however are very striking.

First.-- That the question of the Freedom of the Will is in both made to turn on the problem of the Motive.

Second.-- That their view of the motive was practically identical.

Young's definition of Motive.:--

"A motive is constituted when an end definitely in the mind's view is thought of as desirable, that is as fitted to yield satisfaction to the choosing subject," and Green's definition in Bk. 2, Sec. 87, Prolegomena to Ethics;-- "A motive again being an idea of an end which a self-conscious subject presents to itself, and which it strives and tends to realize." [p. 7]

In this little volume we are attempting to preserve some of Professor Young's lectures on the problems of Ethics.

The lecture on Freedom and Necessity was published in pamphlet form, April, 1870, and republished in the Knox College Monthly in August 1889.

The other notes are translated from Professor Young's shorthand notebooks.  The notes on Kant and on Spencer are from notes taken in lectures.

Professor Young followed the method then in vogue in the Theological Colleges of giving an abstract of his lectures in numbered sentences. These were written on the blackboard or slowly dictated to the class.  These were the bricks of the building; the mortar that bound them together consisted of explanatory remarks based on these as texts.


NOTE-- Where single words are enclosed in brackets it is to indicate that the original shorthand character is ambiguous or undecipherable. [p. 8] [p. 9]